MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Winfield the perfect rep for CWS, Capital One Cup

Hall of Famer who played at University of Minnesota will be in Omaha for College World Series

Winfield the perfect rep for CWS, Capital One Cup

College baseball operates in a state of relative anonymity; it has for decades. And though it occasionally serves as a proving ground for individual baseball talent, in no way does it stand on the same platforms as NCAA football or basketball. But the game that focused national spotlights on the likes of Dave Winfield, Will Clark, Mark Prior, Robin Ventura, Jacoby Ellsbury and scores of others assumes a position of prominence each June when the College World Series is staged in Omaha, Neb.

And this year, the outcome of the Series may decide the winner of the fifth Capital One Cup as well as a national baseball champion. The Cup is presented annually to the school that produces the most points in 19 intercollegiate men's sports. A Cup also is presented to the school with the most points in 20 women's sports. The winning schools receive a handsome trophy and a $200,000 award.

With the Cup standings still quite close, the results of the baseball and softball tournaments could alter the final point totals enough to deny the current leaders -- Ohio State (men's) and Stanford (women's) -- the Cups that were won last year by Notre Dame and Florida, respectively.

Neither Ohio State nor Stanford is involved in the 2015 baseball/softball tournaments.

UCLA, runner-up to Ohio State in the men's standings, is the top seed in the 64-team NCAA baseball tournament. If the Bruins live up to that assessment, they will pass Ohio State and could snare the Capital One Cup. Florida, second to Stanford in the Capital One standings, is the defending national softball champion and is the highest seed in the tournament field of eight that begins competition Thursday in Oklahoma City. Another championship will result in a second straight Cup.

Another position of prominence belongs to Winfield, the baseball Hall of Famer who emerged from the 1973 College World Series as its Most Valuable Player. Winfield, now a special assistant to Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, also serves as a spokesman for the Capital One Cup. He will be in Omaha for the CWS, which begins June 13.

"It's a great event," Winfield said Wednesday morning. "You see a lot of good baseball and players you're going to see in the big leagues soon. "It's a big event, too. A lot of schools. Fans can get a look at it. You can follow it on Twitter and Facebook."

Who better than Winfield to promote the CWS and to represent the Capital One Cup?

Winfield played basketball as well as baseball for the University of Minnesota, so had the Cup competition existed in the '70s, the former Padres and Yankees slugger might have helped two Gophers teams amass points.

Winfield didn't play college football, but the Minnesota Vikings thought enough of his size, strength and athleticism to use their 17th-round pick in the 1973 NFL Draft to select him. He was also drafted by the Atlanta Hawks (NBA), the Utah Stars (ABA) and the San Diego Padres that year.

"I wasn't going to play basketball in college," Winfield said. "But there were no full scholarships for baseball. They told me I could get a full free ride if I played basketball. So I did. ... That's the way it was for baseball -- half scholarships."

Winfield excelled in both sports. The University of Minnesota won the Big Ten basketball tournament during Winfield's senior year, and the Gophers' baseball team reached the Final Four on the strength of Winfield's right arm -- he was a pitcher. His pitching was such that he was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

"They let me hit only one year," Winfield said.

Winfield played the outfield -- and hit -- in the summers.

"So when I got to the big leagues two weeks after my last game in college, I had a lot to learn," he said.

And he learned. Winfield finished his 22-year career with 3,110 hits, 465 of which were home runs. He drove in 1,833 runs, scored 1,669, won seven Gold Glove Awards and received votes for the MVP Award nine times. His Hall of Fame induction came in 2001, his first year of eligibility.

Winfield readily recalls the two starts he made in the CWS, one against Oklahoma, the second against Southern Cal. He beat the Sooners, 1-0, on a one-hitter, striking out 14. Then in the semifinal round, Minnesota led 7-0 entering the ninth. Winfield had struck out 15.

"I'd thrown a lot of pitches, so they pulled me. We lost, 8-7, and were eliminated," he said. "Tough one. Heartbreaker."

Winfield will be in Omaha for the opening ceremonies and to make appearances to raise funds for baseball programs.

"College baseball deserves more," Winfield said. "It's a great game."

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.