With just about 24 hours to go until the 'Horns first pitch against Southern Miss, I thought it'd be fun to set the table with an interview with a guy who knows a thing or two about leading Texas to the College World Series: former standout pitcher/hitter Brooks Kieschnick.
I had a chance to speak on the phone with Brooks today from his home in San Antonio, where he is married with two children. Along with working as an executive sales manager for Johnson and Johnson, Kieschnick is a minority owner of both the Corpus Christi Hooks (Houston Astros AA) and Round Rock Express (Astros AAA).
Kieschnick played for three years at the University of Texas, from 1991-93. In each of his last two seasons, he won the prestigious Dick Howser Trophy, and in 1993 was named the Baseball America National Player of the Year. As a hitter, Kieschnick over his three-year career batted .360 and slugged a whopping .676, with 43 Home Runs, 215 RBI, 445 Total Bases, and 140 Walks -- all of which rank in the Top 10 for career marks in UT history. As a pitcher, Kieschnick threw 345 Innings, racked up 34 Wins, tossed 7 Shutouts, and K'd 268 batters -- each of which also ranks in the Top 10 in UT history.
My conversation with Brooks Kieschnick is after the jump.PB: Brooks, are you still invovled with UT baseball these days? Do you still watch the games?
Brooks Kieschnick: Not in any official capacity but I took my family to some of the games, watched the Regionals and Super Regionals. Honestly, at some point I'd really love to get more involved, maybe even work for the University. That would be a dream.
PB: Maybe even coach? Have you thought about that?
Brooks Kieschnick: You know, it's crossed my mind -- getting into coaching. It's really difficult at this point in my life, with two kids and family obligations, to think about that right now, but it's something for the future I'm definitely interested in. My wife and I would like at some point to move back to Austin. It's really important to me that I finish my degree at some point. And if there's an opportunity to be involved with UT, I can't imagine anything better. There's no better job in the world than a coaching job at the University of Texas.
PB: What are your thoughts on the new stadium?
Brooks Kieschnick: I do like it; the only thing is I really wish they had real dirt around the bases and at home plate. I guess I'm kind of old school like that, but it's something that still looks not quite right to me. But you know, the players seem to like it and are doing well with it, so I'm sure I'll get used to it at some point.
PB: I'm sure it's a little easier on the players than that turf you guys played on. How hot did it get down there?
Brooks Kieschnick: Oh man, it was tremendously hot -- a good 20-30 degrees hotter than the regular temperature. The thing is, though, you get used to it. You practice on it a lot. You train on it. And to some extent, it became a big homefield advantage for us. We played 100% of our games there, we were used to it, and it was a real challenge to come play us there.
PB: Switching gears here for a minute: You were drafted in the first round of the 1993 draft -- the 10th pick by the Cubs. After starring as a two-way player at Texas, through 2001 you were exclusively a hitter in the big leagues. At what point did you make the decision to make a go of playing both ways as a professional?
Brooks Kieschnick: In 2002 I was with Cleveland during their spring big league camp and they sent me to the minors to start the year, and I decided to ask for my release. I told them I wanted to pitch. I actually signed with an Independent Leauge team but the Chicago White Sox called and told me they wanted me to be their DH, so I signed with them and had a good year at AAA.
I was a free agent after that season and Milwaukee gave me a call and told me they wanted to give me a shot with their big league team playing both ways. It was an easy decision for me, and I didn't want to have any regrets that I didn't try it -- didn't at least give it a shot.
PB: What's harder -- getting a major league hitter out, or hitting off a major league pitcher?
Brooks Kieschnick: Honestly, they're two totally different things, so it's really hard to make a good comparison. I remember coming in one day in Milwaukee, and I was brought in with runners on first and second with two outs to face Ken Griffey, Jr. And I struck him out to get us out of the jam. That was an awesome moment and one I'll always remember.
But hitting... man, it's just such a challenge. I mean, a .300 hitter is still failing seven times out of ten, you know? Going up there against Kevin Brown or someone like that -- it's incredibly difficult. I think hitting is the hardest thing in all of sports.
PB: Ever face Barry Bonds?
Brooks Kieschnick: I did, actually. Once. I got him to 3-2 and threw a fastball right down the heart of the plate. Ump called it ball four. It's funny, he actually ended up coming around to score later in the inning, and I was backing up home plate, and as he headed off the field he gave me a wink and said, "You definitely got me."
PB: [laughing] That's outstanding. Okay, moving back to college ball again: You were a two-time Dick Howser Trophy winner, you were in the inaurgural class of the College Baseball Hall of Fame. Were you able to enjoy and appreciate just how exceptional your college career was at the time?
Brooks Kieschnick: You know, not at the time. You just don't think about those kinds of things too much. Your mind is on your school, on your team, and on playing to win. I definitely relished my time at UT, and I was very much honored to receive so many awards and everything, but it takes some time and age to be able to look back at what you accomplished and appreciate it in that way.
PB: Y'all didn't quite win it all during your time in Austin, but two of your Texas teams -- in '92 and '93 -- made it to Omaha for the College World Series. What was it like heading up there, playing in Rosenblatt, and competing for the title?
Brooks Kieschnick: It's unforgettable. As a player, you're just so excited to be there, but you're also just so anxious. You're there to compete and you want to win. The stadium provides a tremendous venue for college baseball. The local fans are absolutely the best.
PB: What about Longhorns fans? Did a lot make the trip to Omaha during your two years there?
Brooks Kieschnick: Oh, absolutely. Texas fans traveled so well those years, as they always do. It's great for the players seeing all the burnt orange in the stands. And I can promise you that the CWS loves it when Texas makes it, as we usually do. We travel well and our fans are great fans of the sport. Even when Texas doesn't make it, you'll see a lot of UT fans up there enjoying the baseball.
PB: So let's say you were managing this '09 Longhorns team and heading up to Omaha. How would you prepare them for what they're going to experience? This will be the first time for all -- at least most, anyway, I'm not sure -- of these guys.
Brooks Kieschnick: I'd tell them, "Look, we're gonna go up there a day early, we'll take BP, get a little field workout in, and then spend that day soaking in the great atmosphere." It's a big moment for the players and one for them to enjoy. But you know, you've got to just get that ooh-ing and ahh-ing over and done with and then just get mentally into your routine. Nothing different than usual. You prepare, you pratice, and you try to treat it like you have every game all year. Just focus on execution and filling your role on the team. Don't try to do too much, or change up anything from what you always do.
PB: Routines -- did you have any as a player? Any superstitions or anything?
Brooks Kieschnick: Yeah, I would always make sure to cross the white chalk lines with my left foot -- shuffle my steps up in the approach or whatever to make sure I stepped over the line with my left foot. If I was going good, I'd stick with the same undershirt, too. If things weren't going well, I'd change it.
In the pros, I kind of would rotate through different facial hair styles to get things going -- full beard, goatee, little fu-manchu mustache. All kinds of stuff. Baseball players are definitely a superstitious bunch.
PB: Any thoughts on Augie's "small ball" philosophy? Even fans of a team that wins most its games need something to debate and that seems to be the big debate among 'Horns fans.
Brooks Kieschnick: We're the #1 seed in Omaha. I'd say he's doing something right. Look, I mean when you've got the pitching and defense that this team has, you just don't need 15 runs a game to win. Those strengths allow us to play that style of ball, and we do it well. Could this team maybe get up there and bang away a little more? Yeah, I do think so. But there's nothing to complain about, that's for sure.
You have to think about how young this pitching staff is, too. Augie knows his players and knows how to get the most out of them. And you take these young guys and how well he's handled them and all they've achieved -- it's awesome. I don't want to look ahead -- I want a title this year, don't get me wrong -- but it's really exciting to think about this team for the next two to three years. There's a ton of great young talent on this squad.
PB: Augie's an incredible recruiter.
Brooks Kieschnick: Exactly. No question. And really, you have to give a ton of credit to Skop Johnson and Tommie Harmon as well. The job those guys have done, as coaches, but also out there on the recruiting trail. Identifying guys, assembling the right squad, and getting them all to come to Texas. It's remarkable.
PB: There are a lot of remarkable things to be said about Texas baseball -- past, present, and future -- but maybe none more incredible than Austin Wood's outing two weekends back. Did you get to see that performance?
Brooks Kieschnick: I had to miss that game as I was celebrating my grandfather's birthday, but I was getting text messages like crazy. People were going absolutely nuts. I just heard the Hall of Fame called for some of the gear from that game, as they should have -- it's one for the ages.
It's an incredible thing to throw a no-hitter. It's an incredible thing to do it in relief. But 12 1/3 innings? In a regional playoff game? I mean, that's just beyond anything I've seen. What an awesome performance.
PB: What's the most pitches you ever threw?
Brooks Kieschnick: 172. In the College World Series, actually -- against Oklahoma State.
PB: I'd completely forgotten that! Insanity! Did you pitch again in that series? I forget.
Brooks Kieschnick: Yeah, I did -- two days later, actually, I was out there again.
PB: Was your arm cooperative? I mean, did you have anything left at all?
Brooks Kieschnick: Honestly, I felt good. I actually think I was throwing harder than I ever had before, so yeah. A lot of that's adrenaline -- you just want to do anything you can to help your team win. So I wanted the ball. I wanted to be out there. I know how Austin felt for sure.
PB: Amazing. As was your entire UT career. I definitely grew up going to the Disch with my Dad and was a huge fan. Thanks for chatting with me today.
Brooks Kieschnick: Definitely -- that was fun. I still love staying active with UT. Let's do this again sometime soon.
PB: Count on it.