At the risk of CWS overload, I wanted to make a final post prior to the game tomorrow night. As Longhorns fans, we've been entreated to several magical moments over the last few weeks. We've also seen a lot of rhetoric from Augie Garrido over the mental toughness from this team. Most of the time, I brush off any articles over "toughness", "mental makeup", a player being "gritty", or anything that could conceivably be connected to the normal puff-pieces over Darin Erstad or David Eckstein. But, despite all my skepticism with baseball intangibles, I cannot help myself from connecting them with Augie Garrido and this specific team.
After the jump, I want to speak a little more about Garrido before making a few interrelated observations over intangibles within this specific roster...
When I started following UT Baseball in high school during one of the recent championship runs (2002), I was somewhat annoyed and perplexed by the lavish praise on Augie Garrido. A lifelong Texas Rangers fan, I spent my middle and high school years (1998-2003) soaking up baseball knowledge on the now infamous and largely deserted ESPN Message Boards. On a sidenote, many of the posters from those boards are now the authors of some of the most heavily trafficked MLB Blogs for SBN. Primarily, I hated--and still hate--the bunting. Perhaps ignorantly, I bought into the "Wizard of Oz" concept over Garrido and Texas Baseball.
During my military training in the UT Army ROTC Program, one of our instructors told me something that I've never forgotten. I think it remains completely applicable to Augie Garrido. He said, "You may not agree with my methods, but you will never be able to question my results. Things I do might not always make sense at the time, but they work and they have continued to work throughout my career. Motivation is a fickle thing--perhaps the most fickle thing in life itself--and I will push your buttons to send you where you need to be sent, even if you dont want to be sent there."
This quote became perfectly connected to Augie Garrido when watching "Inning by Inning," the documentary from Richard Linklater that debuted last summer. Lifting the veil on Garrido, it became apparent that he was operating on a level that I couldnt understand as an outsider to the program. I was mesmerized by his fiery and passionate speeches, philosophical waxings over baseball, and his absolute commitment to competing for every inch in every play. All coaches talk about "mental toughness", many attempt to foster it, but I'm not sure how many coaches (or leaders) have truly been able to make tangible differences in an inherently intangible category. I dont pretend to know whether or not Garrido's teachings and methods have cultivated a mental toughness within these players that has sparked this run of magical moments and victories. The point here isn't that Garrido has concocted a magical leadership potion to turn weak-minded players into robotic winners. Instead, I want to make a point about the nature of the roster itself and how it might interconnect with the intestinal fortitude we've seen over the last few weeks. I think it's entirely possible that Garrido might have found the perfect audience to his teachings, which has conceivably played a role in elevating this team above its perceived ceiling.
I've always wondered how the best draft-eligible players in college baseball have been able to remain focused on their season with both the impending prospect of being drafted and actually being drafted during the season. The goal of every player is to be drafted, but the pressure remains extremely high on players intensely placed under the microscope of MLB Scouts. Many people wrote about the pressure facing Jordan Danks and Kyle Russell last season, but this has also affected players prior to being draft-eligible, such as Micheal Demporio, who, after refusing to sign with the Braves as a second-round pick out of HS, left the program after scuffling in his first season. It seems easy to understand how some players might be unable to completely buy into the NCAA present, when they already have one foot out the door to the MLB future. Unlike football and basketball, college baseball players are drafted DURING the season, which renders their postseason performances irrelevant towards their draft stock.
As has been well-documented, Texas didn't have any "bonus babies" in this year's draft. The key players on this roster are either upperclassmen with limited professional upside or super-talented youngsters waiting their turn to be eligible. I believe, moreso than in previous years, this group of players remains the perfect mix to buy into Garrido's message. I'll take talent over mental makeup any day of the week, but I refuse to cast aside the notion that this team remains Garrido's ultimate triumph as a coach. He has been able to mold a team of upperclassmen who are MLB misfits and studly youngsters through his teachings, with the result being a team playing fast, loose, and fearless during the most pressure packed games of their baseball careers.
We have seen some magical moments, but I refuse to call any of our recent victories "magic" or "lucky." The sticking point to me still revolves around the BC victory. As some may forget, we were the ROAD team in that matchup. While Austin Wood was the hero, I still cannot fathom the mental toughness it took to put up SEVENTEEN consecutive zeroes on the board from the 9th-25th inning to continue extending the game. I believe this victory and our recent run of success can arguably be seen as the direct result of a roster well-suited to receiving and implementing the messages preached by Augie Garrido. As seen in "Inning by Inning," he is not a typical coach and he perhaps receives atypical results from certain players in big moments.
I'm not counting on our team being "clutch" to come-from-behind against LSU, but I'm certainly not going to discount or trivialize any of their recent accomplishments...