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As for the field, it was a great place to run an off-road race. Or breed mosquitoes. "It was terrible," says Dietz. "The dugouts were always under water. Technically, in the eyes of the administration, it never existed. There was no budget for improvements. I've had to beg, borrow and steal to build it."
"Jim's like a supply sergeant," says Ron Tessada, a longtime friend and the supervisor of grounds and landscape services at SDSU. "He'll tell you he's a master builder but, honestly, he doesn't know an amp from a volt. But you tell him to appropriate some No. 4 wire and he'll get it."
Sitting at brunch not too long ago with Carol, Dietz—his face tanned, nose sloping off to one side—discussed his modus operandi. "The one thing I've learned is that certain sports will find success if they're treated with respect."
And if they're not?
"Well, it forced me to become...."
"An outlaw," says Carol.
"Yeah, in a way. It forced me to work outside the system to get things done."
Former players smile ruefully when they explain where their coach headed to get things done: construction sites, condo projects, places scouted as carefully as any playoff opponent. "We've done some raiding," admits Aztec assistant coach Dave Legg, 28, now in his sixth season. "Six, seven guys in a truck. We would toss in some drywall and have it hung before anyone knew it. I'd ask Jim about it, and he'd say, 'If they want it, let them come and get it.' "
Dietz has also been known to reroute materials meant for one part of the campus to Smith Field and its pressing needs. Fertilizer, hoses, even trees. One evening 75 evergreens mysteriously disappeared from one corner of the campus, only to be spotted the next day—freshly planted—beyond the centerfield fence. Says one former State official and a close friend of Dietz's, "Jim would trade cases of beer with the grounds crew. He used to tell me that it's amazing how much work you can get out of a case of beer."
Whatever building materials or greenery Dietz and his players have gathered through the years, he has honorably come by donations worth 10 times more. The batting cages at Smith Field were built with wood torn off the roofs of old monkey cages donated by the biology department; the batting nets came courtesy of the local tuna fleet; the clubhouse was framed by a player's dad; the wall behind third base was a donation from Dave Smith's father, a contractor, though today Smith says, "I don't think my dad knew it was a donation at the time."