Although he wasn’t born yet, 1967 has a special meaning for Kyle Mach.
Mach’s grandfather, Phil Gagliano, was a member of the 1967 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Ever since hearing his grandfather’s stories, Mach, who plays third base on the Missouri baseball team, has dreamed of winning a World Series of his own.
“He always told old stories about his old good times,” Mach said. “It really made me want to follow his footsteps and do what he was doing.”
Mach isn’t too far away from winning a different kind of World Series. The Tigers will host an NCAA regional tournament this weekend, their fifth-consecutive appearance in regionals. Winning the tournament is the first step Mach and his teammates must make to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., an accomplishment that would echo his grandfather’s and give Mach some stories of his own to tell.
“It’d be a dream come true (to win a College World Series),” Mach said. “That’s what everyone’s been wanting to do since they were little kids. It’d be awesome.”
Gagliano, 65, was born in Memphis, Tenn., and was drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in 1959. Enjoying a 12-year career in the Majors, Gagliano was a utility hitter on the champion Cardinals in 1967, and later became a successful pinch hitter with the Boston Red Sox,
As a grandfather, and a professional baseball player, Gagliano played a large role in his grandson’s baseball career. He coached Mach’s baseball teams and helped him develop his swing as a young hitter.
“(He taught me) a lot of the fundamentals, hitting-wise,” Mach said. “Defensively he didn’t really do too much, but just all kinds of stuff hitting-wise, my stance. He’s basically taught me how to hit.”
Gagliano doesn’t know where time has gone.
“(I have) tremendous joy watching him,” he said. “You look back at all the years and all of a sudden you have your grandson playing Big 12 baseball.”
From teaching him to stay low, playing catch, and coaching his teams, Gagliano has always been present, helping Mach with baseball. Gagliano said last season Mach wasn’t able to play to his full ability because he didn’t get enough time on the field.
“Last year he was a freshman, and didn’t really play much,” Gagliano said. “He mainly played as defense in late innings, so he didn’t really get to hit that much.”
However, the former major leaguer knew his grandson has talent.
“I coached Kyle for 4 to 5 years in summer ball, and I knew if he got the chance, he had the ability to play D-I baseball,” Gagliano said. “This year he got the opportunity and he’s doing great. I’m looking forward to seeing some big things in the postseason.”
Mach improved his freshman batting average of .219 last season, and now holds the third-highest batting average on the team at .306. Mach also has two home runs and 23 RBIs to help the Tigers finish second in the Big 12. Last season Mach started five games, but this season he has started 48.
“Getting repetitions and seeing pitching every day really helped out,” Mach said. “Getting my confidence up (helped) and I just really started hitting the ball and making good contact.”
Mach’s teammate, senior shortstop Gary Arndt, says the third baseman prepared well for the 2007 season.
“It’s a great deal of his hard work paying off,” Arndt said. “He was in the cages a lot this winter and fall and he just kept on working. It’s definitely paid off for him.”
Gagliano makes the trip up to Columbia from Holister in the Ozark Mountains to come to many of Mach’s games to cheer him on and offer advice.
“He loves it,” Mach said. “He’s been coaching me forever, and that’s what he’s always wanted me to do and that’s been his dream, so it’s been good.”
The proud grandfather not only thinks his grandson is a great player, but believes the whole team has a good shot at advancing.
“I think they have a good chance of getting to Omaha,” Gagliano said. “I think offensively they are better than they were last year. The pitching isn’t as good as last year, but they’ve come to the table and done the job.”
Nothing would thrill the World Series champion more than watching Mach win his own World Series.
“If they win the World Series, my goodness, that would be as great an accomplishment as I experienced,” Gagliano said. “I guarantee you one thing, I’ll be there. That would be a very exciting and proud moment in my life.”