I had a strange feeling watching Jared Janczak pitch on Sunday night against Arkansas in what was his final game in a TCU uniform and the final game for the Frogs this season.
Call it a mix of nostalgia, pride and uncertainty, which are three emotions I didn’t expect to be able to feel all at the same time. But as Janczak exited stage right toward a pro career, along with classmate Josh Watson, it hit me that we were all watching the end of an era in TCU baseball.
This of course does not mean that the Frogs’ extended run of success will end. Jim Schlossnagle has built a great program that recruited exceedingly well this cycle and returns a ton of players from a talented roster. It does mean, however, that the last of the core of players that really started the magical run of CWS appearances from 2014-17 for the Frogs are now gone.
Janczak and Watson were the final remnants of one of my favorite group of athletes to don purple and white. It’s only right that we remember what that group accomplished now that they’re all gone to greener pastures.
It’s time to do some reminiscing. Put on your rose-colored glasses, turn on Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” pour a glass of brandy for some reason and come down memory lane with me.
Remember Keaton Jones? I do, and I remember him fondly. The hardest-nosed shortstop I ever did see, a leader on the field and a clutch bat at times. He shared the infield with guys like Kevin Cron, Derek Odell, Garrett Crain, Elliott Barzilli — guys who managed to etch their names into TCU baseball history. The lineup was a murderer’s row, and the infield was solid as a diamond in an ice storm. Add that to an outfield with Cody Jones, Dylan Fitzgerald and that quisling Boomer White, and, well, that’s what earns you trips to Omaha.
And, my god, remember the pitching staff! Brandon Finnegan was an inarguable ace, a holy terror to bat against. Riley Ferrell struck fear into opposing batters and radar guns alike. The 2015 staff might have been my favorite vintage — Preston Morrison taking the ace role above Tyler Alexander (who I was convinced was going to win Cy Youngs, and I’m still not totally convinced he won’t), Mitchell Traver (never gave up a run at Lupton Stadium in the postseason), Brian Howard (a homicidally competitive man that I love with all my heart) and Ferrell slamming the door at closer. Janczak was using his redshirt as a freshman that year, which seems like a lifetime ago.
It feels crazy to have gone this far without mentioning guys like Luken Baker and Evan Skoug. That 2016 team should’ve won it all — they took down A&M at Blue Bell Park and were a win away from the CWS finals before Coastal Carolina kept pulling horseshoes out of places not polite to talk about in public. Dane Steinhagen, Austen Wade and a young Josh Watson patrolled the outfield, and Durbin Feltman did his best Riley Ferrell impression. Janczak and Baker put in two of the best freshman performances I’ve ever seen in the first game at A&M. It was a glorious year.
And of course there were the games themselves, a maddening run of extra innings and comebacks and heroism that seemed as though it would never end. NC State in 10 innings in 2015, Texas A&M just a week later in 16 innings, Baker hitting bombs against the Aggies in 2016. TCU baseball had voodoo, juju and whatever other magical power behind it for a solid four years.
Personally, I blame Alex Faedo for the whole damn thing coming to an end. That Florida pitcher shut the Frogs out twice in the College World Series, leaving TCU one game away yet again. If I see him in the streets, I’m gonna...well, I’ll probably just angrily clinch my fist and walk away.
And now the last two men on the roster with more than one CWS under their belts are gone. Sure, there’s a group of guys who were freshman in 2017, Zach Humphreys and Jake Eissler among them. They’re senior leaders now, and I expect them to be damn good ones.
But Janczak and Watson are gone, and with them go the glory days. I was in college for all four years of our CWS run. In a way, seeing them leave TCU feels like officially putting that run into the past. It’s gone now, part of Horned Frog lore.
Let’s start writing a new chapter.