With Texas chasing a title, Tristan Stevens lives out a dream in the Longhorns' rotation
A fun fact about Tristan Stevens: The Texas pitcher has walked the same campuses as two Academy Award-winning actors.
Stevens graduated from Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Mo., the same high school that produced Brad Pitt. And the University of Texas, of course, loudly claims Matthew McConaughey.
Stevens doesn't have a "Once Upon A Time ... in Hollywood" or a "Dallas Buyers Club" on his résumé. But he is starring in a breakout role with Texas' baseball team this season. The first-time starter is 7-3 with a 3.11 ERA.
"He's grown up wanting to be a starting pitcher for the University of Texas," Longhorns assistant coach Sean Allen said.
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Stevens' hometown is located less than 200 miles away from the University of Missouri. Kickapoo High is a two- to three-hour drive from Arkansas' ballpark. Yet Stevens has long been a Longhorns fan. He remembers screaming in his living room when Vince Young scored on that eight-yard touchdown in the Rose Bowl. He requested to wear No. 35 at Texas because that was Kevin Durant's number.
Growing up, Stevens' favorite baseball player at Texas was Mark Payton. Not because Payton was an all-conference outfielder or because his 101-game on-base streak is believed to be a NCAA record. Stevens rooted for Payton because he wasn't a Texan.
"I knew that he was not from Texas when he came in either, he was from Illinois," Stevens said. "For me that gave me hope that hey, I know there's a small chance, but there's a chance that I could end up playing here. It worked out."
After a year in which he had Tommy John surgery while pitching at a junior college, Stevens joined UT's 2017 recruiting class. Used mostly as a high-volume reliever over his first three years in Austin, Stevens led Texas with 23 appearances in 2019. No Longhorn pitched in more games in 2020.
But from 2018 to 2020, none of Stevens' 33 outings lasted more than three innings.
Inserted into the weekend rotation this spring, he opened the season with a solid start against an Arkansas team that's currently ranked first in the D1Baseball poll. Stevens has since been a part of two shutouts. He has worked at least six innings in each of his last nine starts. At one point, he faced 113 straight batters without issuing a walk.
With his play this season, Stevens has basically said "screw everybody who said he's just a reliever," UT ace Ty Madden stated.
Noted reliever Cole Quintanilla: "Every time he goes out there on the mound, he's going to put up a fight."
A fifth-year junior who graduated last year with a corporate communications degree, Stevens has provided a young pitching staff a veteran presence. Stevens' work ethic has also been commended by Madden and fellow starter Pete Hansen.
When asked about his work ethic, Stevens credited his family. His brother Ryan is training to become a Navy SEAL.
A few weeks ago, Stevens told reporters a story about a recent start that he had at Oklahoma State. That day, his brother woke up at 2:30 a.m. and did three different training workouts. He then drove from Missouri to Stillwater to watch Stevens pitch. After UT's 5-2 win, Stevens' brother drove back and was working out again the next day.
"Because I always had him and I grew up with him, I didn't realize that his work ethic was considered working hard," Stevens said. "For me, that was just the standard that our family put."
With the regular season wrapping up this weekend, Stevens will start on Friday against West Virginia. Entering a three-game series against the Mountaineers that's set to begin on Thursday, No. 2 Texas (38-12, 15-6 Big 12) trails No. 12 TCU (35-14, 16-5) by one game in the Big 12 standings.
Texas is looking for its first conference championship since 2018, when the Longhorns also made it to the College World Series. Stevens was on that roster but was a bystander during that postseason run. He'll have a prominent role this time around.
"No one really thought that I'd end up here," Stevens said. "When I would tell people growing up that I want to play at the University of Texas, they'd always be like, 'Well OK, that's awesome, buddy.' To actually be here and to be in the situation we're in, it means a lot."