April 3, 1996: When Brian Mazurek nearly hit for the cycle in one inning of a 71-1 rout
When Brian Mazurek stepped to the plate for the fourth time on April 3, 1996, he had an opportunity to do something that has almost certainly never been done, at any level of baseball in the history of the sport.
The thing was, he had no idea, for good reason. The game was a bit chaotic at that point.
Mazurek was the first baseman for St. Francis of Illinois, an NAIA powerhouse, and his Fighting Saints were in the midst of an inning nobody had ever seen before. In that inning, against Robert Morris (of Chicago), the Saints sent 30 players to the plate and 26 of them scored. You read those numbers correctly. The final score — in just four innings — was 71-1. Again, accurate.
In his first three at-bats of the first inning, Mazurek had doubled, tripled and homered. He needed only a single to complete the cycle — IN THE FIRST INNING — but instead, he walked.
“Nobody knew that was going on. Nobody paid any attention,” Mazurek said with a laugh in a phone interview Thursday. “Obviously, if I could have swung at anything instead of walking, then ran and hugged first base, that probably would be something in the record books nobody’s ever touched, at any level.”
Mazurek did finish his cycle in the game, just not in that inning. Strange to think somehow a cycle — a rare accomplishment at any level — could be even remotely disappointing.
“That’s one thing that’s always stuck with me,” he said. “If I would have only known that I needed a single, I would have never walked, let’s put it that way. I would have struck out before I walked.”
That game still holds a special place in NCAA baseball history. Here are a some marks that still hold.
10 — Triples in a game
11 — Bases on balls in an inning
26 — Runs in an inning
44 — Hits in a game
53 — RBI in a game
70 — largest margin of victory
Oh, and Mazurek? He set the record for most RBIs in an inning, with nine. Mike Palermo, the team’s freshman shortstop, tied an NAIA record with seven hits in the game.
I asked Mazurek what the team was thinking as that marathon first inning was going on.
“Just, ‘This is not right.’ We weren’t celebrating, like it was the Super Bowl or another good team,” he said. “It was kind of like, ‘Why is this team out there?’ Even at our age, this wasn’t fair to them. They weren’t ready. They didn’t belong here. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have heart or weren’t playing hard. It’s just that other teams had scouted high school players and this and that, and they were basically trying to field a team, let alone put together a team. It was bizarre.”
It was a lopsided matchup, for sure. Robert Morris was only in its second season as a baseball program. The team went 1-31 in 1995, and was 0-7 heading into that game.
“I remember it was 52-1 or something in the second inning, and we asked if they wanted to call the game,” Mazurek said. “They were like, ‘No, no. We want to keep going. We came to play. We’re here to play.’ We weren’t trying to rub it to anyone. On the other side, their coach was like, ‘Look, these are part of our growing pains. This is part of being a new team. We’re going to keep playing.’”
St. Francis, on the other hand, made the NAIA national tournament in 1995 — finishing fifth in the country — and won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference in 1996, finishing with a 36-28 record. Several of the seniors on that 1996 team, including Mazurek, were freshmen when St. Francis turned in the best season in program history.
“In 1993, we started out — which was probably a bigger feat than (the Robert Morris game) — on our spring trip with a 3-13-3,” Mazurek said. “Then we won the national title. We ended up being 46-16-3 on the year. To think that we started like that and then roll through and win the national championship was a pretty amazing feat.”
It remains the only national title in St. Francis history, though the program has remained strong. The Fighting Saints have finished under .500 exactly three times since 1977.
Robert Morris turned things around quickly. The team went winless in 1996, but with a school commitment to resources — yes, fueled by that one lopsided result — a new coach and an influx of transfers, the 1997 season was a different story. The same teams met again in 1997, and this time Robert Morris won, by a score of 2-1. That was the beginning of a new program.
“Some years later, I caught a headline that Robert Morris had won their division,” Mazurek said. “So thinking back from that game to where they went to 15 or 20 years later, they went from this brand-new program to actually winning a conference championship sounded pretty amazing.”
As for Mazurek, he finished with a .358 career average at St. Francis, and still holds the school mark for most career home runs (41). He was drafted in the 31st round by the Cardinals in 1996 and hit .310 in his first year as a pro, for Class A New Jersey in the NY-Penn League. His second year, rooming with future ALCS MVP Adam Kennedy, he hit .281 with nine homers and 47 RBIs in 97 games.
But despite two-year totals of 95 RBIs, 11 homers and a .294 average in 166 games, Mazurek was released by the Cardinals after the 1997 season.
“Very simple,” he said when asked what happened. “If you’re not a top-10 pick or a top-5 pick or a top-3 pick, you didn’t matter. It was inevitable.”
Mazurek played two years of independent baseball, then did a little coaching and started his own business, which he still runs. At one point, he even dipped his toes in reality TV.
“I was on ‘Married by America.’ Uh-huh,” he said with a laugh. “Then I tried ‘Blind Date.’ That was an interesting one. Remember that, with the pop-ups? For that one, you filled out this application and they picked someone the complete opposite to create good drama for television. They give you this whole itinerary for what’s going to happen, and then it all changes. Our first stop was at the Jerry Springer show, if that helps you out any. That was interesting. That whole date was. Lots of memories.”
Memories, not just in reality TV. That one game on this day in 1996 stands out, too.
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