Once upon a time, this season’s TCU baseball story was building toward a fairy tale finish.
As with last year’s national champions from Coastal Carolina, the Horned Frogs are rich in experience – eight seniors, same as the Chanticleers.
With the return of sophomore Jared Janczak, the pitching is getting healthier. The catcher, junior Evan Skoug, is playing as if he’s the best catcher in college baseball.
The lineup is resourceful. The defense is dependable. The bullpen is far from thin.
And when TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said Tuesday, “I really feel we’ve yet to play our best baseball,” no one at the Big 12 press conference in Oklahoma City should have doubted him. The Frogs were playing like a team that was confident from three consecutive College World Series appearances and patiently building towards a fourth.
Once upon a time, indeed, the TCU story seemed heading toward the happiest of endings.
It still might, but ...
“We talk all year long about how adversity is coming,” Schlossnagle said via phone on the eve of the Big 12 tournament. “We talk about it on the first day of the season, when everyone is healthy and everything is feeling great.
“The adversity could come in the form of a slump, a losing streak, an injury or a bad call by the umpire. But we remind them constantly that adversity is coming and we have to respond to it.”
TCU’s moment of adversity came Friday, May 12, in Norman, Okla., when superstar sophomore Luken Baker injured his left arm in a collision at first base.
Baker’s status for the rest of the season remains in doubt. Schlossnagle said he still hasn’t ruled out the first baseman for the postseason, but Baker is not with the team at the conference tournament.
Without Baker, the Frogs are missing more than a .317 hitter. Baker’s example and leadership are fully tangible, and the team cannot replace that.
On the field, the Frogs are missing the team’s resident Viking – listed, conservatively, at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds.
He has eight home runs and a .982 OPS, but more importantly he is the anchor of TCU’s lineup, the perfect partner in the middle of the order for Skoug.
“The way it happened,” Schlossnagle said of the injury, “was ugly. It was right in front of our dugout. And it was incredibly emotional.”
Earlier this season, realizing all the ingredients were there for a return trip to Omaha, Schlossnagle was regularly citing author Ryan Holiday’s book, Ego is the Enemy, to keep his team grounded and motivated.
Before Ego is the Enemy, however, Holiday wrote an earlier book that Schlossnagle now feels is eminently appropriate – The Obstacle is the Way.
“He talks about how with every great accomplishment in the history of the world, somebody has overcome something,” Schlossnagle said.
“We talk about ‘E plus R equals O’ – event plus response equals outcome. We can’t control the ‘E,’ but we can control the ‘R,’ how we respond when something happens to us.”
Clearly, something happened to the Frogs that day in Norman.
But as Schlossnagle said Tuesday, “It just gets to be a part of our story.”
It’s not a fairy tale any more. It’s never a fairy tale when the story loses a prince. But there still is a happy ending waiting to be written, Schlossnagle said.
“We’ll just have to win it a different way.”
Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton