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Texas pitcher Pete Hansen discusses preseason hype, personal growth and 1983 comparisons

Around 6:30 p.m. Friday, the first pitch of Texas' 2022 baseball season will be thrown at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Longhorns coach David Pierce hasn't yet announced who'll throw that first pitch.

Pete Hansen is an ideal candidate, though.

Hansen, the Big 12 preseason pitcher of the year, is entering his third spring at Texas. He's two years removed from a pandemic-shortened freshman season in which the left-hander had a 0.00 ERA over 17 innings. Last year, he earned a spot in the weekend rotation midway through Texas' run to a shared Big 12 championship and the College World Series. Texas' pitching staff boasted the nation's best ERA.

Much is expected again this spring out of Texas, the No. 1 team in the country in all three major preseason polls compiled by D1Baseball, Baseball America and USA Today.

Texas pitcher Pete Hansen throws a strike past a Texas Tech batter during a game last May at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Hansen is back for the 2022 season and, along with fellow starters Tristan Stevens and Tanner Witt, should form one of the top weekend rotations in the country.

Recently, Hansen had an indepth interview with the American-Statesman to talk about the season. He also discussed up-and-coming Longhorns, the pitching staff's comparisons to Texas' legendary 1983 team, and his favorite memories so far as a Longhorn.

How ready are the Longhorns?

I think there's a little excitement in the locker room. We're definitely hungry from last year. Obviously, we returned a lot of guys, so everyone kind of knows the taste of getting that close and not getting there. I think everyone wants to get back there and really go all the way this time. Obviously for us, expectations are really high, but it's really nothing new to us just because that's the level that we put ourselves at. Every day with our work and how we approach that stuff, we put that pressure on ourselves. It's not even pressure so much, it's just kind of what we we know we're capable of, so for us, it's really nothing new and that's just kind of how we operate.

More:Former Texas star Kody Clemens has his MLB opportunity but has to wait to seize it

What should we expect out of the Longhorns this season?

Just guys that are just going to go out there compete. That's really what we want to do and we've been really hungry. What we've been wanting to do for a long time, is just get back out on the field. I think just with our competitive edge that we're going to have against competitors and we're going to bring that extra level of mentality and our physicality and our play to the field. You're just going to see guys that are just going to get out there and compete at everything they do.

How do you view the 2021 season? An accomplishment since you made it to Omaha? A disappointment since you didn't win it all?

Everything's a learning experience. And you got to take lessons from last year and obviously, it was great. But we didn't win it all. There were mistakes we made. There's stuff that we can learn from that. It was a great season, but there's lessons that we learned from that that we're taking into this year that we won't make the same mistakes. We also did some great things and we can learn from that and really apply that to this year.

It was a great season, but that was last year. We have a new team now and this is our '22 team. We're excited to hit the field with these guys and prove what we can do on the field.

"It's an honor to be the preseason No. 1, but to us, it really doesn't mean much," Texas pitcher Pete Hansen said. "It doesn't affect our work. It doesn't affect who we are off the field as well as on the field."

What does this 2022 Texas baseball team do well? 

You're going to see a lot of improvement on offense, just kind of from what I've been seeing in our last intrasquads. I mean, we hit really well. You saw Dylan Campbell take me deep in the alumni game. We lost some pretty key pieces from our team last year, but I think we filled those spots and we got better in those spots.

You're just going to see the pitching staff get out there and compete. We've got some really talented arms and we're going to have some new guys step up in some big spots. I'm excited to see those guys get their opportunities.

More:For No. 1 Texas, a veteran outfield and Tanner Witt's new pitch among things worth noting

What weaknesses need to be addressed?

I wouldn't even say it's a weakness, but we've got to figure out who we are as a team. I think as the season goes on, we'll understand that a little bit more. We don't really put pressure on ourselves with that. We try to establish our culture from an early stage and that's just working hard and competing, but we're really not going to know who we are until we face a lot of adversity. Right now, things are good, but once things start speeding up on us, that's when we'll really find out who we are.

Baseball America recently had you and fellow pitchers Tristan Stevens, Tanner Witt and Aaron Nixon recreate a photo of Roger Clemens, Calvin Schiraldi, Mike Capel and Kirk Killingsworth. What do you know about that 1983 team?

What an honor that was to imitate them in the slightest. We talked about that team a little bit and just what they did for the University of Texas. Roger, obviously, had a very successful career after that, but he was just a piece of that team. I think what we learned from that team is that they held strong and they had all the pieces, but they also started the year No. 1 too, but they kept it going the whole year. I think (there's an) understanding for us that it is possible and that we can do that.

It was definitely an honor for Baseball America to give us the chance to kind of recreate those photos. It's a tough task ahead for us to do what they did, but at least we know it's possible and at least we know that we can do it. I think we're excited.

Have the four of you been arguing about who's the Roger of the group?

Witt's the tallest, so we put them in the middle. We'll see. I think that's the beauty of our pitching staff is we're all going to go out there and compete. We don't know who's going to have the 15-year career in the big leagues, but right now, we're just focused on winning a national championship.

Texas pitcher Pete Hansen reacts after throwing a strike against West Virginia during last year's Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City. The Longhorns went on to advance to the College World Series but came up just short in their bid for a national championship.

Is this team embracing the hype?

It's an honor to be the preseason No. 1, but to us, it really doesn't mean much. It doesn't affect our work. It doesn't affect who we are off the field as well as on the field. We're still the same guys and we're still going to carry ourselves like we're the best team in the country. And it didn't matter if we got ranked outside of the top 25. I feel like that's the feeling we've been having for these past couple years. We're really just going to do what we can do to be the best team in the country. People can have their outside opinions on us, but at the end of the days, we know who we are and if we trust that, then that's who we're going to be. The expectations are really high, but like I said, I think that we're used to that, we're used to holding ourselves to that standard in our work and everything we do. Those are the expectations we also have for ourselves. It's an honor, but we're used to it. That's what we want.

Bohls: A stacked pitching rotation has No. 1 Texas' eyes on the prize

This is Tristan Stevens' sixth year of college baseball. What does he bring to this team?

He was here in those dark times, so he understands pretty much what not to do as well as what to do. So he's kind of been that leader and keeping us focused and understanding the spotlight and not letting us kind of get in our heads a little bit. So he's been good with that leadership aspect. He's probably one of the hardest workers I've ever been around. He's always doing extra stuff. He's always helping guys out. I like watching him work. He's definitely an influence in my life and my pitching career. No, he's the man and I'm glad we got back this year. He's a really big piece of our staff and a really big piece of our team.

More:Silas Ardoin settles in as Texas catcher, leader

How much confidence do you have in Silas Ardoin as your catcher?

I mean, he's the rock. He's the guy that kind of keeps us focused. We text a lot. He's always giving me feedback on pitches and stuff like that, sending me videos. We have a really good communicative relationship where he's always telling me stuff that I need to work on and just keeping me focused. Silas got here when I got here, so I've had a pretty good relationship since the start. He's just a stud behind the plate. Knowing that he's back there, he's going to block every single ball and throw everyone out, it's definitely a weight off my shoulders that I can go there and execute pitches and do what I need to do, and that goes the same with our whole infield, too. They're going to make plays and it's really nice having those guys around you. Just having that sense of trust because they're going to work for me and I'm going to work for them. 

Texas pitcher Pete Hansen played for the Brewster Whitecaps out of the Cape Cod League last summer. In four appearances, he went 1-1 with a 6.31 ERA in 15 2/3 innings pitched. He started two games. "That was a great experience, just playing with different players from all over the country, very talented guys," he said.

How did you spend your summer and offseason?

Right as the season ended, I took about two weeks off, went back home for a little bit and then I went out to Cape Cod for the summer and played summer baseball there (with the Brewster Whitecaps) for about a month. That was a great experience, just playing with different players from all over the country, very talented guys. I definitely feel like I learned a lot just being around all those talented dudes and picking their brains a little bit. It was a great summer. My goals this offseason were just to clean up my motion a little bit, shorten my arm up, but mainly just get stronger and get bigger. I feel like I did a pretty good job with that. I'm up 10 pounds right now. I definitely feel like I'm moving faster and more efficient.

When you look back at freshman Pete Hansen and compare him to third-year Pete Hansen, what growth do you see? 

I think there's a sense of maturity that's come from that. I had a lot of success my freshman year, but I definitely wasn't the best pitcher I could be. I've learned some stuff from that moment. I was really good, but there's still things I can improve on. There's still things I'm doing a lot better than I did when I was a freshman. I'm starting to make the strides that I really didn't make for my sophomore year. I feel like I'm starting to make those strides that people were kind of expecting of me and I was expecting of myself after my freshman year. I'm definitely feeling pretty good heading into this year.

Have you gotten feedback about the next steps you need to take before you go pro?

It's just an uptick in stuff. That's kind of what I obviously want to see for myself. Obviously, I wish I threw a little bit harder, but at the end of the day, it's all about just getting guys out. That's been my game and that's not a game I'm going to change. It's kind of just getting that first-pitch strike, getting ahead in counts and getting guys out. Everyone wants to throw a little bit harder but for me, I'm just going to get in there and attack hitters. If I do anything to change that, then that's not the pitcher I am. As long as I stick with that, I think the stuff will come. Besides that, my other goal is stay healthy and just stay on the field and just keep giving my team a chance to win. I think if I do those things, it'll all work out.

Who's the young player who you expect to take a big step this year?

Pitching-wise, I think it's going to be Travis Sthele. He missed last year because of elbow surgery and now he's going to come back and eat up a lot of really big innings for us this year. His mental approach to the game is second-to-none, and he's one of the hardest workers I've really been around, too. Him and Tristan are up there together. I'm excited to see him get in the spotlight and let Texas fans see who he is as a pitcher, just because he took a backseat last year and had to watch it all. I know he's definitely hungry to get back out there and show Texas Nation what he can do and I have full faith in him. I know he's going to take that big step and be that guy. You can expect later innings for him, but he's going to be a weekend arm for us that's going to be really talented.

On the offensive side, I think the main guy's Dylan Campbell. He's kind of the guy that kind of got some games last year, had some good ABs, but really didn't get that time. I don't know if he deserved it last year, but he definitely was capable, we just had such a talented team. He had a great summer and then he had a fantastic fall and it's kind of at the point where you can't keep them out the lineup. He's got the hot bat right now. He's a talented guy, so I'm excited to see what he's going to do and bring to our team this year. I think he's going to help us win a lot of ballgames.

So we've seen the cute picture of you as a kid with the Texas helmet and uniform. How does a California kid grow up rooting for the Longhorns?

I've always been a Longhorn at heart, man. I was born in Texas, so I always had that root in me. It was always a dream of mine to wear the burnt orange and to just get on that field and play at the Disch. What an honor it is for me to be in this center stage now and be able to rep this jersey. Every single time I walk through the facility, I see all the numbers, basically all the history that's gone on here. I'm so thankful to be a part of this program every single day. To the little kid, this really was only in my dreams, so it's pretty cool to be living out my dreams right now. It's always been a goal of mine to attend the University of Texas and wear that burnt orange. Every day I'm thankful to be here, but every day I know it's not given. I'm working every day to keep it up and keep doing my best.

How will NIL impact college baseball? I assume that you are associated with the recently-created Occupy Left Field Foundation.

It allows us to give back to the community in a way more broad and open way. I really haven't been able to interact with my community. It's not even the compensation side of things, I really want this team to be connected with this community because at the end of the day, we're in Austin, Texas, and this is a wonderful place to be. I think that we want to represent this university in the best way we could in this community. I'm excited about what this foundation is going to do and all the support it's going to bring to this community.

For me personally, I think NlL is going to change the game in a monetary way. But for me, nothing's really changed. I'm going to keep doing what I do on the field. I know that's kind of the approach that a lot of guys on our team are doing, too. It's just you focus on your work and if you get distracted from that, then nothing else really matters. It will all go away if you get away from your work. I think we're not getting distracted by it at all. We're staying focused on what we need to do here at the field. This stuff's great, but we know it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is winning a national championship, that's what we're going to do. But it's great to give back to the community and that's something that I've been wanting to do for a long time. I'm excited for this opportunity to do that.

Texas' Pete Hansen is the Big 12 preseason pitcher of the year and the Longhorns are the No. 1 team in the country in all three major college baseball polls. The season begins this weekend at home against Rice.

How did you navigate these last two seasons? The pandemic shut down your 2020 season and a lot of protocols were in place last year.

It's adversity, and I think these obstacles present opportunity. Everyone's kind of had to be adaptable these past couple years and it really shows your true colors.

I didn't make the strides I wanted to over COVID, but I feel like I kind of got blindsided by it, but now I'm in a good position to take care of my business and I'm ready to rock. Guys like Ty Madden, he made a really big jump over COVID and he took that next step and I really didn't. It was kind of tough to see all the other guys doing that. That was fuel to my fire, especially this offseason and all this time I've had away from baseball. I'm not going to let that happen again. When I get my chance, I'm going to take it. I just think I really tried to take my game to the next level these past couple months.

It was a bummer in the 2020 season because I feel like we had a great team that year and it was a bummer to lose Bryce (Elder), but that's college baseball and that's how college works. Everyone kind of had to go through that. Everyone had to make sacrifices. But we're here now and you really can only control what you can control. I'm excited heading into this year, just with this team. We only get this team one time, so I'm going to try to make the most of it with these guys.

What has been your favorite memory that you've made here at Texas? I understand your start against TCU last year on Mother's Day was meaningful (Hansen's mother, Cheryl, passed away in 2013 after a battle with ovarian cancer).

I'll start with the TCU game. I mean, that was awesome. That was my first Big 12 start, my first weekend start. That was something I didn't get my 2020 season, going back to that year because the season got cut short. I was supposed to make my first weekend debut that weekend, the weekend (the season) got canceled. And then last year, I didn't have that spot and I feel like I earned that back and then TCU was the first weekend I really got that weekend start.

It was on Mother's Day, it's obviously a hard time for me and for others that have lost their moms. I knew that she was watching over me and I knew that she was giving me the strength and the courage on the mound to get up there in that spotlight, in that big situation in that game. It kind of proved to be a pretty big deciding point in the Big 12 rankings. I don't want to say I was pitching for her, but I definitely could feel her presence and her giving me that strength that day to get out there. I know she had really big dreams for me, so living through her vicariously and her big dreams for me, it's pretty awesome to be doing that right now.

Besides that, probably my best Texas memory was the fall of my freshman year. We were having our fall workouts and every week they handed out this weightlifting belt that was signed by the 1983 national championship team. It was their thing that they brought to all their games and stuff like that. We handed it out every single week to the player of the week or the guy that made great strides or did something special. I got honored by that and received that belt one week. To me, I didn't really know many of the guys, but I feel like I was working my hardest and I did have a great week and to be picked by my teammates, that was something really special to me. That was a huge honor to me. It showed that guys were paying attention and they saw how hard I was working. Honestly, that just made me work that much harder. But that was probably my biggest accomplishment to be honored by my teammates like that.