Omar Quintanilla

Senior center fielder Mark Payton, who holds the longest on-base streak in the country, has stamped himself as a Texas great. 

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

For an average player, two hits over the course of a three-game series would equal a major slump. Fortunately for the Longhorns, senior center fielder Mark Payton is not just any average player.

Payton went a combined 2-for-13 with two walks during Texas’ three-game sweep of Baylor this weekend, struggling to find consistency at the plate. Although it was his worst three-game stretch of the season, the senior from Chicago drove in four runs, including a bases-clearing walk-off double Friday, his only hit in the 5-4 victory.

That hit, which came on a full count with two outs, extended his streak of reaching base safely to an NCAA-leading 70 games. Following an RBI single Saturday and two walks Sunday, the streak now sits at 72 and has people wondering whether he can make it to 100.

Payton has proven he is one of the best pure hitters to pass through this decorated program — up there with the likes of Jeff Ontiveros, Omar Quintanilla, Kevin Keyes and Drew Stubbs. Those players own a combined three national championships and a handful of other trips to the College World Series. Each played a pivotal role in reviving a Texas program that, prior to the Longhorns’ championship in 2002, had not been to the College World Series Championship since 1989.

Payton stacks up with all of them. The first thing that stands out is his efficiency at the plate, where he has hit over .300 in all but his freshman season. Last season, he finished with a .393 average and .483 on-base percentage. Those are numbers that Ontiveros, Quintanilla, Keyes and Stubbs never attained while at Texas.

Payton’s biggest strength is his patience, which explains why he has only struck out nine times in 119 at-bats this season. Only Quintanilla, who currently plays shortstop for the New York Mets, had a lower strikeout percentage. This plate efficiency was formed out of necessity. Unlike these other players, whose teams were stacked with talented hitters, Payton has been the only proven hitter in his teams’ lineups. As a result, opposing teams have been far more selective in how they’ve pitched to him.

Despite a rough weekend, Payton is sitting at a .370 average and has reached base in nearly half his at-bats. With 25 RBI’s already in 2014, he is on pace to shatter his previous season-high of 29. 

If he can maintain this production and get some help from his teammates, he will have to chance to end his collegiate career the same way it started: with a trip to the College World Series.

Cincinnati Reds' Drew Stubbs stands at home plate after striking out to end the eighth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in Cincinnati.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Longhorn legends like Drew Stubbs, J.P. Howell, Huston Street and Omar Quintanilla have all played for Texas within the last decade and are now enjoying successful careers in the big leagues. Hard work over the years has given these former Longhorns their well-deserved spots in the major leagues. Distributed all over the states, each individual has encountered his fair share of struggle and success in a more competitive and fast-paced atmosphere.

Stubbs, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, has shown promise since entering the major leagues in 2009. One of baseball's best defensive outfielders, he experienced success early on, winning All-American honors three different times while at UT. The former Longhorn found early success in the major leagues and has recently struggled, but his explosive speed and good work ethic make him a player that people are excited about.

After leading the Longhorns to the College World Series in 2004, J.P. Howell was drafted by the Kansas City Royals. Following a short stint with the Tampa Bay Rays, a reported "weakness" in his shoulder forced Howell to undergo surgery and miss the entire 2010 season. The healthy and newly confident player remains tough in the public eye and his personal career.

"If I'm not working hard, that's when I have a problem personally, because I pit more pressure on myself than the fans," Howell told reporters at spring training this year. "I expect way more out of me than probably the fans expect. So I have to pretty much shut off the positive and negative."

As for Omar Quintanilla, who helped the Longhorns win a national title in 2002, he's found himself all over the country spanning from the Lone Star State with the Rangers to Oakland, the team that originally drafted him. Quintanilla was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for cash considerations in July and has already hit three home runs and racked up 12 RBIs.

Huston Street, always a crowd favorite, has agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension with the Padres with a club option for the 2015 season. Although the Padres have struggled as a team, Street had an excellent season despite missing a month due to a shoulder injury. He was a perfect 13-for-13 in converting save opportunities in the first half of the season and compiled a 1.13 ERA, earning him his first career MLB All-Star Game selection.

Teagarden and Quintanilla won the College World Series together and are still teammates with the Orioles.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Two years after Soccoro High School shortstop Omar Quintanilla signed up to play for Texas, Creekview High School catcher Taylor Teagarden did the same. They’ve been following each other around ever since.

Both won national titles during their respective three-year stints with the Longhorns before moving on to the big leagues. Five years after Teagarden was drafted in the third round of the 2005 MLB Draft by the Rangers, the same organization picked up Quintanilla, then a free agent, two days before Christmas and less than five months after being suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

They played together a bit with the Rangers and Round Rock Express, their Triple-A affiliate. Teagarden was traded to the Orioles last December, seven months before Quintanilla, then with the Mets, was traded to the Orioles as well.

“It’s been a little crazy since college,” Quintanilla said. “I knew Teagarden was a good player, and I’ve been lucky enough to play with him in the big leagues with the Rangers and now here with the Orioles. What a coincidence.”

Teagarden batted .220 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs in 118 games over four seasons with the Rangers while Quintanilla recorded just one hit, a triple and 22 at-bats during his only season with them. They both spent most of the 2011 season with Round Rock, each hitting close to .300 for the Express. Quintanilla, now an everyday shortstop, and Teagarden, Matt Weiters’ backup behind the plate, were among several players to play with the Rangers last season and the Orioles this year, including Tommy Hunter, Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day.

“I played just a little bit with Omar last year,” Teagarden said. “It’s just nice to see him, because I tried to keep up with him ever since he got drafted. It’s just nice for us to be in the big leagues, and it’s kind of unique that we’re on the same team.”

The 2003 Longhorns squad that Quintanilla and Teagarden both played for won 50 games and earned the program’s NCAA-record 29th trip to the College World Series before falling to Rice twice in Omaha. But Quintanilla batted .329 with while driving in 32 runs and scoring 41 in 2002, the year Texas won a national championship, while Teagarden hit .333 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs three seasons later, when the Longhorns won it all.

With the Orioles, Quintanilla is hitting a career-best .261 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 28 games while Teagarden has just five hits in 38 at-bats over 14 contests, although one of them was a game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning of a 1-0 victory over the Rays earlier this month. Last night he went 2-for-3 with a home run in the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the White Sox.

Winning a World Series is certainly a more daunting task than capturing a College World Series crown, but knowing what it takes to win a national title could prove valuable on a team that could make its first postseason appearance since 1996.

“In college, you can have a couple dominant pitchers,” Teagarden said. “In the big leagues, it’s a different atmosphere. There’s a lot more obstacles to surpass. You’ve got to play four long series.”

If the regular season ended today, the Orioles would earn one of the two American League Wild Card berths, along with the As.

“It’s more exciting when you’re playing for something,” Quintanilla said. “At Texas, [head baseball coach Augie] Garrido showed us a lot about teamwork and what it takes to win at that level ... Being the best in college was my goal for a long time. Now that I’m here, my goal is to get a ring.”

Omar Quintanilla takes a swing in a recent Express game. Quintanilla hit .329 in 2002, the year the Longhorns won the College World Series.

Photo Credit: Round Rock Express | Daily Texan Staff

Ten years ago, he came to Austin to begin what would be a superb college baseball career. Now, he’s back in Central Texas playing baseball again.

Omar Quintanilla, who helped Texas win the 2002 College World Series, currently plays shortstop for the nearby Round Rock Express. After spending five years in the Colorado Rockies organization, Quintanilla was signed last December by the Texas Rangers. They sent him to their Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, giving him the opportunity to play competitive baseball for an Austin area team for the first time in eight years.

“It’s awesome,” Quintanilla said. “I have a lot of memories right down the street. It’s good to back in Texas, with the warm weather. I’m back in my home state again and I’ve got friends and family here so it’s good.”

In his first series with the Express, Quintanilla was brilliant. He hit a walk-off single and went 2-for-4 in his Round Rock debut May 7, going 6-for-13 in his first three games. Quintanilla has since come back to Earth, hitting .235 since that opening series and .216 over his last 10 games. Despite his recent slump and the fact that the Rangers have a reliable shortstop in Elvis Andrus, there may still be a chance for Quintanilla to make Texas’ 40-man roster.

“It’s a tough process because there’s a lot of talented athletes out there,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.”

Until the Express’ most recent contest, a 6-3 loss to Albuquerque, they held the PCL South Division lead for the entirety of Quintanilla’s time with them. During Quintanilla’s time in Colorado, he spent most of his days with the Triple-A squad in Colorado Springs, but managed to get 500 at-bats with the big league club.

“It was a dream come true,” Quintanilla said. “Everything I worked for paid off.”

In Round Rock, Quintanilla and his teammates are enjoying a bit of success. The Express are on pace for the first winning season since 2006 and before Tuesday, the Express held at least a share of the division lead for 53 straight days. One of Quintanilla’s teammates, Taylor Teagarden, was also his teammate at Texas in 2003, when they were two of the Longhorns’ top five hitters.

“It’s good because we talk about the old-school days,” Quintanilla said. “But it’s good to have somebody that you know that you can talk about things from the past.”

Two of Quintanilla’s coaches, hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and third-base coach Spike Owen, also played for Texas. Both Coolbaugh and Owen played on CWS-participating teams, while Quintanilla, in 2002, and Teagarden, in 2005, won national championships.

“At that age, it was just like you watch on TV with major league World Series,” said Quintanilla, who went 4-for-5 against South Carolina in the title-clinching win nine years ago. “You win that and you want to do it at the next level. It makes you hungry for that.”

A lot can change when a minor league organization switches affiliations. For the Round Rock Express, it means impressive attendance figures and newfound postseason aspirations.

The Express, in their first season as the Triple-A affiliate of MLB’s Texas Rangers, are enjoying what could be their first winning season since 2006, as they are clinging to a half-game lead in the Pacific Coast League’s South Division. In each of their past four series, Round Rock has gone 2-2. The Express can make it five consecutive split series with a win Tuesday night over the Albuquerque Isotopes, the team narrowly trailing the Express in the PCL South.

“This team is hitting on all cylinders,” said shortstop Omar Quintanilla. “We’re a force to be reckoned with. What we’re trying to do is a win a championship.”

Quintanilla is one of two former Longhorns on the roster, along with catcher Taylor Teagarden.

After spending five years in the Colorado Rockies organization, Quintanilla, who helped Texas win the 2002 national championship, was signed by the Rangers last December. Teagarden, who was a part of the 2005 Longhorns squad that won it all, was the Rangers’ third-round selection in 2005 and is hitting .338 this season.

The Express are improving, largely because they are now affiliated with the defending American League champion, division-leading Rangers and not the cellar-dwelling Astros. It has been six years since Houston has been in the playoffs, when they won the 2005 NL pennant. That kind of failure rubbed off on the Express — it’s been five years since the Express have had a winning season. Now, at 33-25, Round Rock is in a position to have that elusive winning record and reach the postseason.

Another benefit to being affiliated with a better big league ball club is an influx of higher-profile players passing through for rehab assignments. Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton and fellow slugger Nelson Cruz had three-game stints with Round Rock in May on their way back from the disabled list. In their second game with the Express, a 9-4 victory, both Hamilton and Cruz went deep. They also both homered in their first game back with the Rangers, a 4-0 win over the White Sox. The Rangers are 10-4 since their return.

Considered to be one of the finest minor league ballparks in America, the Dell Diamond also does its part to attract big crowds. It is a fan-friendly venue complete with a swimming pool, Sport Court, rock wall and a conference center. It comes as no surprise that the Express are leading the league in attendance, averaging 8,339 fans per game; over 1,000 more than the next closest team.

The Express are more appealing now. They have a better team, bigger names passing through, a great stadium and even multiple former popular Longhorns. From a fan’s perspective, the Express provide everything one could ask for. Now the team, in its first official season as the Rangers’ affiliate in Round Rock, is ready to deliver by capturing the division title and giving themselves a shot at the league championship.