Retiring Fred Mims revisits Iowa's lone College World Series
MINNEAPOLIS – As Fred Mims looked out at Target Field on Thursday, he chuckled at the notion that his four-plus decades at the University of Iowa would start and end with baseball at the center.
In between, Mims was primarily a behind-the-scenes administrator that dealt with the less-glorified work in a power-conference athletic department: NCAA compliance, student services, diversity.
Mims laughed when recalling what former Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby once told him: "Fred, you got the dirty end of the stick."
Mims' 38-year administrative career will end next month. He's retiring and will remain with his wife, Susan, in Iowa City, where he first arrived in the early 1970s. Future major-league catcher Jim Sundberg, who grew up with Mims in Galesburg, Ill., attracted Mims to Iowa, where he became a star power-hitting center fielder.
Mims was the team's only African-American player in an era with pronounced racial tension. He received derogatory comments and letters.
"There was a bit of tension, correct," said Mims, who went on to a brief pro career in the Houston Astros organization before returning to Iowa as a coach, then administrator. "I was very determined not to let it get me away from something I did very well. I saw it as a challenge."
Mims hit two home runs in the 1972 Big Ten championship game win over Northwestern. Those Hawkeyes, under then-second-year coach Duane Banks, not only made the school's first NCAA Tournament, they completed a magical run to the College World Series.
Iowa had a modest 25-17 record in 1972, but it got hot when it counted. Mims remembered the moment that changed the course of that season.
"We were kind of up and down early in the season, and then we called a team meeting, just players alone," he said. "We talked out the issues.
"We started winning games after that."
The Hawkeyes would lose both games at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha — 2-1 to Arizona State, 13-9 to Temple. But they remain the only CWS team in school history.
Things have come full circle for Mims. He's in his final month as the boss of Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller, who is leading a program revival. The Hawkeyes will earn just the fourth NCAA regional bid in school history when pairings are announced Monday, and first since 1990.
Mims joked that one of his greatest traits as Heller's boss is to stay out of his way, though the two can easily talk baseball or strategy — or anything else.
His last day is June 30, less than a week after the 2015 College World Series ends in Omaha. It remains a long shot for Iowa (39-16) to get there despite its phenomenal success in Heller's second season, but Mims can't think of a better way to spend the final days of his career.
"Things happen for a reason. You've got to believe that," Mims said. "This year's a special year for Iowa baseball, for Rick. I feel very, very proud being part of it."
NCAA SELECTION SHOW
Find out where Iowa will be headed for its fourth-ever NCAA baseball tournament by tuning into ESPNU at 11 a.m. CT. The 64-team field will be revealed at that time. The 16 regional host sites were to be announced Sunday night.