(Note: This article is
part of a series, by Jeff Dahn, that highlights specific collegiate baseball
programs going into the 2011 season. To
view the articles on other schools in this series please click here.)
If Jim Schlossnagle ever decides to walk away from his position as head baseball coach at Texas Christian University, the city of Fort Worth, Texas, would be wise to hire him as the president of its Chamber of Commerce.
TCU’s campus is in Fort Worth, a city of about 727,000 located west of Dallas, and when Schlossnagle is trying to sell his baseball program and the university to prospective recruits, the city itself plays a starring role in that sales pitch.
“Fort Worth, I think, is the most vibrant city in the country,” Schlossnagle said. “We’re 40 miles from Dallas and you can live any kind of lifestyle you want here. If you’re a small-town guy who likes to hunt and fish, you can do that. If you’re more of big-city guy who wants access to … all the things a metropolitan area can offer, you have access to that (too).
“The saying is, ‘If you want to see Dallas, go to Atlanta. If you want to see Texas, come to Fort Worth.”
More and more of the country’s top young baseball players are seeing Texas through the view offered from Fort Worth and TCU. In seven seasons with the Horned Frogs, Schlossnagle has elevated TCU from a somewhat second-class status to one of the top-tier programs in the country.
Last spring, the Frogs were able to battle through an almost impossibly difficult Super Regional in Austin, Texas, where they beat the Longhorns 4-1, in game 3 of the three-game series, and advanced to the College World Series for the first time in school history. TCU went 3-2 in Omaha – with eventual national runner-up UCLA handing them both their losses – and fell just one game short of the playing for the national championship.
The five-time defending Mountain West Conference champions finished the 2010 season 54-14 overall and TCU was the only team in the country that didn’t lose a single weekend series during the regular season. At seasons’ end Schlossnagle was named the National Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association.
Schlossnagle said the 2010 team was never in awe during its run to the CWS. And having to go to Austin to play the University of Texas in the Super Regional was certainly a difficult task that required a little ice water in the veins.
“We spend a lot of time and effort on the mental game of baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “We talk about the game versus the surroundings, controlling the things you can control and that kind of thing. I felt like the NCAA made a mistake in that I felt like we should have been a National Seed and Texas should have been a National Seed.
“To go down there and have to play against a great team, a great program and in front of their fans, that was intense. So to be honest, when we got to Omaha, from an atmosphere standpoint it was a big load off our shoulders.”
The college baseball-crazy fans in Omaha quickly adopted the Horned Frogs as their own and cheered them through their five-game CWS run.
TCU was led last season by their weekend starting rotation of left-hander Matt Purke (16-0, 3.02 ERA), right-hander Steven Maxwell (11-2, 2.70 ERA) and right-hander Kyle Winkler (12-3, 3.39 ERA).
Purke was named the National Freshman of the Year in 2010, was a 1st round pick (14th overall) by the Rangers in the 2009 Draft and Perfect Game projects him to the No. 7 overall pick in the ’11 Draft. He, Maxwell and Winkler are all back in 2011.
“In my opinion, the name of the game is starting pitching and to be able to roll those same three guys out there and – knock on wood – keep them healthy, that’s going to give us a chance most days,” Schlossnagle said.
The Frogs also return six starting position players from the CWS team, including junior outfielder Jason Coats (.361, 13 HRs, 68 runs, 69 RBIs), sophomore catcher/outfielder Josh Elander (.356), junior utility Brance Rivera (.342, 9 SBs) and junior infielder Taylor Featherston (.338, 8 HRs, 59 runs, 52 RBIs).
All of those players participated in Perfect Game events while in high school and Purke was an Aflac All-American.
These are the kind of players Schlossnagle has been able to attract to Fort Worth in the past seven years. Six Horned Frogs were selected in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft – including Maxwell in the 12thround by the Minnesota Twins – and 29 Frogs have been drafted since 2004.
Schlossnagle – who was previously a head coach at UNLV and an assistant or associate head coach at Elon College, Clemson and Tulane – was hired as TCU’s head coach in July of 2003, taking over for former TCU All-American Lance Brown, who retired as the school’s all-time winningest coach.
“He did a really good job with what he had. TCU was not really committed to college baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “They had one of the worst facilities in the Southwest Conference, which then translated into one of the worst facilities in the WAC, which then translated into one of the worst facilities in Conference USA.”
That changed when the university built and opened 3,500-seat Lupton Stadium in 2003, the year before Schlossnagle arrived. The $7 million on-campus facility is considered one of the best in the country and the Frogs have won 75 percent of their games there.
“I benefitted from a school that had been doing really well academically,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s a great school and it’s a school a lot of kids want to go to, in Texas especially. It’s a great town, Fort Worth. It’s a phenomenal town.
“So all those other things were in place but then there was a renewed commitment to baseball,” he continued. “Facility-wise we’ve been able to do some neat things and there’s just a tremendous commitment to win here and win a national championship all across the board, including baseball.”
Of the 301 schools playing NCAA D-I baseball, TCU is one of only 14 that advanced to the NCAA Tournament each of the past seven years. Horned Frog teams have a combined record of 305-134 (.695) during those years under Schlossnagle.
Schlossnagle praised the support his program gets from TCU’s administration, especially that from Chancellor Victor J. Boschini. TCU Athletics Director Chris Del Conte in turn praised Schlossnagle.
“Jim is a perfect fit at TCU,” Del Conte said in a story on the Frogs’ baseball web page. “He takes tremendous pride in wearing a Horned Frog uniform … (and) he has established TCU as a name synonymous with the elite in college baseball.”
TCU, with about 7,600 undergraduate students, is a prestigious academic university that Schlossnagle identifies as a “hot” school.
“How do you define ‘hot’ – it sounds like a used car sales pitch,” he said. “Well, you define it as number of applications versus number of people accepted. And last year we had almost 18,000 applications for 1,600 freshmen positions.”
And TCU’s prestige is also growing in athletics. The Horned Frogs’ football team will play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 – its second straight BCS bowl berth –on the heels of the baseball team’s 2010 CWS appearance. Schlossnagle said 16 of TCU’s 20 varsity sports programs advanced to the NCAA postseason during the 2009-10 school year.
“For a school of our size to have the success that it’s had across the board is nothing short of amazing, when you consider the competition in the state and in this region of the country,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s a really, really neat place.”
TCU will be moving from the Mountain West to the Big East Conference in 2012, its fifth conference since 1995. The move is being made primarily as a football consideration, but there’s no question the Big East is home to some very competitive baseball programs – Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburg and St. John’s all won at least 38 games last season and Louisville won 50.
“The Big East has been a different animal,” Schlossnagle said. “A lot of programs there have done a great job … and we are very aware of how good the league is. It’s not going to happen for a few years, but we’re really excited about it.”
The Horned Frogs will go into the 2011 season looking to win their sixth straight MWC championship and advance to an eighth straight NCAA postseason. But the bar has been raised and now it’s not only about getting to the postseason but staying there for awhile.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Schlossnagle said. “One of our mottos in this program is ‘Keep your blinders on.’ And then we have one that’s called ‘White collar appearance, blue collar approach.’
“We got to Omaha and we played well, but we didn’t win the whole thing, so there’s still something there to be achieved. … Our challenge right now is handling the success we had last year and continuing to build on that.”
What follows is a list of players on the 2011 TCU roster who participated in Perfect Game events when they were in high school. Click on the player’s name to view his complete Perfect Game profile:
Jason Coats– PG WWBA
Stefan Crichton – PG WWBA
Tyler Duffie – PG WWBA
Josh Elander – PG WWBA
Taylor Featherston – PG WWBA
Nick Frey– PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Brett Johnson – PG WWBA
Steven Maxwell – PG/BA World
Kaleb Merck – PG WWBA
Relly Mercurio – PG National/PG Aflac/PG WWBA
Andrew Mitchell – PG WWBA
Teddy Nowell – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Jimmie Pharr – PG WWBA
Matt Purke – Aflac AA Classic/PG National/
Al Ralston – PG South Underclass
Brance Rivera – PG National Pre-Draft/PG National/PG WWBA
Tony Rizzotti – PG WWBA
Aaron Schultz – PG WWBA
Kyle Winkler – PG WWBA
Jantzen Witte – PG South Dallas Showcase
Davy Wright – PG National/PG National Pre-Draft/PG WWBA
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