“Dear major league baseball teams,” his letter began.
“Please don’t waste a pick drafting me. I’m going to TCU.”
And just like that, in those few, well-pondered words 12 months ago, Horned Frogs baseball history added another chapter.
Luken Grosvenor Baker wasn’t kidding. Though he was scaffolded together like a high draft choice, though he sent baseballs howling into the night like a high draft choice, Baker wanted to forgo a minor league apprenticeship for a college education.
Hence, The Letter That Changed Everything for TCU this season. Ever-polite Baker even included a line that thanked MLB scouts for taking time to come see him.
He is a freshman now, though he is as big as three or four sophomores. The Horned Frogs roster lists Baker as 6-foot-4, 265 pounds. Blond and broad, he appears bigger.
Which takes us to Friday night, when the Big 12 Conference’s freshman of the year added another golden line to his already shiny collegiate résumé.
Facing a favored Texas A&M team that was 32-5 at home and a pitcher that won nine of 10 decisions, Baker rocketed a three-run home run over the left-field wall to vault TCU into the early lead. The Frogs won 8-2 to take a 1-0 series lead.
The homer was Baker’s ninth of the season and pushed his RBI total to 57.
His presence in the clean-up spot has turned a TCU lineup that usually features six new faces from last season into the No. 18-ranked offense in the nation.
As Aggies coach Rob Childress said this week, “He raises your blood pressure every time he goes to bat.”
As TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle will tell you, it’s the dream of every college baseball player to play in the College World Series in Omaha. The Frogs have made those dreams an annual expectation, qualifying for Omaha two years in a row and three times over the last six seasons.
A mighty roadblock, however, stands in the way of another return trip. Texas A&M won 48 games and brought home the trophy from the Southeastern Conference tournament — no trifling trick.
The Frogs are ranked 18th in the nation in batting average, but the Aggies’ .318 places them 13th, first among SEC teams.
No one would argue A&M’s pedigree as one of the college season’s top teams.
It took a measure of mischief, however, for the NCAA tournament committee to again pair the winners of the Fort Worth and College Station regionals for a potential super regional rematch.
Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park is no ice cream picnic for visiting teams, even in the friendliest of times. Aggie traditions, old and new, can unravel an opposing freshman, like Baker or the Frogs’ Game 1 starter, Jared Janczak.
But not Friday night. Schlossnagle’s team, well-credentialed as road warriors, played with the poise of a team that’s been Omaha-tested.
Bolstered by Baker’s homer and freshman Janczak’s 7 2/3 innings of six-hit pitching, the Frogs were never headed.
The victory left TCU one win away from a third consecutive trip to the College World Series.
Just what Luken Baker had in mind.