It all seemed familiar. Stanford coach David Esquer and his players were lined up, shoulder to shoulder, waiting to celebrate the clinching of another trip to the College World Series.
The group erupted in sudden joy as pitcher Jacob Palisch, who saved Stanford’s only win at last year’s World Series, induced a swing and miss for a game-ending strikeout to earn a return to Omaha, Neb.
But, there was quite a twist to Stanford’s impromptu party on Saturday. This time, they weren’t running onto a field to enjoy their own seminal victory.
Instead, Esquer and his players were whooping it up while huddled in front of a player’s cell phone in a Stanford cafeteria, watching with glee as Palisch, who transferred to Texas A&M, secured a World Series berth for his new school.
Yes, Stanford would go on to earn its own way back to Omaha by winning its Super Regional on Monday, but this particular celebration was special. It was borne of a heavy dose of brotherhood, triggered by an overwhelming desire to see an old friend do well.
Your Stanford brothers were locked in on The Farm and couldn’t be happier for you! pic.twitter.com/w8zqaokWbG
— Stanford Baseball (@StanfordBSB) June 11, 2022
A photo showing Palisch’s old Cardinal teammates and coach celebrating Texas A&M’s win as if it were their own was tweeted out by the Stanford athletic department, which included a congratulatory note for its former pitcher.
“Congrats to @jpalisch11 on getting the final out and punching @AggieBasell’s ticket to Omaha! Your Stanford brothers were locked in on The Farm and couldn’t be happier for you!”
Stanford left fielder Eddie Park, a sophomore from San Jose’s Valley Christian, said Palisch leaving didn’t change the team’s opinion of him. He’s still a brother and, like everyone from last year’s team, they share an unbreakable bond, nurtured by constantly checking in with each other. Like any brother would do.
And, there was no chance the Stanford players were going to miss a chance to celebrate Palisch’s accomplishment.
“When (Palisch) came in, pretty much everyone on the team turned on their phones and was watching the game,” Park said during a phone conversation Tuesday night. “Everybody was celebrating him getting that last out.”
After Palisch and the Aggies were done celebrating their 4-3 win over Louisville and their first College World Series berth since 2017, he noticed a flood of notifications on his Twitter account. When he noticed it was mostly thanks to his old Bay Area friends, Palisch admitted he got a bit choked up.
“When I saw the tweet from them … uh, it made me feel a little bit emotional about my time there,” said Palisch, a left-hander who left Stanford as a graduate transfer. “To see them supporting me like that, I thought it was very classy. Just a super awesome thing to do.”
Stanford’s show of support and sportsmanship toward an ex-teammate nearly overshadowed the Cardinal’s own recent exploits – winning five consecutive elimination-game victories to storm its way back to Omaha, where it opens double-elimination play against Saturday at 11 a.m. PT against Arkansas.
To Stanford’s coach, that’s just fine. Some things are much bigger than victories.
Now in his fifth year as his alma mater’s coach, winning is just part of Esquer’s plan on The Farm. Sure, they’ve won – his teams have gone 174-68 (.714) with NCAA Tournament appearances each year it’s been held. But there’s something more enduring he wants his players to chase.
“When I got to Stanford, I was asked if it was about going to Omaha or winning a national title,” said Esquer, who played shortstop on Stanford’s 1987 CWS title team. “I said, ‘It’s gonna be about me delivering the same experience as when I played at Stanford.’
“I played with my best friends, some of those friends were as close to me as brothers. I wanted them to experience that kind of camaraderie.”
That’s why Esquer was especially proud of his team for its reaction toward Palisch.
“He was part of our family and he left because of graduation and he had another opportunity, which was fine,” said Esquer, who was eagerly summoned by players to join the watch party. “Our guys understand that our program is about brotherhood and they were gonna watch and support one of their brothers. … I thought it was awesome.”
Meanwhile, two days after the Aggies’ victory, Palisch was in College Station, doing what he tries to do whenever Stanford is playing – watching and rooting for his friends. He was excited to see them beat Connecticut on Monday to also clinch a spot in Omaha.
The left-hander, who has developed into a closer for Texas A&M, then allowed himself to look ahead and notice that if both the Aggies and Cardinal keep advancing in the eight-team tournament, they’d meet in the World Series final.
“It’s kind of crazy that if we do run into them, it will be in the championship series,” Palisch said. “If it works out, it works out. If not, it’s still an amazing experience.”