TCU catcher Kyle Bacak didn’t need to hear it, but coach Jim Schlossnagle couldn’t help himself.
Bacak’s passed ball on a third strike let the lead-off batter aboard in a tie game with Baylor in April 2013. The runner eventually scored and the Horned Frogs lost 4-3.
It was Bacak’s 15th passed ball of the season. It was also his last.
“When we lost that game I called him and I was as hard on a player as I’ve been in a long time,” Schlossnagle said.
Schlossnagle was at his wit’s end, not just with Bacak, but also with a team batting .219 at the time and treading water at 17-21.
Schlossnagle told Bacak that he was signed out of San Jacinto College to be a reliable defensive presence behind the plate.
“And you’re not living up to your end of the deal,” Schlossnagle told him.
It was a wake-up call for Bacak, who snapped out of his defensive funk and performed as expected the rest of the season.
He’s been even better this season as a senior. He’s had only five passed balls in 55 games as TCU (40-15) makes its way through the Big 12 tournament.
The No. 2-seeded Frogs play seventh-seeded Baylor (26-30) at 9 a.m. Saturday. TCU beat Baylor 8-5 in the tournament opener Wednesday.
Bacak remembers the meeting with Schlossnagle well.
“The runner got on because of me and basically it was my fault is how I felt, and that’s how Schloss felt, too,” he said. “It was a mentality thing. It wasn’t about talent because I’ve always been able to do it. I just kind of snapped out of it and realized this is my time. If I don’t start playing better I’m not going to be playing anymore.”
Bacak has benefited from the addition of assistant volunteer coach Zach Etheredge, who was a two-time All-Southland Conference catcher at UT San Antonio.
“There were some mechanical things he’s improved on,” said Schlossnagle, who has rarely had a coach with catching experience. “Coach Etheredge has done a really good job with him. Blocking is more will than anything. It’s way less about fundamentals than it’s about the want to and the grit and the desire.”
Bacak has plenty of that. It just took a while for him to remember how he grew up playing the game.
“I was kind of still feeling around and not playing recklessly,” said Bacak, who has thrown out 13 of 20 base runners this season. A year ago he threw out 19 of 40. “I wasn’t playing like I’ve always played, which is max effort and getting grimy and doing all the dirty work.”
Now he’s respected not only for his prowess behind the plate but for how he handles the array of TCU pitchers, all with different styles and personalities.
“Sometimes we expect junior college guys to come in and be the savior because they’ve played at some level of college baseball, but it’s still a big transition for them and they’re new,” Schlossnagle said. “Now he feels more at home and he knows the pitchers.”
A scout praised Bacak to Schlossnagle this week after seeing him manage the pitchers and direct his infielders during the tournament. The comparison evoked former TCU catching greats such as Bryan Holaday and Josh Elander.
Bacak has improved his batting average 12 points to .250 this year and has 15 RBIs. Most importantly, he’s been a rock behind the plate.
“It’s really important to have seniors that are playing to their max potential because the younger players kind of look up to the seniors,” he said. “It sort of solidifies everything. We have a lot of leaders on this team and it helps us to have some credentials to back it up.”