Baseball

Tulo in Austin: A chance to remain in the game and help a historic baseball program

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As Troy Tulowitzki sat on the New York Yankees’ injured list in mid-June, whether to retire or rehab his left calf strain wasn’t the only choice in front of him. Tulowitzki knew his next step was to stay in baseball even if it didn’t include playing every day.

The only question was how?

Tulowitzki, a 13-year MLB veteran and a five-time All-Star, said October 14 he had multiple major league teams interested in adding him to their organization in some capacity. He assessed all those professional options, but the amateur option appealed to him. He believed it was a better fit.

He looked at his schedule and did so with an eye toward his son, Taz. He looked back on his time at Long Beach State where he was a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big West shortstop. He realized then and admitted later that college baseball was what made him who he is.

“I never got drafted out of high school,” Tulowitzki said. “I went to Long Beach State and that’s where I got better. I feel like I can make an impact at this level much more than I could with some of the pro guys.”

His friend, former teammate, and current colleague at Texas, Huston Street, connected him with Texas head coach David Pierce. When the volunteer assistant role opened up on the Longhorns’ coaching staff, Tulowitzki’s path toward remaining in the game after his playing career became obvious.

“What better place than to do it here?” asked Tulowitzki.

Tulowitzki enters his first year on staff at what is arguably college baseball’s most historic program. The Longhorns have reached the College World Series 36 times, more than any other team. They’ve won six national titles and played for six more, but they’re coming off a disappointing 2019 season where they finished 27-27 and failed to make both the NCAA Tournament and the eight-team Big 12 Tournament.

That fact isn’t lost on Tulowitzki. In order to prepare for his new coaching role, Texas sent him plenty of video from the 2019 season. He studied Texas’ fielding and hitting, both of which struggled for most of the year. Texas was in the bottom half in the country in fielding percentage. It had one hitter with a batting average above .300.

For fielding instruction, he’s already made some small changes to a team that posted a .966 fielding percentage last season, committed 69 errors in 54 games, and lost the left side of its infield to the MLB Draft.

“We’ve inserted some things that he sees or likes,” Pierce said October 14. “Matter of fact, we had a drill the other day and it’s a verbal call. A pitcher asked me ‘why would you do it like that?’ Because we have a five-time All-Star that says that’s how he wants to do it.”

Before he begins tinkering with swings, Tulowitzki wants his hitters to have a competitive mindset when they step into the batter’s box. He said he won’t focus on the negative and will instead have a positive teaching method with a goal of helping slow the game down for the player. With that foundation, he can start to make adjustments to help the Longhorns improve at the plate.

He’ll have plenty of technology available at his disposal as Texas will have the cutting-edge amenities of the J. Dan Brown Family Player Development Center as fall progresses and during the 2020 season. Though Tulowitzki appreciates what technology can add, much of what he emphasizes can be understood without a digital screen or advanced numbers.

“I don’t really dig too much into too much of that stuff,” Tulowitzki said. “I’m about working hard and going about your business the right way. If there’s something out there that can help us a little bit then we have that stuff ready but at the end of the day, it’s baseball. You play it on the field.”

The players he’s coaching understand who they’re learning from. Tulowitzki mentioned he feels the current Longhorns respect him for coming to Austin and coaching their team after his playing days, and he said the respect goes both ways.

But he came to Austin for several reasons. Namely, to remain in the game he loves and to help Texas get back to where they expect to be.

“It’s time to work and get better,” Tulowitzki said. “This is where I want to be. I live and die this game. It was an easy decision to stay doing something and not be retired.”

Cover photo courtesy Terry Foote