Frogs can’t afford to eat the cheese
05/29/2014 9:46 PM
05/30/2014 5:41 PM
Even after 18 trips to the NCAA baseball tournament, coach Jim Schlossnagle isn’t inclined to tempt fate.
Mention his team’s relative lack of injuries, and the TCU coach knocks on an adjacent table.
Bring up the Horned Frogs’ steady defense, and Schlossnagle again knocks on wood.
Winners of 27 of their last 30 games, the Frogs stand on the welcome mat of school history — national seed hosts in the 64-team tournament for the first time.
Yet, there was Schlossnagle earlier this week tapping the brakes, yanking his team back to earth.
On Monday morning the Frogs gathered and discovered that they had been awarded the tourney’s No. 7 seed.
Two nights later Schlossnagle was on Twitter, sending his players a picture of a bite of cheese. The bite, of course, was at the end of a mouse trap.
“Don’t even think about taking it,” Schlossnagle tweeted.
It was an old Bill Parcells trick, a coach’s way of reminding his team not to swallow the heady things that are being handed them and written about them.
“I think our guys were excited to have the national seed awarded to them,” Schlossnagle said on the eve of the four-team Fort Worth Regional. “But that was Monday morning at 11:30.
“We are back in the hourglass. We’re back heading toward the center of that hourglass. We’re just focused on playing the next pitch.”
Schlossnagle knows that the national seeding doesn’t come with any guarantees.
To make it to the College World Series in 2010, the Frogs had to travel to Austin and beat national seed Texas in the Super Regional.
A year later, the Frogs had to swallow the other side of being a seeded host. TCU was eliminated after back-to-back losses to Dallas Baptist and Oral Roberts.
Schlossnagle has given his current team a first-hand reminder of that.
“I had to come here on a Monday and make sure everything was all squared away for DBU and Oral Roberts to play a championship game on our field, and I don’t want to ever have that feeling again,” he said.
A team that U-turns its season and closes in a 27-of-30 rush has to possess a powerful team chemistry, it was suggested to Schlossnagle.
“That’s a crazy question for me,” he answered, “because what comes first, winning or chemistry?
“I’m a firm believer that coaches like to think they know their team, but they don’t really know unless they’re in the locker room with them.”
This TCU team seemed to bond in stages, Schlossnagle explained.
A key factor has been the way that former starters Connor Castellano, Jeremie Fagnan and Dylan Delso have handled Schlossnagle’s switch to a set lineup. Since a three-game sweep of Texas in Austin in mid-April, the Frogs have used the same position players in the same batting order — 21 games in a row.
“And those three guys in particular haven’t pouted a bit,” Schlossnagle said. “All they’ve done is support their teammates. I don’t see any clubhouse lawyers anywhere.”
Another turning point came when Schlossnagle decided that his presumed team leaders weren’t adequately doing their job.
“It was my fault for maybe letting things be in their hands a little bit too long,” he said. “So I just said, ‘OK, from now on I’m going to hold everybody accountable.’
“So the next day we cleared all the furniture out of the locker room, cleared the TVs out, just to make the statement that we’re here for baseball. This ain’t a country club.
“All that stuff is back in there now, but — .”
The Frogs got the message. The Big 12 title was the program’s first.
On Thursday afternoon, while the Frogs practiced for the Fort Worth Regional, the conference trophy sat inconspicuously next to some papers on Schlossnagle’s desk.
For now, the coach knows, it’s just a mousetrap.
About Gil LeBreton
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