By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
Going into the college baseball season, I had very few questions about how Baylor’s baseball team would shape up this year.
What was the bullpen going to look like? How tough was the playing field going to be? What are the chances of seeing the green and gold in Omaha?
I’ve followed the ups and downs that the Bears have gone through since the very first day I stepped foot in Baylor Ballpark. Watching them play, I felt like an 11-year-old girl falling in love with the game all over again.
I knew the bullpen would be young with a few veterans there to provide leadership. I knew all of last year’s starters were coming back so the lineup would look pretty much the same. I knew I would probably back out of my study abroad trip to Italy this summer because there was no way I was missing the NCAA championship.
Now that the season has started, I have a new set of questions, however.
One of the things that I love and hate about baseball is that it can sometimes be as unpredictable as Texas weather. No matter how good or bad a team is, there are obstacles that you just can’t count on facing. The game is a lot like real life in that way.
No team is going to start out healthy. That’s something head coach Steve Rodriguez acknowledged when the season started. Some of the guys started off a little banged up or suffering from illness.
But no one planned on the team’s Gold Glove-winning catcher breaking his wrist so early in the season. Or on the 2018 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year being moved from the Friday guy to the Sunday guy due to shoulder soreness. Even the starting first baseman who is also a backup behind the plate was out sick to start off the year.
However, the reaction to the early challenges they’ve faced shows Baylor baseball’s true character and tenacity.
With junior backstop Shea Langeliers sitting out a couple weeks, freshman catcher Kyle Harper has done a great job filling in and with junior pitcher Cody Bradford being limited the bullpen has really shined.
The Bears started the season with eight straight wins and confidence was building.
So when they suffered their first loss of the year to Texas A&M last Friday on the opening day of the Shriner’s College Classic, it was like the “baseball gods” were saying, ‘Not so fast Baylor.’
And then they lost to Rice University the next day and I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed.
Everyone knew facing A&M was going to be difficult. Baylor’s first eight wins came against two teams who currently sit at last place in both their leagues. The Aggies were coming off a 2018 postseason run themselves with contribution from their current Friday night pitcher John Doxakis, whom the Bears didn’t fare too well against with 12 strikeouts in their loss. They didn’t fare any better against the Owls the next night, so going into Sunday, everyone was hoping for a comeback.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth against Texas State, senior center fielder Richard Cunningham, who had started the game with a homerun, doubled to bring up sophomore short stop Nick Loftin. Loftin singled to score Cunningham and tie the game and then the Bears took the lead with an RBI double off the bat of junior third baseman Davis Wendzel.
I had made my way down from the press box so that I wouldn’t be late to post-game media and got a front row seat to what Cunningham called a “dramatic” win. Baylor returned to play defense in the bottom of the ninth as the Bobcats went in search of a walk-off. Sophomore right fielder Davion Downey stole a homerun with an epic jump against the home bullpen and then senior closer Kyle Hill struck out the next two batters to seal yet another comeback for Baylor.
“You’re going to get beat and that happens, but I think what happened is, today we established and we decided, ‘You know what? Two’s enough,’” Cunningham told me in post-game media. “You know we’re not going to go through a long lull. We lose a couple games; that happens. That happens to baseball teams and we have to reestablish momentum and now there’s no looking back.”
Overall, I feel like the Shriner’s Classic not only showed Baylor that although they’re going to face some tough challenges going forward, the comeback is what matters. And I learned that, with the privilege I have covering this team, I have the opportunity to grow along with them.