A baseball crashed into Erich Weiss’s face two weeks ago, fracturing his nose and leaving a cut running down to his right cheek. In an unfortunate way, it’s perfectly symbolic of Weiss’ last two seasons and of his career: another bad break.
“It’s tough to accept,” Weiss said. “The season’s not over yet, we can still make a run for it, but we’ve gone through a lot so far.”
This much is clear: Weiss’ first appearance as a Longhorn, two seasons ago, was no fluke. For his first career hit, he tripled into right field. He finished the weekend hitting .818. That year, the Longhorns went to Omaha, and Weiss was the star at the plate. He did it again in 2012, hitting .350. He’s doing it again this time around, second on the team in hitting (.309) as a junior.
The mood the past two seasons, however, is different. At 23-20, the Longhorns are not a good baseball team, despite a very good pitching staff and the efforts of Weiss and Mark Payton (.379). They weren’t good last season, either, missing the NCAA postseason for the first time since 1998. If the season were to end today, the Longhorns wouldn’t even make the conference tournament.
What looked inevitable two summers ago after the Longhorns lost their first two games in the College World Series has not happened.
“When we left Omaha, we said, ‘We’ll be back,’” Weiss said. “We all assumed we’d be back there. I kind of felt it’d be like that the rest of my time here.”
The loss to North Carolina — the one that sent them packing from Omaha — was made easier to stomach because the Longhorns were young and just scraping their potential. They’d get back, they’d be better, maybe they’d dogpile. The absence of Taylor Jungmann and Brandon Loy would hurt, but not that much — more talent, like Parker French and Dillon Peters and C.J. Hinojosa was on the way — and the core five of freshmen starters (Weiss, Payton, superstar closer Corey Knebel, pitcher Nathan Thornhill and catcher Jacob Felts) would only get better.
Instead, the Longhorns are a combined 53-42 the last two seasons.
“It is sad,” Weiss said. “It’s difficult because we’ve grown so close over the years at Texas, too, and we all want to win — everybody wants to win. It’s just hard when you don’t.”
The Texas players will have you believe there’s a run left in them, that this season shouldn’t be considered dead.
“The team we have is really good,” Knebel said weeks ago. “It just hasn’t gone our way sometimes.”
With Weiss and Payton the only players hitting above .300, it’d be a miracle if the Longhorns were to win their next two conference series, against Kansas State and TCU, after not having won one all spring. If they get in the Big 12 tourney, they’d likely have to win it all to make an NCAA Regional.
“Hopefully we can make a stand,” Weiss said.
For Weiss, the last two years have been unlike anything he’s ever experienced. He was a winner right out of the chute in college. At Brenham High School, he said the varsity won 18 straight games while he was a junior and won the State Championship his senior year.
“I had gotten used to winning. I had never been on a team that lost a lot,” Weiss said. “It’ll be okay after we’re gone, in the future.”
Ah, the future. In a December interview, Weiss intimated to me this season would be his last in Austin, as he’ll be selected in the earlier rounds of June’s MLB Draft. But Wednesday, in a brief break before a workout and Texas’ practice at Disch-Falk Field, he didn’t balk at the suggestion he might return for his senior season if this campaign leaves too bitter of a taste. He’s gotten through this one by his love of baseball and of his school — “We still get to play at the University of Texas, and that’s still unbelievable” — and, when asked what will be the biggest takeaway from his time on the 40 Acres, Weiss sounded like a man still with plenty to accomplish and like a man who knew how good he had it.
“I wish there was a memory of me holding a trophy up,” he said with a sigh. “But it’s hard to say it’s going to be that much better after college — you don’t get to stay at the (supposedly-haunted) Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City, you don’t get to eat all this good food.”
And with that Erich Weiss stood up, said goodbye and walked back into the clubhouse to get his practice gear, presumably ready to finish what he started.