Some showed off shiny, square-toed black ropers, while many others featured various shades of brown. Davis Wendzel, the California kid, looked resplendent in a pair made out of crocodile skin — the original “Crocs,” if you will.
Yes, Baylor’s baseball players went boot shopping earlier this week. There was money set aside in the athletic budget for a postseason gift for the players, so Steve Rodriguez took the team over to Cavender’s to get each player fitted for their very own pair.
“I just think it’s one of those things that is really fun,” Rodriguez said. “For me, I’m a big believer in creating memories. I want these guys, whenever they wear these boots, they remember what we did to get them and the excitement we had when we were wearing them, that’s all.”
The boots may be made for walking, but probably not hitting or pitching. So the team will slip them off and strap on their traditional cleats for this weekend’s Houston Regional at Schroeder Park. Nevertheless, the Bears hope to kick up their heels and have a little fun in the program’s first NCAA tournament action since 2012.
“We’ve had a couple days of really good practice, we got some good stuff accomplished,” Rodriguez said. “And now, it’s really just a matter of them making sure they’re loose, making sure they execute the baseball game, and just playing good baseball right now is the biggest thing.”
Rodriguez is shaking up the pitching rotation a bit leading into Friday’s 2 p.m. regional opener against Texas A&M (36-21). Montana Parsons will move up a slot and start against the Aggies. It’s a move that speaks both to the consistency that Parsons (5-3, 2.81 ERA) has shown in his first year on the mound for the Bears, as well as an acknowledgment of Nick Lewis’ recent struggles. Lewis owns a 48.00 ERA over his past two starts, and has pummeled for 17 hits in just three innings.
“It’ll be my first time facing (A&M), but I talked to (Cody) Bradford a little bit, asked him what he thought about them the first time around,” Parsons said. “He did pretty well, and I’m ready.”
Familiarity abounds at the Houston Regional. Baylor has played both the Aggies and the host Houston Cougars this season, and can draw on some goosebump-generating memories for motivation. The Bears vanquished their old rival A&M in probably the most dramatic ending of the season at the Shriners Hospital for Children Houston College Classic. In that one, Baylor trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, but won it 6-3 when Houston native Tucker Cascadden crushed a walkoff grand slam.
The Bears also claimed two of three in a series with Houston at Baylor Ballpark.
Obviously the Aggies know what to expect from Baylor, too. But Parsons said that having played A&M earlier this year gives the Bears a certain comfort level.
“We know what we’re seeing. We know their pitching, know their hitting,” Parsons said. “We had a good game against them last time. It was probably the most exciting ending of the year. Hopefully we make it a little less scary this time, but it’ll be fun.”
The game between the Aggies and Bears – the 316th all-time meeting between the former conference rivals — will be televised on ESPN2. The regional’s second game will pit Houston against Big Ten tournament champion Iowa at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
Should Baylor win over A&M, it will play the winner of the second game at 7 p.m. Saturday. A loss by the Bears would push them into an elimination game at 2 p.m. Saturday against the Iowa-Houston loser. The regional will continue on Sunday, with games at 3 and 8 p.m., with an if-necessary game scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday.
The Bears limped to the finishing line a bit, losing their final four games, including two at the Big 12 tournament. But prior to that, they’d won seven in a row and had caught fire at the plate.
Observing the team in recent practices, Rodriguez likes the Bears’ energy, and thinks they’ve got as good a shot as any of the four teams to emerge as the regional champion.
“Regardless of what happens this weekend, I think this team has had a successful year,” he said. “But I know every one of them wants to see how far we can go with it.”