New year, clean slate | Sports
When Texas A&M baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle walked into Olsen Field on Tuesday, September 21, several things caught his eye: the smell of fresh cut Tifway 419 Bermuda grass, precisely trimmed around the base path. ; the hum of a throwing machine near the plate, heating up after months of inactivity; the Kyle Field Theater looming beyond the Outfield, just behind a yellow freight train that emits smoke as it crosses the tracks.
These are the elements that define A&M Bluebell Park, contributing to the aura of the “Olsen Magic” baseball program. For fans of brown and white, this magic is only experienced on match days, which are supposed to sleep outside of spring. But for players, the magic never dies, acting as a motivation while training during the offseason.
And for Schlossnagle, the Olsen Magic is a whole new experience.
The first day of the Aggies ‘fall training camp marked the first day Schlossnagle officially led the program, giving the coach his first real taste of the magic long considered the source of the Maroons’ success and white people. Fortunately for him, many of the most successful races in collegiate track and field were founded on humble beginnings.
For the A&M baseball program to follow a similar trajectory, it must start small and grow from the bottom up. Last season, the Aggies put dull spring, goes 29-27 with a conference record of 9-21. That 0.300 winning percentage in the Southeastern Conference meant that A&M missed the SEC tournament for the first time since joining the league in 2013. The campaign ended with the Aggies, breaking their 13-year streak of NCAA tournament participation.
The end of the A&M season also saw the departure of former head coach Rob Childress, who was replaced by then Christian head coach Schlossnagle. The new program manager brought with him his own coaching staff as well as a group of young players, shaking up A&M’s previous roster almost beyond recognition.
While many would see the drastic change as an obstacle, senior infielder Austin Bost said he believes the turnover gives A&M the opportunity to perform well and eventually return to the playoffs.
“We can certainly go unnoticed because no one knows what to expect,” said Bost. “We’ve got a bunch of new guys, a bunch of new chemistry together, and we’re going to go out there and win ball games.”
The Bost-referenced group includes a set of nine new transfers to A&M, all from major baseball programs across the country. New faces include senior right-hander Trey Dillard, who was drafted in 2018 by the Los Angeles Dodgers but instead chose to join the Missouri Tigers, and second-year pitcher Xavier Lovett of Mississippi State.
Schlossnagle said he was ready for this set of athletes to find a new home at A&M, noting that each brings individual strengths and weaknesses through which the group can work together.
“They bring a certain level of confidence and experience, depending on how much they’ve played,” Schlossnagle said. “There are a couple of these guys who were everyday players for their schools, and there are a few who weren’t, so they’re not that experienced. They understand the routine of college baseball.
But transfers aren’t the only new faces ready to take seats in A&M’s dugout canoe. Once the latest recruit moves to College Station, freshmen will make up nearly a third of the overall roster, with 17 recent high school graduates soon in place. These players spent the summer in the Brazos Valley as part of the 12th Man Athletics’ Summer Bridge Program, intended to assist incoming athletes in their transition to college-level play.
Second-year shortstop Kalae Harrison said it gave her hope for the team’s eventual success, as new freshmen could experience what athletes who came to A&M earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic could not.
“The past year has been tough,” Harrison said. “I hadn’t realized how much the [Summer] The Bridge program was for [the freshmen], with them coming in early summer and rising. We haven’t had any of this because of COVID[-19]. We just kind of jumped into the fall practice right away. We had to learn by [went]. “
After the program ended, the team turned to personal improvement. That meant long periods of time in the weight room, intense workouts on the court, and various sets of “skill hours,” Harrison said.
Although the players come from three distinct groups – incoming freshmen, transfers and returning players – Schlossnagle said they are all on a level playing field to compete for a starting position. Although he expects a few selected players to start, including Harrison, Schlossnagle said every position on the pitch is “up for grabs” for everyone on the roster.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Schlossnagle said. “I tried to enter it with a clean slate. For the most part, we will be doing this every year. At present, [the lineup] is wide open, and I think it’s great.
After starting in all 56 A&M games in the 2021 campaign, Harrison said he was excited about the prospect of having to improve in order to gain playing time. The higher expectations will allow him to perform better in the game. as an athlete, he said.
“Coach Schloss… told us on day one that everyone was there to compete,” said Harrison. “Nothing is given to us [returning players], and everyone is excited about it. Everyone wants to compete and earn the right to be on the starting lineup.
Along with the players, A&M’s first fall training day introduced another new aspect of the program: the staff themselves. Hiring Schlossnagle fundamentally changed the styles of training enjoyed by the team, forcing players to make adjustments during the offseason.
Bost said he believes learning new training perspectives will allow the Aggies to improve as a team.
“We learn new things, like the fundamentals that [Schlossnagle] wants us to do, ”Bost said. “He brought us together. It’s more day to day, working on our mental game a lot more than we did last year. This will help us a lot.
Schlossnagle said he was encouraged that his players are adopting this “hungry” attitude to better improve their gameplay.
“I think the whole group has been super open to change and super open to new coaching staff,” Schlossnagle said. “They ask a lot of questions. Everyone was coachable. They understood the structure of how we like to do things, and if we stick to that, I think we’ll become the best version of ourselves we can be.
A&M will first test the new styles of play and training in a pair of exhibition games scheduled for October. The Aggies face the Houston Cougars on Friday, October 8 and the Lamar Cardinals on Friday, October 22. Both exhibition games will take place at Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park.
Although they have no influence on the team’s next official campaign, Schlossnagle said these clashes are of paramount importance.
“[Exhibition games] are important for every team, but above all [for] the way we’re doing them this year, ”Schlossnagle said. “[Playing at Olsen Field as an Aggie for the first time] will be exciting for me, personally. Glad to be in this ball park wearing brown instead of a different color and with a home crowd. I want to see how new players will specifically react to this.
Part of that enthusiasm stems from Schlossnagle’s love for the A&M community, he said. The coach also said he hopes his players will develop and grow through the experience.
“Not a day goes by that I am no longer in awe of the power, the strength, the tradition and all that is happening at this great university,” Schlossnagle said. “Being a small part of it is an honor I don’t take lightly.”
Only time will tell if the new head coach, support staff and possible starting squad will help A&M’s performance in the spring of 2022. But until then, Bost said he will remain confident in what he thinks the Aggies can accomplish.
“We’re just going to start this fall and get things done,” Bost said. “I think we are a team to beat this year.