A couple of weeks back, a beaver crawled out of the Brazos River and visited the outskirts of Baylor Ballpark.
He has returned several times in the days since, sometimes even navigating the parking lot, scouring for food.
That the beaver’s arrival coincided with an eight-game Baylor winning streak is a fact not lost on the Bear ballplayers, who have consequently adopted a new slogan.
Feed the beaver.
“I’ve heard about the beaver. I’ve not personally seen the beaver,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said. “I’ve heard numerous stories about the beaver, but I haven’t seen it yet. And I would like to.”
As the 21st-ranked Bears (19-7, 6-0) prepare for their third straight Big 12 home series against Oklahoma State, they realize that it really isn’t a magical beaver directing their path to victory. They’re as superstitious as the next collection of ballplayers — as born witness by ace Josh Turley’s winning-streak beard — but they’re more apt to chalk up the good fortune on the scoreboard to actually playing calm, stress-free baseball.
“For the most part, everybody is relaxing,” slugger Max Muncy said. “We’re not really stressing about any of the games coming up. We’re just going out and having fun. That’s a big thing. When you make a mistake and you’re stressed out, it causes problems and continues. But when you’re relaxed and everybody is joking about it, that’s what you want. We’re just going to roll with it.”
Whatever the mindset, Muncy and the Bears have been swinging some smooth sticks at the plate over the past two weeks. Not only has Baylor won eight in a row — including a program-record 6-0 start to Big 12 play — but the Bears have amassed eight runs or more in the last six of those games, the longest such streak since 1998.
That hitting mettle will be tested against the Cowboys (14-11, 1-2), who will trot left-hander Andrew Heaney to the hill for tonight’s opener. Smith called Heaney “arguably the best guy in the country to this point,” and the numbers add credence to such a bold statement.
Heaney (5-1, 1.12) has pitched the distance in each of the last three games, leading the country in complete games. He also ranks second in the NCAA in strikeouts (65 in 46 innings) while leading the Big 12 in ERA.
“You’ve just got to get ready for a battle,” Smith said. “If you haven’t prepared for those types of pitchers at this point, then it’s a little late. You just have to take what you can and battle him.”
The Bears will try to benefit from welcoming Heaney and the Cowboys to their own beaver-blessed backyard. A scheduling quirk placed Baylor at home for each of its first three conference series, and Smith said it’s been vital for his team to take care of business in Waco.
“It’s kind of like running a marathon,” Smith said. “We’ve been running on the downhill side right now, so you’d better make some time up because you’re soon going to be running uphill. You certainly wouldn’t want to get passed up going downhill.
“Winning at home is not something we did a lot a year ago. We were barely a .500 team at home, so I think getting back on track that way has been real good.”
BEAR FACTS: This will mark Baylor’s final three-game Big 12 home series of the season. The Bears will host Texas A&M for a pair of games in late April, and will play the opener of the Texas series in May at home. ... Junior outfielder Nathan Orf ranks third nationally with 14 hit-by-pitches. ... Senior pitcher Trent Blank is tied with six other pitchers for the nation’s wins lead, and his six wins are more than 27 Division I teams.
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