Texas, Mike Antico are both happy that former St. John's standout found the Longhorns
If you go through Texas' baseball team, you'll find 41 different stories about how these Longhorns ended up on the roster.
First baseman Zach Zubia originally signed with David Pierce at Tulane and then followed the head coach to Texas. A direct message on Twitter led to Texas connecting with pitcher Pete Hansen. Pierce recalled that pitcher Tristan Stevens, a longtime Longhorns fan, "cried when he committed. Coming to Texas was that big for him."
Texas center fielder Mike Antico also has an origin story.
After four years at St. John's, Antico was ready to move on last summer. He thought about turning pro but eventually decided to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer. During his 24 hours in the transfer portal, he heard from UCLA and Baylor. Texas, which had just lost Duke Ellis to a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox, also reached out.
Connecting the dots between Antico and Texas was Jerry Weinstein. Antico's manager with the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod summer league in 2019, Weinstein knew Pierce. He also had previously worked with the Colorado Rockies while UT volunteer coach Troy Tulowitzki was an all-star shortstop there.
"We started talking with Mike and we were able to find scholarship money for him to get him in here," Pierce said earlier this year.
A New Jersey native, Antico hasn't sought out his Texas residency just yet. When asked on Thursday by a New Jersey-raised reporter about whether he preferred breakfast tacos or a pork roll, egg and cheese, Antico didn't flinch before choosing the New Jersey sandwich.
Antico, though, insists he has nothing bad to say about Texas. It's unlikely that Texas has anything bad to say about Antico as well.
Antico leads the Big 12 in both walks and stolen bases. His 51 walks rank fourth nationally. His 29 steals are the second-most for a Longhorn in the past 15 years. And only Ivan Melendez can claim more homers on the team than Antico's nine.
"He finds a lot of ways to get on base and creates a lot of havoc," shortstop Trey Faltine said. "He can do a lot for us and obviously him being in the outfield as well helps."
Antico is hitting at a .254 clip this spring. During one 10-game stretch, however, he went just 4-for-28.
He'll be the first to tell you that "baseball's a crazy sport, there's a lot of ups and downs." In April, Antico said that what some don't see about his 2019 season at St. John's, when he hit .386, was that he had hit .180 over the first five weeks. He has repeatedly expressed gratitude for Pierce's patience.
"I owe my life to these coaches. Coach Pierce giving me the opportunity every day to play center field, it's a special thing," Antico said after a 13-6 win over Kansas State on April 9. "I'm coming from out of town, different school or whatever. He hasn't had to stick with me through and through and he has."
The second overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, Texas (42-15) welcomes Arizona State (32-20), Fairfield (37-3) and Southern (20-28) to UFCU Disch-Falk Field for this weekend's Austin Regional. The Longhorns open against Southern on Friday.
Since Texas missed the postseason in 2019 and the pandemic cut the 2020 season short, only five Longhorns remain from the school's last NCAA postseason team.
Antico can lend some postseason experience. In 2018, he homered twice for St. John's at Clemson's regional.
He has preached this week about the importance of not overlooking a hungry lower seed. In 2018, St. John's was the three seed that battled favored Vanderbilt and Clemson close in 2-0 and 9-8 losses.
Antico said he also learned three years ago about the value of winning the first game at a double-elimination tournament. At last week's Big 12 Tournament, Texas dropped its opener and faced an uphill climb that ended in the semifinals.
"You lose that first game and it's tough, it's really tough to come back because of the layout of the double elimination," Antico said. "That game (Friday) is huge, no matter who we're playing. In the regional, (with) the way it's laid out, it's just very important to win that game."