Although America’s furry symbol of spring saw its shadow on Groundhog Day, another season has arrived, nonetheless — baseball season.
The Longhorns are ready to kick off their 2017 season at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in the annual Texas Baseball Alumni Game on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Saturday’s friendly matchup serves as a homecoming for many burnt orange alums who have laid the groundwork of tradition for the Texas baseball program. Longhorn fans can expect to see the faces of current major leaguers on the field, including last season’s graduates: catcher Tres Barrera and pitcher Ty Culbreth.
New head coach David Pierce looks forward to his first alumni game and understands its significance to the history of the program.
“We have some tremendous history,” Pierce said. “We get to socialize with those guys, have a dinner with them and hopefully our players understand that history that they’ve created here.”
Regardless of the game’s outcome, the Longhorns will have their first opportunity to set the tone for 2017. Senior infielder Kacy Clemens aims to spark the team’s offensive power and create a high-scoring mentality for the Longhorns.
“We’re here to rake,” Clemens said. “We’re not afraid of anybody. There’s no more playing for one run. We’re playing to score every single inning. That’s kind of our mindset now.”
An aggressive offense for Texas is likely to be fueled by the long ball after the outfield fences were retracted during the off-season. But redshirt junior pitcher Morgan Cooper said he believes the ballpark will still be a pitcher’s playground.
“They’ve still got to hit it,” Cooper said. “Some balls in that past that have hit the wall are going to go out but the mentality as a pitcher is, they’ve still got to hit it.”
With both pitchers and hitters eager to put on a show, the Longhorns expect to make a trip to the College World Series this year. Redshirt junior infielder Bret Boswell said the chemistry amongst the squad can be a catalyst for success in the upcoming season.
“We’re really excited,” Boswell said. “This is the tightest I think we’ve ever been since I’ve been here. We’re really looking forward to what we’ve got coming for us.”
But the road to Omaha won’t necessarily be smooth for Texas. The team must overcome the adversity it has faced as a result of two disappointing seasons in 2015 and 2016. Cooper recognizes Texas’ past struggles and highlights Pierce’s crucial role in bringing the team back to championship form.
“Everybody wants to beat us and we’ve got to bring it everyday,” Cooper said. “So he needs to be tough and I think he’s done a great job of letting us know we’ve struggled in the past but we’ve got the guys to do it.”
During his first season at the helm, Pierce said he is focused on helping players avoid undue pressure and rebuild their confidence in time for playoffs.
“What I’d like to see them do is ... understand how talented they could possibly be and really have confidence in themselves to go out and play,” Pierce said. “To me, there is a sense of hunger where they have a bitter taste in their mouth and they want to make a difference this year.”