Texas is coming to Oxford by way of Tupelo. The Longhorns practiced at Tupelo High School's baseball field Thursday afternoon.
On Friday the longtime baseball powerhouse program will be in Oxford for its first view of Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. But it will look nothing like the O-U/Swayze they'll see this weekend for the games.
More tickets have been sold this week than last. The Rebels averaged more than 7,000 a game for their three games in the Regional, which is more than Texas averaged last weekend in Austin. No doubt the numbers in Oxford will be even greater this weekend.
There is concern today that weather might be more involved in the proceedings than originally thought. It's a little early for a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, although June 1 is the official start of hurricane season. Stay tuned on this one.
Fans need to be as flexible as possible, and that will be a difficult thing since any delay could move this thing into the early days of next week. Of course, a Monday game is already set if the teams are able to play one Saturday and one Sunday and split.
The Oxford Super Regional may be affected by the tropical storm heading north, but most likely so will the New Orleans Super Regional with Tulane and Rice and the Gainesville Super Regional with Florida and Florida State.
It's baseball in late spring/early summer, so get ready to go with the flow. Go ahead and have the mindset that the weekend might not follow the script we all want.
A few years ago, the Rebs beat Auburn in baseball on a Saturday. The game started at 2 and finished at 10. There were three tarp pulls in between.
As the old and worn saying goes, "That's baseball."
Augie Garrido, the 66-year-old UT head coach, was gracious enough on a teleconference with us earlier in the week. But I think it's pretty clear the Longhorns don't necessarily think they should be playing in Oxford. They believe they should be playing at home.
Hard to argue. High RPI all year. A 49-15 record. I would think Texas believes its attendance and tradition and regular postseason appearances would have something to do with them getting a top eight national seed.
In basketball, a No. 5 seed like Ole Miss would normally be matched up with a No. 12 seed. This weekend in baseball, the No. 5 Rebels are matched against what most would label as the No. 9 Longhorns.
But none of that really matters at this point. The Longhorns are currently on Mississippi soil, and depending on the weather, they could be here several days.
"We're excited about our opportunities to travel into Oxford, Mississippi, and we understand play one of the great teams in college baseball this year."
And with that statement, the veteran college coach (formerly of Cal State-Fullerton, Illinois, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, and San Francisco State) now in his ninth season at Texas, opened it up for questions from several Mississippi and Texas media.
Half an hour later, some of them went like this.
Q: Was your season so far somewhat less than what you expected?
Garrido: "Certainly it was somewhat less than our fans expected. We went through the ups and downs of playing in a conference that in many ways compares with playing in the SEC. This conference (Big 12) is not recognized accurately for the quality of baseball, because we haven't played at the same high level as the SEC for as many years. But the conference itself is strong with Baylor and Nebraska advancing along with ourselves to the final 16 and Missouri almost making it by coming close to defeating Cal State-Fullerton. We had a tough time in conference play and finished third. We did the best we could with what we have."
Q: Your pitching appears to be good.
Garrido: "It's pretty good. We're led by two sophomores and a freshman, and our closer J. Brent Cox are the four pitchers. And recently a freshman has also emerged into that mix – Kenn Kasparek. So Randy Boone, Kyle McCullouch, and Adrian Alaniz have been our three starters. Our setup/bullpen guy has been Clayton Stewart for the most part along with Buck Cody."
*** The Texas pitching staff's ERA is 2.88 on the season.
Cox is a junior RHP with a 7-2 record, 34 appearances, 15 saves, a 1.69 ERA, and was named National Stopper of the Year this week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association.
Kasparek is a 6-foot-10 (that's right, 6-10) true freshman RHP with a 7-0 record and a 1.95 ERA. Boone is a sophomore RHP with a 7-4 record and a 3.41 ERA. McCullouch is a sophomore RHP with a 10-4 record and a 3.07 ERA. Alaniz is a redshirt freshman RHP with a 5-3 record and a 2.89 ERA.
Stewart is a senior RHP who has 40 appearances with a 9-0 record, a 3.09 ERA and one save. Cody is a senior LHP with 31 appearances, a 4-1 record, a 3.96 ERA and one save. ***
More from Garrido.
Q: What's your pitching lineup for Ole Miss?
Garrido: "We don't know yet. We're basically right-handed, so it's not a matter of being able to say they are not as effective against either right or left so we will go with one or the other. That's not the case. We don't have that luxury. It will be a right-hand pitcher that starts."
Q: Describe your team's offense. (Texas has only 46 home runs; the team's leader is Drew Stubbs with 11. Their opponents have only 21 home runs against Longhorn pitching. They also play their home games on a complete Astroturf field.)
Garrido: "We bunt more than anybody in America, probably. We try to score as early and often as we can. We try to advance runners when we get them on in one way or another, and a lot of times it is with the bunt. We do have some running speed, so we sometimes try to run our way into scoring position. And of course we hope to hit some as well. Quite a bit (of the lack of power numbers can be attributed to the 340-400-325 dimensions of the UT home field). Normally in the environments where we go on the road we hold or own (power-wise). Our numbers at home have never been power numbers in relationship to other places at home. We do OK in the smaller ballparks."
Q: Does your team have an edge since it has "been there" before, namely to Super Regionals and the College World Series? Oklahoma Coach Sunny Golloway feels you do.
Garrido: "We'll know in hindsight. We'll know more about that at the end of the deal. That might be Sunny's perception of us based on the number of times we've played each other over the years. (Arkansas) Coach (Dave) Van Horn feels Mississippi is the better team between the two of our teams. He's seen more of Mississippi, and then he saw us three games here. One of his (Van Horn's) remarks to the media here was that in his opinion Mississippi is the best team between the two. I respect him as a baseball man. I don't think he was popping off. I think that's really his opinion."
Q: How has your team performed on the road this year (11 of UT's 15 losses have been away from home)?
Garrido: "We've been OK. It's not been as impressive a record as you'd want it to be. It certainly doesn't reveal that we've been consistently good on the road. It appears that we haven't handled foreign environments very well. Probably our best moment on the road was where we came from behind after a tough series opening loss at (national top 8 seed) Nebraska and won the next two games there. We've been OK on the road. We've been through some of the same ups and downs every team goes through – some injuries, some untimely things that happen over the course of a long season. You just battle your way through the whole season. What it finally ends up being is you hope you are able to do the right things at the right times."
Q: Your terrific catcher Taylor Teagarden (chosen Tuesday in the 3rd round by the Rangers as the 99th pick overall) has had a bad back this year but he's better, correct?
Garrido: "This past weekend (against Arkasnas) he was remarkable. He hasn't taken batting practice in a month and a half because of his back. He's a pretty avid weightlifter and strength development guy, and he probably tweaked it doing something like that. Then it moved around on him, and he tweaked it again at A&M and it was a little more than what he had experienced before. It was kinda one of those lower back pains where you drop to your knees and feel like somebody has stuck a knife in your back. That's what he was going through. Two weeks rest and therapy has allowed him to play. All he does now is play in the games. He was absolutely lights out during the Regional. If Taylor doesn't catch, then the whole pitching staff is affected by it and it's pretty much insurmountable. That's the one that sinks the ship."
Q: Is there a mystique of Texas Longhorn baseball, having been to the College World Series 31 times, more than any program in the country and 10 more times than any other school?
Garrido: "I don't really know how it affects others. I know we have an added level of responsibility and it's important for us not to let that convert into pressure. You can't perform better because Roger Clemens went here. But you can certainly be criticized for not having a Roger Clemens on your staff. I don't know how other people perceive us except that they always seem to put their best hat on against us. Around this neighborhood we're pretty much the target and the season-maker. If we lose a game, it's in the (other team's) media guide the next year."
Q: What's it like to coach at Texas with all those expectations?
Garrido: "Even as knowledgable as you guys are about college baseball, if I asked you who won the 16 Regionals last year, you'd have to really struggle to come up with those 16 answers. This is a program where the expectations are set on the national championship. We failed at winning the conference championship this year. We failed at getting one of the top 8 seeds. We failed to win the Big 12 Tournament. Those were three failures for us. But at the same time, who won the Big 12 championship last year? I bet none of you know that. We finished second last year, and that wasn't very good. So it's a national championship program where the expectations are to win national championships. Of course you want to win everything along the way, because that buys you 24 hours of peace. But the national championship is the goal for this program. This is a unique environment. I'm thrilled with the opportunity to coach at the University of Texas. I would describe the environment here as extremely passionate about the team. For all the years of success it has had, there is still this tremendous passion for this team. And passion brings with it love and hate, and there is not much middle ground. I would describe our environment as probably similar to the New York Yankees of college baseball where everything is very, very important to everyone."
Q: How familiar are you with the rise of Ole Miss baseball the last five years?
Garrido: "I'm only familiar with it by watching it from afar. But knowing who the coach is and knowing that he tutored under who I consider to be one of the greatest college baseball coaches of all time in Skip Bertman, then he knows Skip's system and he's brought his own touches to it. That's why Mississippi has one of the best teams in the country, because he's learned how to be a national championship type coach and he's got a national championship type team now."
Q: Are you at all disappointed or upset that you are having to travel to Oxford to play instead of playing at home?
Garrido: "Probably 15 years ago I would have said yes. But we are fortunate to be involved, we've got our opportunity, and we need to make the most of it. If you're going to be a good college baseball program year in and year out, things are not always going to go your way. You're going to have to battle through some adversity. If we are in our own environment every weekend, every Regional to get to Omaha, then we're not mentally tough enough to be the program we're expected to be. We see it as an opportunity. We were disappointed when we didn't get selected (as a national top 8 seed), because we thought we were going to. Maybe surprised is a better word and not disappointed, and that's because we have our opportunity."
Q: Your fans aren't used to travel this time of year unless it is to Omaha. What are you expecting in terms of them traveling to Oxford?
Garrido: "We have a good nucleus. It will be interesting. We haven't done this a lot. We have 600 tickets, and we don't plan on giving any of them back. I would hope a lot of our people would go there. "
It should be apparent after reading Garrido's comments that it is indeed a monster program coming to Oxford this weekend. They will meet, as he says, one of the best teams in the country when they get here in 47-18 Ole Miss.
But Rebel fans, who will already be whipped into a frenzy by first pitch each game, should realize they're going to have to help their team through like they have all year by being as active as they've been.
I believe the best day of all this season when the fans and the team willed themselves collectively to victory was the game of the 10,000 crowd on Grove Bowl Saturday when Ole Miss beat Alabama 12-10. The Rebels weren't playing their best baseball at that time, and the Crimson Tide had won on Friday – and would win again on Sunday.
But that Saturday to me was the high point of the regular season as far as team and fans moving to the top as one.
That's the kind of commitment from fans – and Rebel fans have become some of the best baseball fans in the country the past few seasons - that will be needed again this weekend as Texas comes to town and Omaha is the prize.
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