No one in the Longhorn clubhouse anticipated a battle for the starting catching job to arise at the beginning of the season.
But with the 33rd game of the season approaching, junior Michael Cantu and redshirt sophomore Michael McCann find themselves in the midst of such competition.
Head coach David Pierce continues to split playing time behind the plate between Cantu and McCann, but this doesn’t seem to be making his decision any easier.
“They’ve been very hard workers, and both of them have reaped benefits because of it,” Pierce said. “Michael McCann wasn’t even in the picture to play much defensively other than to rest Michael Cantu ... they just complement each other so well.”
Cantu, the six-foot-three, 240-pound junior from Corpus Christi has been the starter behind the plate since his freshman year, while McCann only saw the field a mere five times in the same year.
However, this season has been different. McCann arrived in the fall with his own determination to claim the Longhorn catching position.
“During the fall, we would get at each other everyday,” McCann said. “We were fighting for the job.”
After a slow offensive start to the season for Cantu, McCann began to receive opportunities to showcase his ambition for the catching role with more game starts.
And sure enough, McCann quickly emerged as one of the team’s best sluggers — he currently holds the highest batting average at .368.
“McCann came out of the gates swinging the bat really well and Cantu struggled and now they’re both hitting,” Pierce said. “It’s a good challenge for me to have options from both of them right now.”
Pierce appeared to be leaning towards a decision as McCann saw more and more of the field. But on March 28, the Longhorns played Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Whataburger Field, and Cantu was eager to put on a show for his hometown crowd.
He posted three RBIs in the game and blasted a home run to help his team clinch a 12-2 win over the Islanders.
Cantu followed his homecoming performance with three hits, including another homer, during Tuesday’s 8-1 win over Sam Houston State. McCann attributes his counterpart’s physique as a leading factor in Cantu’s recent success at the plate.
“One, I would love to steal his body,” McCann said. “And two, I would love to steal his swing. He’s got a really pretty swing. Last night he hit a home run that went like 700 feet.”
Regardless of which catcher Pierce chooses to start a game, the ball will be in good hands behind the plate. Cantu and McCann’s competitive natures often bring out their best athletic performances as a result.
“Even when I’m playing, he’s in (the dugout) watching me,” McCann said. “And when he’s playing, I’m making sure he’s doing everything right. We just hold each other accountable and I think our friendship and that really allows us to play well when each of us are back there.”
Despite being each other’s biggest competition as catchers in the game, McCann and Cantu prioritize their strong relationship as teammates and friends at the end of the day.
“I guess it’s just our attitude and personalities,” Cantu said. “We are really easy going guys who get along with everybody. Me being the guy I am and just having fun with playing ball, that’s what we both love to do, so we always look for ways to help each other. It’s a good relationship.”