(40AS note: JA writing in first-person this time. It has been 48 hours since the baseball season ended, an ending so abrupt that AO and I were completely unprepared for any final thoughts, and the only thing we could agree on was that neither of us could stomach writing a season wrap up. It's taken two days to gather up enough cogent thoughts to make a post worthwhile, and, as BON's eternal optimist, it takes on a happy tone. Enjoy.)
When you leave Austin and head out into great diaspora of Texas-Exes you have to plan your return trips carefully. A trip in the Fall is a must for obvious reasons, and -- for me at least -- a trip in the early Spring to catch a home baseball and basketball weekend. In February 2008 I made such a journey back to the 40 Acres to watch DJ Augustin face Oklahoma and the Texas baseball program take on Virginia Commonwealth University to start the season. Two years later and I don't remember much specifically from that weekend -- I had to look up that we beat Oklahoma 62-45 -- but I remember being in awe of Kevin Keyes. Here was a specimen I hadn't ever seen roam the Texas outfield: a 6'4" 225 pounder that could steal bases.
For many, the 2008 baseball season probably conjures up few positive memories other than Kyle Russell's pursuit of the UT home run record. It was Augie's worst season in a decade and Texas lost in the Rice Regional as a 2-seed, but it was also the beginning of the 2009 and 2010 campaigns. The soon-to-be-departing players who have been at the core of the Texas roster for three seasons -- Keyes, Chance Ruffin, Brandon Workman, Cole Green and Cameron Rupp -- were contributing as mere freshmen in 2008. So rather than focus on the negative of the 2010 baseball season's ending (we lost, it sucked, that about cover it?), I'll give one final tribute to the five members of the 2008 Kiddie Corps who made 2009 and 2010 possible.Chance Ruffin: During the 2008 season, Texas lost five of six conference games to Missouri and Oklahoma State, yet at the end Texas had found its most dominating pitcher since Huston Street in Chance Ruffin. Following horrific losses of 31-12 and 13-2 at Missouri, Ruffin told his teammates how he felt, then picked up the victory in a 9-2 Texas win. Ruffin instantly became Texas' Friday starter and the next Friday he pitched 10 innings (!), giving up one run in a 2-1 loss (!) to Oklahoma State. The final memory of Ruffin in burnt orange may not be the most pleasant, but he has been the heart and soul of the Texas pitching staff for nearly three seasons. Ruffin's presence will be surely missed as Taylor Jungmann begins to take over that role.
Cameron Rupp: Rupp has become one of the finest defensive catchers in the country, but his prodigious clout is what I (and I suspect most Texas baseball fans) will remember most about him. I have never seen a baseball hit further in my life. There's not much more to say, just go watch the clip. Jonathan Walsh will have quite large shoes to fill behind the plate.
Brandon Workman: Workman wasn't even a starter by the end of the 2009 postseason, a demotion he more than made up for with a terrific 2010 season, but his no-hitter against Penn State in early 2009 was one of the finest pitching performance ever put on by a Texas pitcher. Workman struck out 10 that day and only walked two, but it took a full season for him to regain his elite pitching stature and become the nation's best Sunday starter.
Cole Green: It's hard to pinpoint one final great moment for Cole Green as his entire 2010 season was fantastic. Consider, therefore, the six starts Green made near the end of the 2010 baseball season against Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State. In those six starts he pitched 50 innings, threw three complete games (including a one-hitter), gave up 24 hits and ONE earned run. There may never be a Texas pitcher go off on a streak like that in our lifetimes.
Kevin Keyes: Finally, Keyes. It is just my fortune that Keyes would be drafted in the 7th round by the Washington Nationals. While Keyes didn't quite equal Kyle Russell's 19 home runs in 2008, 2010 was easily his best year (.311 BA, 15 HR). Two memories of Keyes probably stand out to Texas baseball fans: his mammoth home runs in each of Texas' losses to LSU, both of which seemed to bring the Horns back from the brink, and his return from benching in 2009. Facing Missouri on Sunday, Texas entered the ninth trailing 3-1 and needing the win to clinch a series victory. Keyes came in to pinch hit after a horrendous series and roped an RBI double off the wall in left center field which sparked a 4-3 comeback win and gave the team life again.
Of course I'll always remember that first weekend I saw him, when the freshman Keyes went 5-7 at the plate against VCU. The pitchers may have been overmatched, but you don't control why certain players enamor you, and it's been a fun three years watching him roam right field.
Best of luck to the (likely) departing Ruffin, Rupp, Workman, Green, Keyes, Rowe, and Moldenhauer. Thanks for making it a fun 2010 baseball season and I look forward to following you guys in the Majors. We'll be back in eight months with a new roster but the same goal.