TCU baseball benefits deeply from DH-closer connection

TCU pitcher Durbin Feltman and infielder Luken Baker went to the same high school before coming to TCU.
TCU pitcher Durbin Feltman and infielder Luken Baker went to the same high school before coming to TCU.

When Luken Baker went on his home run barrage last week, one teammate had already seen it.

Durbin Feltman grew up with the freshman TCU slugger.

He’d seen Baker hit home runs in bunches before. Four in five games — as Baker did in the Horned Frogs’ Big 12 tournament championship week in Oklahoma City — was a remarkable achievement, but it didn’t make Feltman blink twice.

“I’m not really that surprised,” he said. “I’ve seen him do it before.”

And now he’s seeing it happen at TCU.

Like he wanted.

Feltman, who has emerged as the Frogs’ closer, is one of the reasons Baker chose TCU for his college baseball, coach Jim Schlossnagle said.

They were teammates at Conroe Oak Ridge High School, and they grew up down the street from each other.

“Feltman was Baker’s catcher,” Schlossnagle said. “Feltman would catch when Baker pitched, and then Feltman would pitch in the next game.”

Feltman knew he was coming to Fort Worth and kept TCU on Baker’s mind as Baker decided between college and Major League Baseball. Ultimately, Baker told professional baseball not to draft him and he came to TCU.

Deciding on the college wasn’t the tough part.

Feltman didn’t have to put on that hard of a sell for TCU, he said.

“I was sold, actually probably a lot earlier than he was,” Baker said. “Once I decided to come here, the major decision was the draft or school. The opportunity that I had here with the people I have around me, it was a no-brainer.”

For both players, the decision has panned out.

Baker, the Gatorade High School National Player of the Year last season, leads the Horned Frogs in hitting at .376 and has eight home runs, including five in the past 10 games. He had 11 RBIs at the conference tournament, giving him a team-high 54 in 57 games.

Feltman, meanwhile, has emerged as the closer. He pitched a season-high three innings in the Big 12 championship game against West Virginia, allowing no runs while TCU completed a comeback. He struck out the final batter he faced.

“I did what I do every time I come out — take it one pitch at a time,” Feltman said about the biggest appearance of his season. “I just execute that pitch and keep repeating it, no different than any other game I had closed out. I was thinking, this is like the ninth [inning] of the first game of the season.”

Both players are freshmen, but it’s clear they come into the Fort Worth Regional with the experience of veterans by now.

And they’re not the only ones.

“We have a lot of young guys and a lot of guys who haven’t had that much Division I playing experience,” Baker said. “We’ve all had the high-level baseball experience. We grew as a team and grew as players on the field. And we’re going to continue to grow as the season progresses.”

That may have been Feltman’s plan.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

Fort Worth Regional

Friday at Lupton Stadium

TCU vs. Oral Roberts, 6:30 p.m.

Arizona St. vs. Gonzaga, 2 p.m.

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