TCU baseball program rising above game’s obstacles

06/21/2014 9:45 PM

06/21/2014 11:50 PM

The winds were taunting. The assigned tools were sub-standard. And the old stop for ice cream at Zesto’s is now miles away.

But it was Omaha, and it was the College World Series. And for a baseball program such as TCU’s, it was a defining visit, the Horned Frogs’ second in five seasons.

A year ago coach Jim Schlossnagle’s team finished with a 29-28 record and no postseason invitation. The Frogs had a meek .246 batting average as a team and a .652 OPS, averaging barely four runs a game.

More than a few smug critics uttered, “Welcome to the Big 12 Conference,” as if the Frogs’ previous baseball success hadn’t been carved against the big boys.

But as the College World Series reminds us every year, good baseball is good baseball. If you snickered at TCU a year ago for its former conference credentials, you have to applaud the Frogs this time for running the table all the way to Omaha.

Average teams, from average college baseball programs, don’t just stumble into the World Series twice in five seasons.

The Frogs lasted three games this time, but their fate seemed to swing in the 15-inning loss to eventual group winner Virginia. In the end, they fell victim to the same ills that sent most of the other teams home — inconsistent offense and just not quite enough dominating pitching.

“I had always said I thought our ballpark was going to help us be prepared for the conditions in Omaha, and that held true,” Schlossnagle said Saturday.

The new home of the College World Series, TD Ameritrade Park, played big and quirky in what seemed like an unforgiving 25-mph wind. The dimensions aren’t much different from TCU’s home park, Lupton Stadium, but the unseasonably stiff winds, combined with the NCAA bats, made scoring runs difficult.

Schlossnagle finally spoke out after seeing a couple of Kevin Cron drives fall short in the 15-inning game.

“I didn’t want it to come across as I didn’t respect the stadium — how pretty it is and all that,” he said. “My comment was more about the bats.

“I’m not usually outspoken, but as I was sitting there for all the extra-inning games, I can promise you that had we won that game, it was going to be epic.

“It was just frustrating. It was boring to watch. And it was not baseball.”

Not a single media representative that I talked to after the Schlossnagle mini-tirade disagreed with the coach’s “it’s a travesty” remark. On the contrary, they admired Schlossnagle for speaking out on the biggest of college baseball stages.

The problem is, the bat standards are not likely to revert to anything approaching what they were pre-2011. Safety concerns are the expected reason.

Instead, the patch that will be applied to the game next season will be a new baseball with lower seams. It may or may not help.

In any case, Schlossnagle and his staff should have a strong nucleus to build upon. Newcomers Evan Skoug of Libertyville, Ill., and L.D. Bell product Zack Plunkett, both catchers, will help a lineup that could include six returning position players.

And the 2015 team should, all annual rumors to the contrary, also include Schlossnagle himself.

On the day after his team returned from Omaha, Schlossnagle said, “I’m very happy. The best piece of advice I was ever given in athletics came from Kevin White, who was the athletic director at Tulane, and he said, ‘As long as you’re working for an administration that has the same goals you do, you just have to make sure that the job you have is the job you want.’ ”

TCU, with its new home in the Big 12, is a job that Schlossnagle wants and his entire family enjoys.

The next step, it would seem, should be up to the TCU athletic director:

The baseball coach deserves a raise.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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