OMAHA, Nebraska — Texas A&M baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle knows Omaha.
Schlossnagle came to Texas A&M prior to this season after a long and successful run at Texas Christian University, located roughly 175 miles due north from College Station. In 18 seasons at TCU, Schlossnagle led his teams to five Men’s College World Series, including four consecutive trips to Omaha from 2014 through 2017.
But he has never left the city with a national championship trophy. He is hoping to change that this year, with the Aggies set to open the 2022 MCWS on Friday with a 2 p.m. matchup against Oklahoma that will be televised on ESPN.
“For me, this is the pearly gates of college baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “This is what you dream about. This is why you do all the other stuff. Nobody gets into coaching, I hope not, to recruit. You don’t get into coaching to raise money or go do all the other things. You get into coaching to work with kids and have them see success on the field and end up in the College World Series.”
Getting here this year was no given for the Aggies. They were picked to finish sixth in the SEC West division in the preseason.
Instead, the Aggies won it with their first-year coach and a collection of players that included holdovers from the previous coaching regime who meshed with several key transfers who arrived from other programs with great expectations after being brought in by Schlossnagle. In all, 14 players on the current Texas A&M roster played elsewhere last season.
“When we first got here in the fall, it really honestly felt like a summer team, just a bunch of guys with different backgrounds coming together to play ball,” said sophomore Nathan Dettmer, who was one of the returning Aggies and will start on the mound for the Friday vs. the Sooners.
Schlossnagle, of course, was the newest arrival with the most prominent profile.
“It was real tough to leave TCU. I love that school. My kids go to school there,” said Schlossnagle, before pausing to check his emotions. “But I needed something myself personally different. And professionally I felt — I believe there’s a shelf life to everything. I would have been more than happy and honored to be the coach at TCU the rest of my career, but I felt like it was a good time for TCU to have a new voice. And I felt for me professionally, I really wanted the opportunity to compete in the SEC.”
He brought with him to Texas A&M a new voice and a new vision.
One of the first transfers he enticed to join him on his maiden voyage in College Station was sophomore Jack Moss, who leads the team in batting with a .391 average and has been one of the hottest hitters in the nation in the postseason after transferring from Arizona State, where he was a second-team All-American.
“I saw what he did at TCU, and I knew a lot of players who had played for him that spoke very highly of him,” Moss said. “Just kind of the culture he built there, I wanted to be a part of something like that with him at A&M.”
“(Moss) and Dylan Rock were the first names we were talking to. But the thing with Jack is there were a lot of great programs that wanted him,” Schlossnagle said. “I said to him on the field the other day, thank goodness we’re here (in Omaha) because I didn’t want to let you down. But ironically Ole Miss and Arkansas are also here. Those were the other two schools he was looking at visiting.
“I wanted to sell him on the vision. And with a transfer, it’s different than selling to a high school player because with them you’re selling something that’s in the distance. With a transfer they may only have a year or two to experience it. So a lot of those guys, they’re a little hesitant to be part of a roster that just finished not making the SEC Tournament (in 2021).”
Another key transfer to join the program was catcher Troy Claunch, who is a graduate student who previously played at Oregon State. Claunch said Schlossnagle made it clear from the start what the expectations were for individual players and the team.
That never wavered even when the Aggies were struggling at the start of the SEC season. They lost their first two SEC series to Auburn and Alabama, respectively, and at that time were 16-11 overall and 2-4 in the conference.
The Aggies and their new coach did not panic. Instead, they kept trying to get better and ended up going 26-7 the rest of the way while hosting and winning both the regional and Super Regional in College Station, which got them to Omaha as one of last eight teams in college baseball left standing this season.
“This was the standard that was set,” Claunch said. “Coach does a great job of pushing you every single day, not only to be like who you are now but to be a better version of yourself tomorrow. “And he sees a better version in every single one of us, and he just pushes us to find that within ourselves.
“We know he has our back and he loves us no matter what. When you have someone behind you like that, when you have a leader that believes in you and pushes you to just be better every single day, again, it goes back to being delusional about winning and being delusional about getting better every single day. And I think that’s what led us to be here.”
Dettmer added: “Just since Day One we’ve been talking about this, working for this. And now that we’re here, all the work we’ve put in, this is the standard.”
Schlossnagle said he wants his players to soak up the moment, and not take this trip to the “pearly gates of college baseball” for granted. And while he wants them to take pride in the journey they’ve navigated together to get here, he also wants them to understand that the job isn’t quite completed.
“When you land and you instantly come to the ballpark, I’ve been here enough to know how awesome it is, and what the fans are going to be like, and just how people are treated,” Schlossnagle said. “Omaha, it’s everything you think about. Every time you lift a weight or make a recruiting phone call, this is what you’re thinking about. So to have that hard work resolve itself in being here is just — it’s very gratifying. I sure would like to win the last game, though, and that’s something that ultimately we want to be able to do.”