Gil LeBreton

Big reminders mean big expectations for TCU baseball

Of all the additions to TCU’s Lupton Stadium, the largest this season isn’t the new video board in left field.

The largest, figuratively speaking, is the 2015 College World Series logo that’s been painted on the left field wall — right next to the CWS logos from 2010 and 2014.

Three trips to Omaha in six seasons.

By TCU, the school the Big 12 Conference once left behind.

TCU, which used to be happy when the NCAA granted it a No. 3 or 4 seed in a postseason regional.

The gold standard in college baseball in this state used to be the Texas Longhorns.

But as the TCU Horned Frogs begin their season Friday night, they have beaten Texas eight of the last nine times they’ve played.

There’s a classy new locker room behind the Frogs’ dugout. And there’s that new Omaha logo on the left-field wall.

What can the Frogs possibly do for an encore?

“That’s something I’ve been asked a lot lately,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We talk about Omaha every day. I’m not afraid to do that.

“They’re the ones who, during the recruiting process, said they wanted to play at a place where they had a chance to play on a perennial Omaha team. So they know what the expectations are.”

Just focus on playing well every day, Schlossnagle and his coaches remind the players.

And while it’s a justifiable measure of pride to have made it two seasons in a row to Omaha, Schlossnagle wants everyone to remember how thin the tightrope was that led them there.

“Everybody talks about the 22-inning game in 2014 against Sam Houston State,” he said. “Nobody remembers that we had to win an 11-inning game the night before against Siena, or we could have been two-and-out of our own regional. And then we play three one-run games against Pepperdine and we’re in Omaha.

“Then last year we’re losing 8-1 with two outs and an 0-2 count against N.C. State and still win, and then we play a 16-inning game with A&M and win.

“So everybody has their chests stuck out about the two trips to Omaha, which we deserve, but it could easily have flipped. Our challenge is just to keep putting us in that same position every year. Get to the regionals — and then see how we play.”

Schlossnagle probably would feel a lot better about that challenge had the Frogs not been struck by injuries to two key returnees. Right-hander Mitchell Traver, 9-2 last season and a hero of the Super Regional win over Texas A&M, has a back muscle strain that is expected to sideline him for six weeks. And center fielder Nolan Brown is also out for six weeks with a broken bone in his hand.

“For this particular team it would’ve been nice to have an experienced starting pitcher like Traver,” Schlossnagle said.

Brown’s absence will hurt, the coach added, because “he’s really an electric player.”

The Frogs have had to undergo nearly a complete bullpen makeover. But the regular lineup may be even deeper and more experienced than the 2014 and 2015 teams.

Catcher Evan Skoug, for example, played his summer ball in the fast-lane Cape Cod League. New shortstop Ryan Merrill, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, is fighting back problems but has a chance to make an immediate impact.

“I love our lineup,” Schlossnagle said. “There’s some speed, some power, some balance in terms of lefty-righty.”

The brightest of the TCU newcomers is freshman Luken Baker from Spring.

“He’s been everything we thought he would be,” Schlossnagle said. “We’re going to ask a lot of him. I had planned on pitching him on Tuesdays to start the season, but now he’s going to pitch on Sunday and we’ll see how it goes.”

Baker also will DH and play first base when he’s not pitching.

The Frogs went 51-15 a year ago and 18-3 in Big 12 play.

Expectations again are large.

Just like that College World Series logo in left field.

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