May 30, 2012

Parents of TCU, UTA pitchers in NCAA regional rundown

Danny and Kathy Merck of Keller are trying to decide whether to watch Horned Frogs or Mavericks, or both on Friday.

Danny and Kathy Merck haven't been here before, but they've been practicing for more than 10 years.

They've been following their baseball-playing sons Kaleb, 22, and Kasey, 20, across the country through grade school summer leagues, Keller High School playoffs and into college.

Trying to watch both of their careers unfold simultaneously hasn't been easy, with conflicting schedules, work, and a second bout of breast cancer that struck Kathy in early 2011.

Having both play in the NCAA Tournament this weekend -- Kaleb, a pitcher with TCU, in College Station and Kasey, a pitcher with UT Arlington, in Waco -- is a blessing, despite the conflict. It's better, Kathy said, than their two schools meeting in the postseason.

TCU (36-19) opens the College Station Regional against Ole Miss (35-24) at 12:35 p.m. Friday at Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park in College Station. UTA (36-23) opens its first regional since 2006 against Dallas Baptist (39-17) at 1 p.m. Friday in the Waco Regional at Baylor Ballpark.

"We were glad they didn't have to play each other," Kathy said. "We're excited for both of them but disappointed we can't be in two places at one time."

They've gotten used to that over the years. When both teams are playing at the same time, they're usually following one on the radio with an iPhone and laptop while attending the other.

"We've battled that for a lot of years," Danny said.

They haven't decided whose game they'll attend Friday, but Danny was working out the logistics and figured if they leave Baylor Ballpark in the third inning and travel the 91 miles southeast to College Station they'd be able, if they're lucky, to catch Kaleb come in as TCU's closer. They may decide to attend TCU's game in its entirety, since Kaleb's college career could be winding down if he decides to go pro after the major league draft next week.

Kasey is a sophomore and started nine games this season. Kaleb, a redshirt junior, has five saves in 21 appearances. He missed last season after shoulder surgery following the 2010 season, in which he played a big role during the Frogs' College World Series appearance.

The day Kaleb came out of the bullpen to help preserve a win in an elimination game in Omaha, Kathy and Kasey had to fly to East Cobb, Ga., for a tournament. Danny and his mother Sue Merck, of Crowley, remained in Omaha and called Kathy to tell her that Kaleb was coming in the game. The cable was down in her hotel room, so she made a mad dash to the lobby to catch Kaleb on ESPN.

"I just grabbed my room key and ran down barefoot and people are looking at me yelling and hooting and hollering," she said. "I thought, oh my gosh, he's on national TV."

By far the biggest obstacle came when she battled cancer for the second time in February 2011. Her survival and recovery were motivated in part by a desire to get healthy enough to attend her sons' games.

"The timing couldn't have been worse because it was right at the beginning of baseball season," she said. "I didn't want it to be a distraction from what they were trying to do. I went to every game after all my chemo treatments. It gave me a goal. And hopefully it was an inspiration for them for if things aren't going your way."

Both chose to play close to home so family could watch them play. Grandma Sue still makes it to most home games and plans to attend UTA's game Friday. Playing at nearby schools was especially beneficial for Kathy last season, when she barely missed a game while fighting cancer.

"She's the biggest trouper," Danny said. "In fact, I don't think she's hardly missed a game. She planned her surgeries around baseball."

Kaleb and Kasey are grateful for the hoops their parents have jumped through to support their careers, and that of brother Kyler, who plays football at Keller High School, but neither campaigns for their attendance.

"It's really important to me, not just because of the sacrifices my parents have had to make," Kaleb said, "but the financial obligations they've had ... they've given up a lot to help us out in our careers."

Their teams split two games this season. Both pitchers made appearances in the Frogs' 5-1 win April 11. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle presented Kaleb with the scorecard from the game.

"It's definitely a hectic schedule for them," Kasey said. "They're really supportive and they do whatever they can to come support both of us."

The brothers attend each other's games whenever they can, although it's a nerve-wracking experience for Kaleb, who says he's much more nervous watching his brother pitch than when he's on the mound.

"It's strange, but I can't handle it," Kaleb said. "I really want him to do well."

That's, of course, all Mom and Dad hope for. Whether they are in the stands or listening to the radio broadcast or watching a live Internet feed, they're more concerned about their sons hopefully winning and advancing to a Super Regional than how they're going to pull off the weekend schedule. If TCU advances, it would likely go to Los Angeles. The Mavericks could be playing in Houston.

That's a conflict the Mercks would love to have.

"We just kind of got used to it after a while," Kathy said. "It's awesome. Most parents don't have the privilege to watch both their kids play college ball, so we're pretty blessed."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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