For some members of the Texas baseball team, a trip to the College World Series might seem like a birthright.
Take Kody Clemens, for example. The All-American infielder’s father, Roger Clemens, was Texas’ winning pitcher in the 1983 NCAA title game. And his older brother, Kacy, started at first base when the Longhorns made their last trip to Omaha, in 2014.
After the win over Tennessee Tech on Monday, Clemens joked with outfielder Tate Shaw that they needed to take a picture since their families were going back to Omaha. Shaw’s brother, Collin, started alongside Kacy Clemens in 2014. Third baseman Ryan Reynolds’ dad also Omaha with the Longhorns in 1989. Reserve catcher Turner Gauntt is a third-generation member of the baseball program; his father played with Roger Clemens on that 1983 championship team.
“I like how there’s a lot of names in UT baseball that have played in the burnt orange in the past,” Kody Clemens said. “It’s pretty cool that Texas does that and they find the bloodlines and get everybody back, keep the families around. I think we’re just excited to play and we’re focused on game one.”
What these Longhorns legacies know about Omaha, however, are second-hand tales. Left-handed reliever Josh Sawyer is the only Longhorn who’s ever been to the College World Series; in 2014 he didn’t play but was on UT’s postseason roster.
Four years later, Texas (42-21) will meet Arkansas (44-19) in its opener at the College World Series on Sunday afternoon.
Helping guide Texas back to Omaha is a flock of fresh faces. Catcher DJ Petrinsky and outfielders Masen Hibbeler and Duke Ellis are starters that weren’t with the team last year. UT’s starting pitcher in the decisive game of its super regional, Matteo Bocchi, was Hibbeler’s teammate at Odessa College the past two years. Freshmen Kamron Fields, Bryce Elder and Nico O’Donnell have pitched 91 2/3 innings.
Texas entered this season with more newcomers (20) than returnees (17). To integrate the team, Sawyer and junior Andy McGuire spearheaded an off-season bonding campaign that included barbequing, a crawfish boil and a watch party for the Mayweather-McGregor fight. Sawyer said it didn’t take long for the new guys to fit in at these well-attended player-led events.
“When we went (to the College World Series) in 2014, we had team chemistry,” Sawyer said. “That’s what it takes to get back to Omaha. Talent only gets you so far. Having the team chemistry and wanting to win for each other is what gets you there.”
UT players have lauded their chemistry throughout this season. The get-togethers were nice, but UT coach David Pierce surmised that chemistry was rooted in a winning mentality that was built during last year’s run to an NCAA regional. Texas opened this year with a 9-9 record. The Longhorns, though, rallied to win the Big 12’s regular season title and a 36th trip to the College World Series.
“I don’t think chemistry really happens until you compete against outside competition together,” Pierce said. “Once they started doing that, they realized there’s going to be adversity, how do we handle that.”