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Littlewood rebuilding BYU baseball program with style and substance

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BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood stands in the dugout at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 28, 2017.

BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood stands in the dugout at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 28, 2017.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Mike is one of the best coaches in Division I baseball right now. If his team plays like it did last week in winning the WCC, in winning four straight to come back and sweep Gonzaga twice in one day, they will win this regional, there is no doubt in my mind. – Former BYU head coach Gary Pullins

PROVO — There’s something Mike Littlewood is taking with the BYU baseball team to its first NCAA regional in 15 years.

It’s not exactly the bats are on fire. It’s not the wins that come in clumps and long streaks. It’s not exactly his penchant for hauling around a competitive spirit you’d like to bottle up and sell. It's not his extensive experience coaching at every level, from high school to junior college to Division I.

It's, well, the class he carries.

This is how his former college coach, Gary Pullins, remembers Littlewood, his third baseman and team captain — as a classy, slick, James Bond kind of guy. A stylin’ dude in duds.

Littlewood played for Pullins at BYU from 1985 through 1988. Pullins now lives 90 miles outside of Houston on a ranch where he loves to tool around in his Mahindra tractor.

Pullins remembers taking his team on a unity-building experience to the sand dunes on the way to Delta. It was a survivalist experience with nothing but water, the desert and each other.

As the clock wound down on the days and nights, players and coaches turned ripe in their raggy baseball shorts and T-shirts that got dirtier and grubbier by the minute in an environment where the sun and sand make about everything deteriorate before your eyes.

“We slept outdoors, ate outdoors. Everyone had a session where we were out all alone," Pullins recalled. "On Sunday, everyone was called in and we hiked a distance of two or three miles to meet a bus. After being there Friday night, all day Saturday, Saturday night and Sunday morning, you can imagine what we looked like.

“And Littlewood, here he came and looking like he just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine. He was wearing apparel he could jog in, but it was biker’s tights and he was probably wearing $200 worth of clothing. The rest of us were wearing old jeans and beat up T-shirts, coaches and players alike.

“But that says a lot about his personality. He’s just a classy, sharp guy. Very professional.”

Pullins said he’s been in a unique situation with Littlewood.

“I’m lucky because not only did he play for me, but when he was at Dixie College, my son Taylor played for him two years. Both years they went to the juco World Series and they played in the championship game when my son was a senior.

“I got a handle on how he handled kids, how he dealt with my son," Pullins continued. "He is a great baseball man. He is very competitive, hates losing. I’ve personally seen his current team play at the Santa Clara series with (former BYU baseball coach and athletic director Glen Tuckett) and other former players, and I saw a homestand in March.”

Pullins made a Texas-size declaration about Littlewood and the regional at Stanford that begins Thursday when the Cougars (37-19) play Cal State Fullerton (34-21) in the first round.

“Mike is one of the best coaches in Division I baseball right now," Pullins said. "If his team plays like it did last week in winning the WCC, in winning four straight to come back and sweep Gonzaga twice in one day, they will win this regional, there is no doubt in my mind. They can compete with every one of the teams at that regional.”

Littlewood has a national championship under his belt while at Dixie College, and Pullins said Littlewood's experience with the Milwaukee Brewers organization as a drafted pro, his attention to detail, and his influence on his players is a tangible force.

That’s why Littlewood got a ranked BYU team that had lost three in a row on the road at Gonzaga to end the regular season to perform at a high level in Stockton, California, last week. His squad did the near impossible, winning the WCC tourney from the losers bracket with four straight wins.

It’s style.

It’s both the ways and the means. Because of Littlewood, BYU is investing in a turf field that can be heated up to help with longer season play and aid in recruiting.

Last week, BYU’s style was to beat Gonzaga to death with a barrage of hits, from home runs to well-placed singles. It was a merry-go-round, baserunners playing musical chairs on the infield. In sweeping two from the Zags, BYU’s run count was 26 to 6.

While pitching almost always decides baseball games, there is something to be said for just plain pounding an opponent into submission.

That’s Littlewood’s style this year, averaging close to nine runs a game, one of the nation’s best scoring clubs in college ball.

Easier said than done at the NCAA regional level, this isn’t the WCC on stage. Littlewood will either pull it off with style, or the Cougars will be home just California Dreamin'.