Austin trip marks homecoming for Aaron Garza

Though he grew up ten minutes away from the University of Texas campus, and developed into one of the top baseball prospects in Central Texas, Vanderbilt freshman Aaron Garza never even drew a sniff from the hometown Longhorns. The snub by Texas will provide plenty of extra personal motivation for this weekend's Super Regional series, Garza said Tuesday. "I just really want to go out there and show them what type of player they missed out on."

As a high schooler, outfielder Aaron Garza pretty nearly accomplished it all for the Westlake High School Chapparals. As a senior, he was named District MVP and first-team All-State in Texas after a season in which he batted .570, stole 28 bases and knocked in 37 RBI.

Despite the fact that he grew up ten minutes away from the University of Texas campus, attended scores of Texas football, basketball and baseball games as a youngster, and developed into one of the top baseball prospects in the Central Texas region, Garza never even drew a sniff from the hometown Longhorns.

Vanderbilt's (45-17) trip to Austin this weekend will be a homecoming of sorts for Garza, as the Commodores face the Longhorns (53-13) in a best-of-three series in the NCAA Super Regionals. As if the Dores didn't already have plenty of motivation-- a trip to Omaha for the College World Series is at stake-- Garza said Tuesday the snub by Texas will provide plenty of extra personal motivation.

"I never got a thing from them," Garza said. "No letters, no phone calls, nothing. I kind of took that personally, as kind of a slap in the face, that I grew up my whole life right there, and they didn't even give me a look.

"I just really want to go out there this weekend and show them what type of player they missed out on."

Texas' loss, it seems in retrospect, has been Vanderbilt's gain. In a record-setting, blow-up season for the Commodores, Garza is easily the team's biggest impact freshman. He has been in the starting lineup for 45 of Vandy's 62 games.

In his rookie season, Garza has brought unexpected ping to a lineup that has struggled much of the season in the hitting department, beyond the first four in the batting order. Garza's .304 average is fifth on the team, as is his .422 slugging percentage.

From his very first appearance, the freshman has demonstrated there's plenty of pop in this Aaron's rod; Garza lofted a home run in his first collegiate at-bat against Southern Illinois back on Feb. 21. Last Sunday, in Vandy's regional-clinching, 7-3 victory over Virginia, the freshman outfielder led the team with 3 timely RBIs. If anything, Garza has taken out his latent frustrations on his opponents this season.

Though the inexplicable lack of interest from the Burnt Orange still burns in his memory, he still maintains a healthy respect for the Longhorn athletic program, especially baseball. A three-game series in Austin is no picnic for any visitor, he says.

"I still can't believe that I actually get to go home and play Texas. Texas sports is really a huge deal in Austin. They've really got that city's support.

"Everybody in Austin is a Texas fan. Football, basketball, baseball, doesn't matter. My friends and I would always go to whatever game was going on.

"We're excited that we've made it this far, but we're definitely not thinking we're done yet. We're not just happy to be there. We're looking to go to Austin and get a couple of wins, and then head on to Omaha."

In this weekend's three-game series, the top-ranked Longhorns will unquestionably own the home field advantage, the talent advantage, and the experience advantage. Meeting Texas on its home field may prove to be a challenge somewhat akin to the men's basketball team meeting vaunted Connecticut in the Sweet 16.

Garza, however, may best embody the cautious brashness with which this plucky crew of Commodores has fought its way past obstacle after obstacle to attain this lofty point.

It's a confidence that borders on cockiness, built partially on the team's brilliant postseason performance of late, and tempered by a youthful enthusiasm that may not fully understand what it will be going up against this weekend. No one, not even this Commodore team, is sure yet how good it can be or how far it can go.

"We're not scared. We're not intimidated to play there and play [Texas]," Garza said.

"It's just another game and another series. We've played 15 of them so far this year... it's just a matter of taking care of business. If we just go out and play our game, we'll be fine."

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A limited number of reserved seats for this weekend's NCAA Super Regional series remain on sale at the McGugin Center ticket office, Vanderbilt officials announced Tuesday.

Reserved seats are $28, which includes a ticket for the games Friday and Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday. No single-game reserved tickets are available, as the rest of the stadium's reserved seats are already sold.

Fans interested in purchasing tickets should contact the Vanderbilt athletic ticket office immediately, as unsold tickets will be returned to the University of Texas early Thursday. Call 615.322-GOLD Wednesday between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

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Coming Thursday: The complete VandyMania interview with freshman outfielder and Austin native Aaron Garza.


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