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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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New year, clean slate

Texas+A%26amp%3BM+baseball+will+host+Fordham+University+for+its+first+official+game+of+the+2022+season+on+Feb.+18.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Texas A&M baseball will host Fordham University for its first official game of the 2022 season on Feb. 18.

When Texas A&M baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle stepped onto Olsen Field on Tuesday, Sept. 21, several things caught his attention — the smell of freshly cut Tifway 419 Bermuda grass, trimmed with precision around the base path; the humming sound of a pitching machine near home plate, warming up after months of inactivity; the theatrics of Kyle Field looming past the outfield, just behind a yellow freight train billowing smoke as it chugs across the tracks.
These are the things that define A&M’s Bluebell Park, contributing to the baseball program’s aura of “Olsen Magic.” For fans of the maroon and white, this magic is only experienced on game days, thought to lie dormant outside of the spring. But for the players, the magic never dies, acting as motivation while training across the offseason.
And to Schlossnagle, the Olsen Magic is a brand new experience altogether.
The first day of the Aggies’ fall training camp marked the first day Schlossnagle officially led the program, giving the coach his first true taste of the magic long thought to be the source of the maroon and white’s success. Luckily for him, many of the most successful runs in collegiate athletics were founded upon humble beginnings.
For the A&M baseball program to follow a similar trajectory, it must start small and build from the bottom up. Last season, the Aggies put on a lackluster spring showing, going 29-27 with a 9-21 conference record. This .300 winning percentage in the Southeastern Conference caused A&M to miss out on the SEC Tournament for the first time since joining the league in 2013. The campaign finished with the Aggies, breaking their 13-year streak of competing in the NCAA Tournament.
The end of A&M’s season also saw the departure of former head coach Rob Childress, who was succeeded by then-Texas Christian head coach Schlossnagle. The new head of the program brought with him his own coaching staff as well as a youthful set of players, shaking up A&M’s previous roster almost beyond recognition.
While many would see this drastic change as a hindrance, senior infielder Austin Bost said he believes the turnover gives A&M the opportunity to perform well and eventually return to the postseason.
“We can definitely fly under the radar because nobody knows what to expect,” Bost said. “We have a bunch of new guys, a bunch of new chemistry together, and we’re going to go out there and win some ball games.”
The group referenced by Bost includes a set of nine new transfers to A&M, all hailing from major baseball programs around the country. The new faces include senior right-handed pitcher Trey Dillard, who was drafted in 2018 by the Los Angeles Dodgers but instead opted to join the Missouri Tigers, and sophomore ace pitcher Xavier Lovett from Mississippi State.
Schlossnagle said he is ready for this set of athletes to find a new home at A&M, noting 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 two or three of those guys that were everyday players for their schools, and there’s a couple of them that weren’t, so they’re not as experienced. They understand the grind of college baseball.”
But the transfers aren’t the only fresh faces set to fill seats in A&M’s dugout. Once the final recruit moves to College Station, freshmen will make up nearly one-third of the overall roster, with 17 recent high school graduates soon to suit up. These players spent the summer in the Brazos Valley as part of 12th Man Athletics’ Summer Bridge Program, set to help incoming athletes with their transition into collegiate-level play.
Sophomore shortstop Kalae Harrison said this gives him hope for the team’s eventual success, as the new freshmen get to experience what the athletes who came to A&M earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic could not.
“Last year was tough,” Harrison said. “I didn’t realize how big the [Summer] Bridge Program was for [the freshmen], with them coming early in the summer and lifting. We didn’t have any of that because of COVID[-19]. We just kind of jumped right away into fall practice. We had to learn as we [went].”
After the program concluded, the team turned its sights toward personal improvement. This meant long periods of time in the weight room, intense trainings on the field and various sets of “skill hours,” Harrison said.
Though the players come from three distinct groups — incoming freshmen, transfers and returning players — Schlossnagle said they are all on an even footing to compete for a starting position. While he has expectations for a few select players to start, including Harrison, Schlossnagle said each position on the field is “up for grabs” to anyone on the roster.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Schlossnagle said. “I’ve tried to come into it with a clean slate. For the most part, we’re going to do that every year. Right now, [the lineup] is wide open, and I think that’s been great.”
After starting in all 56 of A&M’s games in the 2021 campaign, Harrison said he is excited about the prospect of having to better himself in order to earn playing time. The higher expectations will allow him to perform better as an athlete, he said.
“Coach Schloss … told us on day one that everybody is out here to compete,” Harrison said. “Nothing’s given to us [returning players], and everyone is excited about that. Everyone wants to compete and earn the right to be on the starting lineup.”
Along with the players, A&M’s first day of fall training showcased another new aspect of the program: the staff itself. Schlossnagle’s hiring fundamentally changed the coaching styles valued by the team, forcing the players to make adjustments during the offseason.
Bost said he believes learning from new coaching perspectives will allow the Aggies to improve as a team.
“We’re learning new stuff, like the fundamentals that [Schlossnagle] wants us to do,” Bost said. “He has brought us together. It’s more day-to-day, working on our mental game a lot more than we did last year. That’s going to help us a lot.”
Schlossnagle said he is encouraged by his players adopting this “hungry” attitude to better improve their gameplay.
“I think the whole bunch has been super open to change and super open to a new coaching staff,” Schlossnagle said. “They’re asking a lot of questions. Everybody’s been coachable. They’ve picked up on the structure of how we like to do things, and if we stick with that, I think we’ll become the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.”
A&M will first test the new playing and coaching styles in a pair of exhibition games slated for October. The Aggies will face the Houston Cougars on Friday, Oct. 8 and the Lamar Cardinals on Friday, Oct. 22. Both exhibition games will be played at Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park.
Though they have no influence on the team’s next official campaign, Schlossnagle said these matchups are of paramount importance.
“[Exhibition games] are important for every team, but especially [for] the way in which 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. I’m excited to be in this ball park wearing maroon instead of a different color and with a home crowd. I want to see how the new players specifically are going to react to that.”
Part of this excitement stems from Schlossnagle’s love for the A&M community, he said. The coach also said he hopes his players will develop and grow from the experience.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not more impressed with the power, strength, tradition and everything that goes into this great university,” Schlossnagle said. “To be one small part of it is an honor that I don’t take lightly.”
Only time will tell if the new head coach, support staff and eventual starting lineup will help A&M’s performance in the 2022 spring season. But until then, Bost said he will remain confident in what he believes the Aggies can accomplish.
“We’re just going to get this fall started and get things rolling,” Bost said. “I think we’re a team to beat this year.”

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