A few weeks ago, redshirt freshman catcher Turner Gauntt wasn’t wondering how he was going to hit a 1-2 pitch from Lamar’s AJ Ozorio-Brace for his first career hit in his first at bat as a Longhorn. He hadn’t picked up a baseball since he found out he wasn’t part of Texas’ final 35-man roster prior to the season. He was just a student living what he called a “very average college life.”
“I just focused on my classes and was trying to bring my grades up a little bit,” Gauntt said after Texas’ 7-2 Tuesday win over Lamar. “It’s a little easier when you’re not playing ball. I was just lining up internships for the summer, just the normal student stuff. I was hanging out with people from outside of the team, and it was good to get to know some new people.”
Gauntt’s temporary change to normal student life ended when Texas desperately needed another catcher on the roster. Senior DJ Petrinsky, the expected starter behind the plate this year, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in early March. Senior Michael McCann, his backup, received more bumps and bruises than is customary for a catcher.
Freshman Caston Peter, who wasn’t expected to play a lot this year, found himself in the lineup as a result of the health issues of the catchers in front of him. Even he caught the injury bug when he injured his thumb on a bunt attempt in late March and found himself sidelined for 3-5 weeks.
Texas’ dire catching situation required action. With no one behind the semi-healthy McCann, Texas head coach Pierce made a call to Gauntt on the day of the Texas A&M game. The Longhorns needed to get a waiver from the NCAA to place Gauntt on the roster. Once they got that waiver, Pierce wanted Gauntt to join the team immediately.
“I was just hanging out in my apartment, and about an hour and a half before the A&M game I get a call saying hey, do you want to come suit out?” Gauntt said. “I was like, are you kidding me? He was like yeah, literally come suit out right now. I was driving over an hour before the game, I got all my gear back here, and it was pretty crazy. Within 30 minutes, I didn’t know if I would be playing to I was out on the field.”
Gauntt said he didn’t even pick up a baseball after not making the 35-man roster. He explained Tuesday he had no plans to leave the university because he loved attending UT. He had some rust to kick off, but for Gauntt, it wasn’t so much rust as acclimating to the timing of the game again.
“It’s just nice to know you can put your fourth string catcher out there and not take a major hit,” Pierce said Tuesday. “He gets his first hit, scores his first run, makes a great play, and he was good. He didn’t do anything wrong, and that’s what we wanted.”
That great play came in the fifth when Lamar slapped a double against Matteo Bocchi to deep left center. Junior Duke Ellis collected the ball and relayed it to senior Masen Hibbeler.
Hibbeler had a play at the plate, and delivered a good throw to Gauntt. Not only did he apply the tag to the runner, he also took a forearm to the facemask, resulting in the Lamar player’s ejection.
“It went pretty fast,” Gauntt said. “I didn’t even realize he elbowed me until after the play when the umpire told me. I just had the ball. I felt I got knocked over. I was just concerned about the ball.”
His first hit in his first game was improbable, especially after the season started without him as a member of the final roster. It was important, just as Gauntt’s role is now pivotal until Peter fully recovers from injury.
That improbability lead to a lack of words for the sophomore who didn’t think he’d see a competitive diamond again.
“I’m pretty speechless to be honest,” Gauntt said. “It’s hard to put words to. Just one of those things I always dreamed about. Once I was told I might be done here, I was definitely trying to prepare for what I was going to do after baseball. It felt really good. It felt really, really nice to have that experience. It was personally great.”