“Considering the way our season ended last year, the fall to this point really couldn't have gone any better.”
College Baseball has been through it, just like we all have, over the past several months. From being practically ripped off the field in March, to having their conference and championship seasons cancelled, to months of uncertainty as far as when — and if — they would be back together as a program, it’s been tough for a sport that is already short on coaching staffs and shorter on cash flow.
So skippers like TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle are probably welcoming the new problems of a post (or let’s be honest, continuing) COVID world — things like dealing with new protocols and managing a roster fat with returning super seniors and young players who never thought they would end up in college but had no choice after the MLB Draft was cut to just five rounds this summer.
Roster management will be an issue for the Horned Frogs when spring rolls around; in meeting with the media Tuesday, Schloss was clear that he’s not looking to trim the fat. “We have 46 players. We normally carry less than 35, but I’m not planning on cutting anybody — unless they cut themselves.” Having seen what positive tests and close-contact quarantines can do to a program, the manager is keeping as many guys as he can, and in his estimation, “they can all play for us either this year or next”, so why would he do something in regards to roster size that he doesn’t have to?
That will make for some intense competition, something that showed up across six weeks of fall practice. Schlossnagle made mention of the program’s tenant of selflessness, something that he says will be tested this fall. “The selfless attribute of older players may get tested. If it was today, we would start two freshmen position players for sure, maybe three. I’m excited about those guys; it’s not a slap in the face to other players, but our job is to win the games.” He also has to keep one eye toward the future while trying to put his team in the best position to win right now. “[We have] eight seniors and more draft-eligible juniors that could be high picks; we can’t just start all over with new players next year. We have to get guys reps this year, too.”
One area of note to watch in that regard is at catcher, where Zach Humphreys surprised some by returning, and apparently has looked great at the dish over the last month and a half. “Hump is our catcher. He has really taken a jump offensively — I always say that ‘peak man strength’ is at 26 or 27 years old — we have guys close to that age. The ball is really coming off Zach’s bat.” He will need to fend off Kurtis Byrne, an uber-talented freshman who was an All American in high school and is definitely the future behind the plate for the Horned Frogs. His role will be significant; with scheduling questions remaining, it’s possible that teams could play four straight games over the weekend, meaning having a second catcher isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. There’s also contact tracing to worry about, something that is clearly in the back of Schloss’ mind. “We have to have Kurtis ready; contact tracing is what can take your team down fast.”
While there are lineups to dissect and discuss and schedules to be made and changed, Schloss and his boys are just happy to be playing. And, according to the skipper, it’s more than just the love of the game that matters. “I wish the general public — not just baseball, not just athletics — understood the side effects of this time mentally on all people. You can’t imagine, unless you’re a parent, every day how tough this is. It’s not a war, it’s not digging ditches, but it’s tough.” As tough as it’s been and as tough as it will be, Schlossnagle believes in the plan. “I am very confident that we will play and play close to, or at, 56 games — a normal schedule — this spring.”