TCU has joined seven other teams in making college baseball’s ultimate pilgrimage to the American heartland. All have converged on TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, vying to navigate the obstacle course of the College World Series and become the 69th NCAA national baseball champion.
Four teams enter with championship history. Cal State Fullerton, LSU, Miami and defending champion Vanderbilt all have celebrated CWS titles.
On the other hand, none of the eight are first-time participants, including the Horned Frogs, who are becoming perennial national contenders.
Play starts Saturday and runs until June 22-23 and the 24th, if necessary.
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The Razorbacks are making their eighth appearance in the College World Series, most recently in 2012, and are led by center fielder and SEC Player of the Year Andrew Benintendi, the seventh overall pick this week of the Boston Red Sox.
Record: 40-23 (4-5 on neutral fields).
Coach: Dave Van Horn, 524-293 in 13 seasons at Arkansas; 1,109-533 in 27 seasons overall.
Key players: CF Andrew Benintendi (.380, 19 HR, 55 RBIs, .715 SLG and 23 SB), OF Tyler Spoon (.331, 6 HR, 20 2B, 54 RBIs), RHP Keaton McKinney (6-2, 3.27 ERA, 2 SO, .229 opp. average), RHP Dominic Taccolini (6-4, 4.32 ERA), Trey Killian (3-4, 4.74 ERA), RHP Zach Johnson (5-0, 1.91 ERA, 9 saves).
How they got here: Regionals (3-0) – d. Oral Roberts, Oklahoma State and St. John’s (N.Y.). Super Regionals — d. Missouri State, 2-1.
All-time record against TCU: 45-19.
Call the INS: A team-high 11 players on Arkansas’ roster are immigrants from Texas, including senior Jacob Stone, a right-hander from Saginaw Boswell who is 3-2 in 19 appearances, including two starts.
Elite alums: Benintendi became the eighth player in the program’s history to be selected in the first round of the Major League’s First-Year Player Draft. The others: OF Kevin McReynolds, 1981; SS/3B Jeff King, 1986; RHP David Walling, 1999; LHP Nick Schmidt, 2007; 3B Logan Forsythe, 2008; 3B Zack Cox, 2010; RHP Ryan Stanek, 2013.
Hey, we know that guy: Craig Gentry holds the school record for most hits in consecutive at-bats, 10 in 2005.
Did you know? Arkansas makes claim that the university was the first in the south to integrate a major university since Reconstruction, accepting Silas Hunt, an African American and World War II veteran, into law school in 1948. A memorial sculpture on campus commemorates the history.
Seriously, just fold the team: The first recorded mention of a baseball game in the state of Arkansas was reportedly a matchup pitting the Pulaski Base Ball Club and the Galaxy Base Ball Club,” so noted by the Arkansas Gazette on March 19, 1867. Pulaski “was duly declared the winning club.” No kidding. The box score wouldn’t fit into today’s newspaper: Pulaski 67, Galaxy 15. “The Galaxy played well, considering … its very recent organization. We advise them not to be discouraged, by failure in this their first attempt, but to adopt the old adage ‘try, try again.’”
Cal State Fullerton
The Titans, who have advanced to the NCAA postseason in 37 of their 41 seasons at the Division-I level, will be making the program’s 17th trip to Omaha and first since 2009. Fullerton seeks its fifth national championship – the Titans last won in 2004 —riding the right arm of Thomas Eshelman, a Houston Astros draft pick who leads the nation with an 18.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Record: 39-23 (1-2 neutral fields).
Coach: Rick Vanderhook, 160-78 in three seasons overall, all at Fullerton.
Key players: OF Josh Vargas, .340, 30 BB, .448 OBP), OF David Olmedo-Barrera (.328, 10 HR, 45 RBIs, .571 SLG), INF Jerrod Bravo (.312), OF Tyler Stieb (.303, 11 2B), RHP Thomas Eshelman (8-5, 1.58 ERA, 131 K/131.1 IP), LHP John Gavin (7-3, 3.66 ERA), RHP Connor Seabold (5-3, 2.84 ERA), LHP Tyler Peiltzmeier (5-3, 2.20 ERA, 16 Saves).
How they got here: Regionals (3-0) – d. Pepperdine, Arizona State and Pepperdine. Super Regionals – d. Louisville, 2-1.
All-time record against TCU: 15-7.
He knows these guys: The Titans program has produced 53 major-league players, including former Rangers Frank Tanana, Phil Nevin, Kevin Reimer and Gabe Kapler and perennial All-Star Tim Wallach. Among the others: Kirk Sarloos, once a Titans pitcher and now TCU pitching coach. Sarloos, the Big West pitcher of the year in 2001, was 33-12 with a 2.96 ERA in four seasons. In two appearances at the CWS, in 1999 and 2001, Sarloos recorded a save and allowed only two runs in 151/3 innings pitched.
That name sounds familiar: Center fielder Tyler Stieb is the nephew of seven-time MLB All-Star pitcher Dave Stieb. Tyler Stieb’s father, Steven, played in the CWS, with Southern Illinois in 1977.
Young guns: Fullerton is the newest school in the College World Series field, having been established as a state college in 1959 and granted full university status in 1972.
Pachy past: The genesis of Fullerton’s Titan mascot was an elephant race — yes, you read that right — in May of 1962. The “First Intercollegiate Elephant Race in Human History was conducted in an Orange County corn field renamed “Dumbo Downs.” Fullerton students promoted the race with its American Pharoah, “Tuffy the Titan.” An estimated 10,000 spectators turned out to see Harvard win that year. Another of the curious watched from afar. Officials should use an official Amateur Athletic Union “wind-measuring machine at the race course. An aiding wind greater than 4.77 mph will render your times unofficial and unacceptable at the world level,” former Vice President Richard Nixon joked in a telegram. Women were allowed to ride the next (and last) year, prompting the event to be renamed the “Second Annual (and First Coeducational) Intercollegiate Elephant Race.”
Fullerton is his field of dreams: One of Fullertson’s most visible alums is Kevin Costner, a graduate of the business school in 1978 who either really loved baseball or really needed an “A” when he registered in baseball class taught by former coach Augie Garrido. Considering future roles in Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, the answer is probably both.
The Gators’ game Saturday against Miami will mark their ninth College World Series appearance since the program’s beginnings in 1912. A first national title would also set Florida apart as the first to win Division I softball and baseball titles in the same season.
Record: 49-16 (5-2 on neutral fields).
Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan, 341-171 in eight seasons overall, all at Florida.
Key players: DH/UT JJ Schwarz (.332, 18 HR, 71 RBIs, .651 SLG), INF Josh Tobias (.373, 24 extra-base hits), OF Harrison Bader (.292, 15 HR, 61 RBIs), C Mike Rivera (.261, .667 caught stealing avg.), LHP A.J. Puk (9-3, 3.63 ERA, 99 K/72 IP), RHP Logan Shore (9-6, 2.50 ERA).
How they got here: Regionals (3-0) – d. Florida A&M, South Florida and Florida Atlantic. Super Regionals – d. Florida State, 2-0.
All-time record against TCU: Never played.
Florida’s notable baseball alumni includes David Eckstein, Robby Thompson, Darren O’Day, Mike Zunino and Mike Stanley. The best among them – in college, that is – might be former Texas Rangers outfielder Brad Wilkerson, who led the Gators to CWS appearances in 1996 and ’98 as a pitcher and in the field. Wilkerson’s career .381 batting average is the best in Florida history, as is his .715 slugging percentage and 224 walks between 199698. He’s also second in RBIs, runs scored and total bases, and third in home runs. For all of that — in the only three seasons he played before being picked by Montreal in the first round of the 1998 draft — he became the first Gators player to be inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Up to his elbows in alligators: Perhaps no Florida baseball alum had a bigger impact on the game than Haywood Sullivan, an All-SEC quarterback and catcher at Florida who signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1952. Sullivan bounced around the majors before retiring and becoming the manager of the Kansas City A’s in 1965. He returned to the Red Sox front office, eventually becoming part owner and general manager and less popular than Tom Hicks in a baseball town furious with management decisions the faithful would one day compare to New Coke.
The No. 2 Tigers and shortstop Alex Bregman are the highest national seed remaining in the field and bring quite a history to the CWS as one of only three schools to win six national titles (Southern Cal 12, Texas 6). LSU, making its 17th appearance in Nebraska, has a .717 winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament, highest all time.
Record: 53-10 (6-1 on neutral fields).
Coach: Paul Mainieri, 414-159 in nine seasons at LSU; 1,278-651 in 33 years overall.
Key players: C Kade Scivicque (.347, 26 extra-base hits, 45 RBIs, 65 percent thrown-out stealing), 3B Conner Hale (.343, 56 RBIs), SS Alex Bregman (.312, 34 extra-base hits), OF Andrew Stevenson (.356, .407 OBP), RHP Alex Lange (11-0, 1.89 ERA), LHP Jared Poche (9-1, 2.91 ERA).
How they got here: Regionals (3-0) – d. Lehigh, UNC Wilmington and UNC Wilmington. Super Regionals – d. Louisiana-Lafayette, 2-0.
All-time record against TCU: 6-1.
Did you know? LSU — under Mainieri, the National Coach of the Year in 2008 and ’09 — has 203 victories over the past four years, the most in the nation during that span.
He was “Joey” then: Before he was a mercurial All-Star who terrified big-league pitchers, Albert Belle was an All-America outfielder for LSU, leading the Tigers to their first CWS appearance in 1986. In three years in Baton Rouge, Belle set school career records in RBIs, home runs and total bases. He also led the nation in home runs with 21 in 1987. Among the 65 other major-leaguers from LSU are Paul Byrd, Brian Wilson, Aaron Hill and Brad Hawpe, a Class 4A state champion at Saginaw Boswell.
Texas Rangers deputy: Connie Ryan, an LSU Tiger baseball player in the late 1930s and early ’40s before a 12-year MLB career, was almost the Rangers manager in a strange 1977 season. He actually was … going 2-4 in six games. Offered the position on a permanent basis, Ryan declined. “I think I had lost the desire to manage a big-league team,” he told a reporter years later. “For so many years, I had … desire to manage a big-league team. Then it slowly dwindled. But I think I still should have taken that Texas job.”
Baseball was first at LSU: The first intercollegiate contest at LSU was a baseball game, a win, against Tulane in 1893. It was also there, some say, that the school’s Royal Purple and Old Gold were first worn.
The No. 5 Hurricanes bring the muscle of All-America sluggers David Thompson and George Iskenderian to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. Thompson is the top run producer in college baseball, with 87 RBIs and 19 homers. Miami seeks to add a third national baseball championship to its rich baseball history, which now includes 23 trips to the CWS.
Record: 49-15 (1-2 on neutral fields).
Coach: Jim Morris 980-379 in 22 seasons at Florida; 1,615-686 in 38 seasons overall.
Key players: 3B David Thompson (.333, 19 HR, 87 RBI), INF George Ishkenderian (.367, 55 RBIs, .462 OBP), C Zack Collins (.303, 15 HR, 70 RBI), LHP Andrew Suarez (9-1, 2.96 ERA), LHP Thomas Woodrey (7-2, 3.06 ERA), RHP Enrique Sosa (7-4, 4.07 ERA).
How they got here: Regionals (3-1) – d. Florida International, d. Columbia, l. Columbia, d. Columbia. Super Regionals – d. Virginia Commonwealth, 2-0.
All-time record against TCU: Never played.
Did you know? Baseball hall of famer Jimmie Foxx coached the Hurricanes in 1956-57, going 20-20 over those two seasons. Foxx was a three-time MVP during the course of a 20-year big-league career with the Athletics, Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies.
He would know: As the story goes, according to the university, legendary coach Ron Fraser, who led Miami to two national titles during his stint from 1963-92, received a call from Joe DiMaggio, who had visited a preseason practice. “One of your guys has a flaw in his swing,” DiMaggio supposedly said, albeit paraphrased. That tip helped Ernie Yaroshuk hit .448 that season.
The Wizard: Fraser was forced to wear a couple of different hats, including chief marketer, when the baseball program lost its financial footing in the 1960s. He brainstormed a number of promotions designed to lure fans and students to the games. Among them were the first batgirls in college baseball and green gloves on St. Patrick’s Day. A $5,000-a-plate gourmet dinner on the infield featured 10 courses, including caviar, Alaskan king crab legs and pheasant. A harpist played on the mound and violinists went table to table, according to the university.
The Frogs, a No. 7 national seed, hope a third trip to Omaha in the past five years results in the school’s first national baseball title. A deep stable of reliable starting pitchers — all four drafted by major-league teams this week — and a lineup led by Big 12 Player of the Year Cody Jones boost TCU’s aspirations.
Record: 49-13 (1-2 on neutral fields).
Coach: Jim Schlossnagle, 514-234 in 12 seasons at TCU; 591-281 in 14 seasons overall.
Key players: RHP Preston Morrison (11-3, 2.55 ERA), LHP Tyler Alexander (6-2, 2.86 ERA), LHP Alex Young (9-2, 2.31 ERA), RHP Mitchell Traver (9-2, 1.61 ERA), CF Cody Jones (.371, .474 OBP, 31 SB), C Evan Skoug (.286, 7 HR, 44 RBI), 3B Derek Odell (.309, 39 RBI), DH/OF Connor Wanhanen (.320, 37 RBI).
How they got here: Regionals (4-1) – d. Sacred Heart, l. N.C. State, d. Stony Brook, d. N.C. State, d. N.C. State. Super Regionals: d. Texas A&M, 2-1.
Battle of Texas: In 12 seasons under Jim Schlossnagle, TCU ranks third in victories among Texas’ Division I programs, behind only Rice and Texas. The Frogs, though are creeping up on the Longhorns. The top five programs in Texas, by record, in the last 12 seasons.
4. Texas A&M
5. Dallas Baptist
Did you know? Dutch Meyer, who led TCU to the national football titles in 1935 and ’38, had three stints as the baseball coach. His last term began with a Southwest Conference title and the school’s first berth in the NCAA Tournament in 1956. There, the Frogs lost twice to Arizona on the road.
He had a little Billy Martin in him: L.D. Meyer, Dutch Meyer’s nephew, played football and baseball at TCU, but he gained renown as a minor-league manager of the Tulsa Oilers. In 1955, Meyer kicked some outfielder named Roger Maris off the team for insubordination. Meyer got kicked off the team — fired — soon after.
Slingin’ it across the diamond: Two TCU football legends were also baseball players in the 1930s. Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh was an All-Southwest Conference infielder in 1935-36. Davey O’Brien, who led the Frogs to the 1938 national football championship, lettered in 1937-38. U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Austin) was selected all-conference as an outfielder in 1969.
Cornelius’ Commodores, the defending national champion, will arrive in Omaha with shiny weapons in the form of three first-round draft picks in the MLB draft, including top overall pick Dansby Swanson and pitchers Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler.
Record: 47-19 (5-4 on neutral fields).
Coach: Tim Corbin, 563-269, 13 seasons, all at Vanderbilt.
Key players: SS Dansby Swanson (.350, 15 HR, 23 2B, 62 RBI, .661 SLG, .442 OBP), RHP Carson Fulmer (13-2, 1.82 ERA, 152 K), RHP Walker Buehler (4-2, 2.97 ERA), OF Bryan Reynolds (.311, 45 RBI), OF Rhett Wiseman (.318, 14 HR), INF Zander Wiel (.316, 14 HR, 65 RBI).
How they got here: Regionals (3-0) – d. Lipscomb, Indiana and Radford. Super Regionals – d. Illinois, 2-0.
All-time record against TCU: 0-1. Lost 4-2 on March 8 at Dodger Stadium.
Modest beginnings: Vanderbilt baseball debuted in 1886 with a two-game season. The Commodores went 1-1 against then-archrival Sewanee.
Did you know? University namesake Cornelius Vanderbilt earned the nickname “Commodore” for his contributions (and opportunism?) to the U.S. war effort during the War of 1812. Vanderbilt had a contract from the government to supply forts around New York. There was no friendship in trade, the Commodore liked to say. He later was presented the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to the Union cause during the Civil War.
Things have changed: Shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt donated $1 million for a university to constructed in Nashville. In today’s dollars, that donation would be valued at close to $20 million. Vandy shortstop Dansby Swanson, the first overall pick in the MLB first-year player draft, will in all probability sign a contract that includes a bonus of more than $6.5 million. If he meets expectations, one day, he’ll likely sign a multi-year contract for more than $100 million, more than Vanderbilt’s net worth in his day.
Three hits: Vanderbilt set a school record with three players drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft. Shortstop Dansby Swanson went first overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks, right-handed pitcher Carson Fulmer went No. 8 to the Chicago White Sox and Walker Buehler, another righty, to the Dodgers with the 24th pick. The other Vandy first-rounders over the years: 1B/OF Glenn Davis, 1997; 1B Clinton Johnston, 1998; LHP Jeremy Sowers, 2004; LHP David Price, RHP Casey Weathers, 2007; INF Pedro Alvarez, INF Ryan Flaherty, 2008; LHP Mike Minor, 2009; RHP Sonny Gray, LHP Grayson Garvin, 2011; RHP Tyler Beede, 2014.
Vanderbilt’s Cobb-webs: Baseball great Ty Cobb, just off his AL MVP season of 1911, visited campus Thanksgiving week of that year, not to play baseball, but to … act with “one of the most laughable characters in modern comedy.” Cobb had a lead role in The College Widow, which was touring the country. Said one review: “A bookworm by nature has been engaged to instruct careless or backward boys into the mysteries of education. His whole life is bound up in the acquisition of knowledge and his prim and precise ways are the natural result of such an existence. With the company is Ty Cobb, the champion baseball player, who in the role of Billy Bolton, the halfback, is said to be an actor of promise.”
The Cavaliers, on a run of 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, head to their fourth College World Series seeking to build off a runner-up finish in 2014. They’ve done it with a young roster and without staff ace Nathan Kirby, who was lost to injury in April.
Record: 39-22 (13-4 on neutral fields).
Coach: Brian O’Connor, 553-199 in 12 seasons, all at Virginia.
Key players: C Matt Thaiss (.332, 9 HR, 60 RBI, .424 OBP), 3B Kenny Towns (.298, 5 HR, 60 RBI), SS Daniel Pinero (.300, 6 HR), RHP Connor Jones (7-2, 2.96 ERA).
How they got here: Regionals (3-0) – d. Southern California, San Diego State and USC. Super Regionals – d. Maryland, 2-0.
All-time record against TCU: 1-0.
Did you know? Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn studied law at Virginia, receiving his letters in 1950.
Jefferson declares: Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the founder of Virginia, had a philosophy different from the accepted standards as it concerns the science of sport and exercise. In a letter to acquaintance Peter Carr in 1785: “As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind.” Considering baseball’s roots in America, it’s likely Jefferson never witnessed a baseball game or any derivative.
That’s baseball: The Cavaliers were 23-14 and 8-11 in the ACC on April 17 because of lackluster pitching and defense. Virginia closed the regular season 11-5 and advanced to the ACC Tournament by winning a pay-in game 11-0 over Georgia Tech. That was followed by three straight losses. Since then, the baseball Cavaliers haven’t lost, sweeping the Lake Elisnore Regional and then Maryland in the Super Regional.
College World Series
Saturday-June 23/24, TD Ameritrade Park Omaha
Arkansas vs. Virginia, 2 p.m. Saturday
Florida vs. Miami, 7 p.m. Saturday
LSU vs. TCU, 2 p.m. Sunday
Cal State Fullerton vs. Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. Sunday