Jim Schlossnagle wants his team to wins.
Jim Schlossnagle’s players want to win.
And they all know that the fans want - nay, expect - them to win.
But, there’s something more important to him than just the scoreboard, something he made clear Sunday afternoon.
The Frogs pulled off a series sweep for the first time in 2019 over the weekend, manhandling an overmatched Eastern Michigan team over a three game set. TCU put up double-digit run totals in each outing while allowing a total of seven runs to score for the Eagles. They totaled 45 hits, 40 runs, drew 20 walks, and never trailed on their way to three runaway victories.
Sunday should have been a day to celebrate, but instead, Jim Schlossnagle spent some time growing up his young team. After a second inning home run - a no-doubter that scorched it’s way over the right field fence - Johnny Rizer took a moment to to admire his blast and gave his bat an emphatic flip before jogging the bases in celebration. The bat boy went out to retrieve the flung item, only to have a clearly perturbed Jim Schlossnagle chuck it back onto the field for Rizer himself to retrieve. The two had words when the centerfielder returned to the dugout, a teachable moment between the skipper and one of his rising stars. “I just told the team ‘I’m super disgusted’. We are obviously the better team but I thought they played harder and they played with more class. Above anything else, I mean I know our fans want to win games, but I want to represent our university the right way. And, for the most part, we do.”
But on two separate occasions Sunday, and a few more instances over the weekend, Schlossnagle’s team did not, in his estimation, represent TCU the right way. In addition to the bat flip, Rizer and Austin Henry executed a double steal in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Frogs up ten in a ten-run rule game. It was something that they were not coached to do, but instead made that call themselves, according to the coach. And it led him to do something that he has never, to his recollection, had to do at TCU: he apologized. After the final game of the series, he approached EMU skipper Eric Roof to make amends for his team’s behavior. “That’s the first time, that I can remember in 16 years at TCU, that I apologized to the other team’s coach. He wasn’t happy about it and I wouldn’t be happy about it if I were him, either. But I don’t like having to do that.”
Schlossnagle went the juco route to fill a lot of holes this offseason, something that he has done in the past, but never to this degree. In the fall, he praised them for “bringing an awesome baseball mentality.” But that mentality doesn’t come without cost, and in Fort Worth, that expense seems to be “the TCU way”, according to the skipper. “We have some talented players but their baseball IQ and their ‘feel’ for the game is severely lacking. That’s going to have to improve over time.”
It’s an interesting dichotomy for one of the best manager’s in collegiate baseball; dealing with the mentality of today’s young players while trying to grow them up into great young men. Players that go the collegiate route - especially ones that choose that path at a university as expensive as TCU - do it for a few reasons; either they need to put up numbers, they need exposure, or they want to continue to play in an environment where wins and losses matter. That’s a sentiment Zach Humphreys’ shared Sunday afternoon. “I wanted to play in front of the big crowds, I wanted to play on TV, I wanted to give myself the best chance to play professional baseball. And I thought this was it.”
Sometimes, there’s a fourth reason: they need to mature, too.
Schlossnagle will need to manage the personalities of his team on the field with his expectations - bridging the gap between his old school mentality and this generation of stars. Young players look at flashy guys like Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, and others and want to be like them, something that the manager is trying to come to grips with - even if it’s not a willing marriage. “I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. We had a guy show up with a mustache the other day; mustache on a guy with a 13 ERA looks like an idiot. Mustache on a guy with a 2.2 and some saves? Yeah, okay, I can deal with that. I’m definitely more that way [old school].”
With some young coaches on his staff and a program that’s easy to sell, I think he will find a way. But, in the meantime, his player’s will need to find theirs. There is nothing wrong with having fun in TCU Baseball - we have all loved the antlers, the bow and arrow, and this year’s ‘stir it up’ celebrations - but Jim Schlossnagle doesn’t want that fun to be at the expense of an opponent. The Frogs can win, and they can win a lot in 2019, but Schlossnagle wants to spend as much time celebrating his players as people off the field as he does as stars on it.
And that’s something every TCU fan can, and should, be proud of.
Hello, hit parade. TCU scored 40 runs in three games, and the much-maligned Conner Shepherd was a huge part of it. The starting third baseman of a season ago took his lumps last year, losing his job this. But injuries to Adam Oviedo first and now Hunter Wolfe forced him back into action, and he hasn’t disappointed. The junior is hitting .345 on the season in five starts and 13 appearances, knocking in seven runs in the process. More importantly, he’s improved his strikeout rate from one every 2.5 ABs to one every 3.6, and nearly tripled his slugging percentage to .690. He had a great weekend to boot, collecting five hits in nine at bats with five RBI, a home run, and a double. It’s early, and Wolfe could be back as early as next week, but Shepherd is making quite the case to make Schloss make some tough choices.
Also in the good category is the bullpen - inconsistent at best over most of the season, the relievers combined to allow just three runs on eight hits across 7.0 innings, with just four walks against ten strikeouts. Cal Coughlin continues to struggle, but when the junior gets right - and I have no doubt he will - TCU has some solid shutdown options to back up what has been mostly solid starting pitching.
Porter Brown left Friday’s game with an apparent shoulder injury, when he it appeared to pop out on a swing. After putting a brace on - the same style Garrett Crain wore for an entire season - it popped out again later in the game, something that Jim Schlossnagle said shouldn’t happen. The electric freshman will have an MRI Monday, but could be on the shelf for a while. With both he and Wolfe out of the lineup, the Frogs lose a ton of speed and dynamic base running, and it certainly changes the way they play. TCU had at least two steals in each game of the series, totaling seven, but it will be interesting to see if they can be as effective against higher level competition. The Frogs have been caught stealing just five times in 41 attempts so far this year, but Texas catcher Michael McCann is a different sort of challenge: the talented senior has thrown out eight base runners already this year. Staying healthy is the key for the Horned Frogs this season - down two starters with conference play on deck is certainly less than ideal.
I think we already covered that.
TCU faces off with crosstown rival UTA Tuesday evening at Globe Life Park, with first pitch scheduled for 7:00pm. It will be the fourth game the Frogs have played at a big league stadium already this year, and their final tuneup before welcoming Texas to Lupton Stadium this weekend.