At 12:30 p.m. on the Thursday of spring break, Texas second baseman Jordan Etier isn’t just waking up or in the middle of playing video games with friends — that’s not his style.
Etier has been awake for almost five hours and is at UFCU Disch-Falk Field dressed in pin-striped baseball pants and a burnt orange Nike Dri-FIT top taking batting practice with his teammates a day before their first conference series against Nebraska.
He is leaning up against the roll-away backstop watching his double play partner Brandon Loy drive the ball to right field over and over. When Loy takes his final swing, Etier jogs to the plate, says something to him in passing, tucks his gold chain necklace under his shirt and digs in.
“Jordan is the hardest-working kid on this team, and he’s always trying to find a way to get better,” Loy said. “That’s what I like so much about him.”
Etier’s hard work is paying off this season at the plate where he is currently leading the team with five home runs. And for a 5-foot-11-inch, 175-pound second baseman, it’s definitely not what anyone expected.
“He’s always been a good hitter, but we didn’t think he’d lead the team,” Loy said. “It’s good to see him show some power but he’s even hitting it hard when he gets out.”
Etier hit his fifth home run Tuesday night in the bottom of the third inning off Rice pitcher Anthony Fazio to give the Horns a 1-0 lead. And while he’s had two more times around the bases than both Cameron Rupp and Kevin Lusson, Etier has no home run trot. Instead, he lightly sprints with his head down through home plate and into the dugout.
“I’m just trying to put the ball in play, hit line drives and do my job,” Etier said.
Etier doesn’t put much emphasis on his unexpected power at the plate so far this season. And while he does lead the team in home runs, Etier also leads in strikeouts with 28, a stat he and the whole team are working on cutting down.
“He’s playing baseball like a clean-up hitter, but the last time I checked, he wasn’t Dave Kingman,” coach Augie Garrido said with a laugh, comparing him to the former New York Mets slugger who also had a penchant for hitting homers and striking out.
The other side of the diamond
The Horns finish batting practice and go straight into a two-inning scrimmage where the hitters start with a full count to work on putting the ball in play. Etier is no longer reserved or silent in the field as the first opposing hitter steps up. He is all smiles and eventually starts up with some trash talk when he and Loy turn a double play to end the inning.
“It’s fun to get practice going and being vocal and talking helps a lot with that,” Etier said. “You can come out here and dread practice or you can get after it and have fun.”
After not playing much last season, Etier and Loy are starting to get comfortable with each other up the middle by having fun and keeping the game relaxed.
“He’s a funny kid, and he works so hard,” Loy said. “He’s working hard every day and that’s what it’s about.”
As easy as Etier and Loy make double plays look in practice and during games — they’ve turned 14 of them — it wasn’t always that way for Etier, who came to Texas after playing third base and shortstop at Westlake High School.
Playing for shakes
Knowing his position at Texas would be second baseman, Etier approached another Longhorn player last season on the first day of fall practice for some extra ground balls and advice: then-senior Travis Tucker.
And this wasn’t just a one-time lesson. Etier and Tucker got together one-on-one every chance they had to make each other better. Eventually, the two formed a friendship that is as strong as ever now that Tucker gets to watch Etier practice and play every day as a student assistant coach.
“Second base is a completely different ballgame because you are on the opposite side of the diamond,” Tucker said. “When he first got here everything was off, every angle, every throw and every movement, so we had to work on it all.”
Etier said he owes a lot to Tucker’s guidance.
“Tucker has gotten me as far as I’ve come,” Etier said. “He still helps me a lot on all the little details and especially turning two.”
It was in these moments after taking hundreds of ground balls during practice that Etier and Tucker grew closer as teammates and where Etier grew into the middle infielder he is today. They worked constantly at turning double plays and even made some friendly competition by playing for milkshakes.
“He’d miss a ground ball and I’d say, ‘Milkshake, I want a chocolate,’ then I’d maybe bobble one and he’d yell out, ‘Strawberry,’” Tucker said. “It got us both better and that is what playing at Texas is all about.”
From the stands to the field
The work is paying off defensively for Etier, who has only one error this season with a .991 fielding percentage. But Etier didn’t learn everything about baseball from Tucker in his past two years at Texas. It began as far back as the Longhorn second baseman can remember in the stands of the same field he calls home.
Etier would watch and talk about baseball at Longhorn games as a kid and in high school with his father, Mark Etier, who played baseball at TCU.
“[My dad] was pumped about us playing TCU in the super regionals last year,” Etier said. “He likes their colors. He’s still a Horned Frog, but right now he’s a Horn.”
Not a bad side to be on right now as eighth-ranked Texas (16-5) hits the road this weekend for its first out-of-town conference series against Texas Tech.
And even though Etier’s team eventually lost the scrimmage in 10 innings on that sunny Thursday afternoon, he practiced like he plays — all out.
“Games are more amped up,” he said, “but we go out there with that mentality to go hard like you’re going to play hard.”