Texas Christian University is back in the College World Series for the first time since 2017 with a team that one opposing coach describes as a “wrecking crew.” That’s the phrase University of Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn used after watching the Horned Frogs score 44 runs and hammer 10 home runs in a three-game romp through the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Van Horn’s Razorbacks entered that Regional as the third-seeded team in the nation, but TCU beat them twice by scores of 20–5 and 12–4. “They’re really good at every position, and they have a lot of pitching depth, and they’re playing really well right now,” the coach told reporters after the game. “Whatever was going on in the middle of the season, they fixed it.” TCU was 23–20 at the end of April, a month that provided second-year head coach Kirk Saarloos with a PhD in adversity. “I’d never been through a harder season in my life,” he told me this week. “We knew we were a better team. We just weren’t playing like it. To keep our guys believing in the fact that we were just around the corner from playing really good baseball—it’s tough to do sometimes.”

Saarloos still isn’t sure why things turned around so dramatically, but TCU has won 19 of 21 games since, including all nine of the team’s postseason games, beginning with the Big 12 Tournament. Perhaps most impressive is that the Horned Frogs have proven they’re winning in different ways. In the NCAA regionals, they won with offense. First, a victory over Arizona that began with third baseman Brayden Taylor’s three-run homer in the first inning. In the team’s win over Arkansas, second baseman Tre Richardson had 5 of TCU’s 21 hits and 11 runs batted in. In the final game, Arkansas led 4–3 in the sixth inning, but then third baseman Austin Davis, designated hitter Kurtis Byrne, and Richardson all homered in the final three innings to turn the game into a 12–4 romp.

Indiana State saw a different brand of TCU baseball in last weekend’s best-of-three Super Regional round in Fort Worth. Horned Frogs freshman pitcher Kole Klecker threw seven shutout innings of a 4–1 victory in the opener, and first baseman Cole Fontenelle got three of TCU’s six hits in a 6–4 victory that clinched a trip to Omaha for a double-elimination tournament featuring the final eight teams. TCU will begin its College World Series run Friday against Oral Roberts. “The Big 12 is known for bopping and power but they’ve got that Fullerton flair with speed and the ability to bunt,” Indiana State coach Mitch Hannahs told reporters after the super regionals. “They can beat you in more ways than just bopping the baseball.”

That “Fullerton flair” is near and dear to Saarloos, who pitched for a pair of Cal State Fullerton teams that went to the College World Series in 1999 and 2001. It was the joy of playing on those teams that convinced him to give coaching a try after retiring from a seven-season career in the majors, which included stints with the Houston Astros, Oakland A’s, and Cincinnati Reds.

“They just played the way they’ve been playing the last six weeks,” Saarloos said. “They won in Arkansas by destroying the baseball offensively, and last weekend it was pitching and defense. So that’s pretty fun. It’s awesome to see our ball club win in different ways. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. They were just able to get it done, and they’ve been playing like that for a while. I don’t think they rose to the occasion. I think they just had confidence in the way they were playing.”

I first met Saarloos in 2002, when he made his major league debut for the Astros. Then, as now, he had the reputation of someone with enough smarts and finesse to overcome what he lacked in killer stuff on the mound. “I’m doing this because of those memories of going to the [College] World Series,” he said. “It’s the most amazing time in a young man’s life—to see the success and not care who gets credit for it. Every single day there’s a new hero. It’s a selfless, amazing feeling to be able to see a group of kids honestly not care who gets the credit.”


Taylor is TCU’s all-time home run leader with 48, including 23 this season, which tied the school’s single-season record. He has reached base in thirty straight games. Richardson’s 11 RBI tied an NCAA Tournament record and got him voted Fayetteville Regional MVP. Fontenelle has 24 multi-hit games. “Everybody has a piece of this story,” Saarloos said. “Everybody has had a say in it. They’ve really done an unbelievable job in terms of being young men that just kept going, just kept working, just kept believing. And now they’ve seen that payoff in terms of where they’re headed now, and I couldn’t be more proud of the group in terms of just their determination and ability to overcome obstacles in a long, long season.

“When you’re on the road for a week in Fayetteville, Arkansas, it’s just one big family,” Saarloos continued. “We’re having all of our meals together, we’re at the field together, we’re going through weather delays together. It’s almost like there’s nothing else going on in the world but what we’re doing. We’re enjoying being around each other and to be able to share in that excitement and to think about all the hard work they put in, it really is something you’ll look back on and say that was the best time of your life.”

You may have heard that TCU athletics is having a year for the ages. Its football team played for the national championship last January, and its men’s basketball team just made its second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Now it’s TCU baseball’s turn. The Horned Frogs’ bandwagon is packed. Last weekend’s two games against Indiana State in Fort Worth drew the two largest crowds to ever watch an on-campus college baseball game in Texas—8,812 for the first contest, 8,994 for the second.

“When we walked from our locker room to our dugout, we faced right field,” Saarloos said, “and there in front of us was a sea of people an hour and a half before first pitch. That’s exactly what you envision for a program. That tells you what people around Fort Worth are feeling.” The coach turned 44 last month and clearly is having the time of his life riding TCU’s massive wave. He joined former TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle’s staff in 2012 and was beside him when the Frogs went to Omaha four years in a row between 2014 and 2017.

Two years ago, when Schlossnagle left for Texas A&M, TCU athletics director Jeremiah Donati gave Saarloos a shot. “I appreciated the opportunity to sit down and tell them what I envision could give us an opportunity to go to Omaha and to do it in a way where our players are enjoying every single day of being a TCU student athlete,” he said. “It’s hard to get to Omaha. We made it look pretty easy for four straight years. Our fans and everybody else just came to expect that from TCU.

“It’s even tougher to win because schools are investing in baseball,” Saarloos went on. “Look at this year’s World Series. Wake Forest hasn’t been in a long time [68 years]. Oral Roberts hasn’t been in a really long time [45 years]. There are still some blue bloods, but it’s a challenge. My goal, my vision was to make sure TCU was going to be one of those schools that had a chance to play in Omaha every summer.”


He constructed this team by working to land both a tremendous recruiting class and a talented bunch of new additions from the transfer portal, which delivered three key contributors: Richardson (who came from Baylor), Davis (from West Virginia), and pitcher Sam Stoutenborough (from California). Saarloos’s first true recruiting class brought six valuable players to Fort Worth: catcher Karson Bowen, pitcher Ben Abeldt, shortstop Anthony Silva, and three starting pitchers: Chase Hoover, Braeden Sloan, and Klecker.

“TCU is a special place,” Saarloos said. “Knock on wood, there’s not a lot of guys looking to leave TCU. A lot of guys are looking to come here. Our thing is to make sure we’re getting the right guys. When you bring in a guy from a different program, he may have different beliefs and different work ethics. He’s bringing them to a place that has different standards. You got to make sure that you’re getting the right kids and understand what they value.”

TCU football coach Sonny Dykes sat beside Stoutenborough’s mom during the Super Regionals last weekend, and according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he ended the day by telling her: “Soak it in, see you in Omaha.”

“It was surreal,” Stoutenborough said of his mom’s run-in with Dykes. That emotion has been in the air at TCU pretty consistently these last few months.