From transport by river barges to vegetable patch practices to dazzling on the national stage, the storied 125-year history of Wildcats baseball reads like a film script.
As with many Chico State legacies, it begins with a plucky group of students. They were so excited by America’s growing pastime that they took it upon themselves in 1896 to elect a captain who picked his own players, regulated practices, and scheduled all games. That early passion led to a legacy of success for a team that has since captured two national titles, sent numerous alumni to the professional ranks, and won the hearts of fans for generations.
“On a Friday night or Saturday double-header, we’ll get 1,000 or 1,500 fans, and half of them are people from the community,” said Coach Dave Taylor, who has been with Chico State baseball for 24 years—nearly one-fifth of the program’s history. “You get spoiled with it. They are around whether you are winning or losing. They are true fans. And it gives the players another level of focus because people are counting on you to get your job done.”
After winning their first two games ever, the Wildcats would “accept nothing but victory” by 1901 and soon were confident they could compete with any team in the state, according to alumnus and athlete William M. Morris (Physical Education, ’62; MA, Physical Education, ’64), who dedicated his master’s thesis to the team’s first 75 years.
In those early decades, the players boarded trains bound for Sacramento, then traveled the Sacramento River by boat to compete against Bay Area teams. By 1925, they were conference champions, led by Coach Arthur Acker and players like John Colledge, a pitcher who only lost once in four seasons.
Sadly, 1927 marked the start of a 20-year hiatus for the program, plagued by a lack of state funds and scarce facilities. But in 1947, Coach Roy Bohler began rebuilding the team, and returning World War II veterans led the Wildcats to six Far West Conference championships from 1948–50 and 1952–54.
Their prowess was not without challenges, as they practiced on a carrot patch behind the women’s gym, with waist-high weeds making “fieldwork more a scavenger hunt for balls than anything else,” Morris wrote. Due to a lack of a diamond, they played all games away from home.
But after four titles in five years, their fandom grew. A fraternity helped prepare a field for the 1953 season, Pacific Gas & Electric donated light poles, and the players built their own batting cage—a humble precursor of today’s impressive Nettleton Stadium.
Through the ensuing years, they would celebrate victories against formidable opponents like Travis Air Force Base, UC Davis, Sacramento State, longtime rival Humboldt State, and even UC Berkeley and Stanford.
Rosters included unforgettable players like future MLB catcher Clayton Dalrymple, who opened the Philadelphia Phillies’ 1962 season with a home run and saw his face printed on a million all-star trading cards. Slugger Steve Gotowala was National Player of the Year in 1997, and Joseph Ramos and Cody Slader were National Defensive Players of the Year in 2005 and 2014, respectively. In 1999 John-Eric Hernandez was named College World Series MVP, the same year Lindsay Meggs earned National Coach of the Year—for the second time.
During the last quarter-century, the Wildcats have won nine NCAA Championship Tournament West Region titles—and earned trips to the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship Finals. In 1997, Chico State shocked the nation when it emerged from the lone NCAA DII non-scholarship conference to win the program’s first national title. The Wildcats won it again in 1999.
When they return to the diamond in spring 2022, who knows what excitement the season may hold. One thing is for sure—the team, the fans, and the field will be ready.