From desk to dugout, a day in the life of TCU Baseball player Mitchell Traver.
by John Stratigopoulos ’15
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Mitchell Traver prays before a start during the 2015 season. Entering tonight's game against LSU in the College World Series, Traver is 9-2 and 1.60 ERA.
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by John Stratigopoulos ’15
In 2015, redshirt sophomore pitcher Mitchell Traver emerged as TCU Baseball’s weekday starter, battling back from two seasons of injuries and Tommy John surgery. Tonight, with a 9-2 record and 1.60 ERA, he makes his first start in Omaha at the College World Series in an elimination game for the Horned Frogs. In April, Traver allowed TCU Magazine to shadow him between schoolwork, down time and pre-game rituals, all before his start against Dallas Baptist University.
April 28, 2015
Mitchell Traver treks through the portico of the University Recreation Center to avoid the light rain as he hurries across campus to Intro to Poetry. Carrying a backpack and sipping Gatorade, his 6-foot-7 body nearly scrapes the doorframe as he enters the classroom.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, this English course is his only class. He’s pitching tonight, and his thoughts are also on the team, which is riding an eight-game winning streak.
Without any pause in his stride, he explains the success of TCU’s bullpen. “Our pitching staff has a motto, ‘Pride,’ like a pride of lions,” he says. “I think that — because we all understand it and that we are fearless — is what keeps us strong.”
Class ends and Traver drives back to his house near the east side of campus. The quick commute passes in a blur of yellow brick and hurried students. He begins his regular mid-day metamorphosis from TCU student to Division I NCAA athlete.
He thinks about when he fell in love with baseball. It was in his early days as a youth pitcher. It was during “travel baseball” for the Houston Heat in his hometown Sugarland, Texas.
Those are days past, and his mind moves again to today. At 34-8, the Horned Frogs are in first place in the Big 12, ranked fourth nationally and on another quest for the College World Series and a national championship.
“Getting to Omaha [in 2014] was awesome,” he says. “It was the only thing I have ever been a part of that was so seriously hyped, and then was so much better than people said. … That town loved our team.”
At home, Traver wants to decompress first. He drops his keys on the table, tosses his backpack onto a nearby chair and sinks into the sofa to chat with his roommates.
“Sometimes I take things too seriously,” he admits. “The stupid little stuff that my friends do and the stories that we laugh about keep me grounded.”
Traver’s faith is central to his life and daily routine. At his desk in the corner of his room, Traver picks up his Bible, which looks tiny in his giant hands.
“I was raised in a Christian home,” Traver says as he flips to an earmarked page in the New Testament. Numerous passages on the page are highlighted. “Taking time every day to read scripture is important to me.”
After multiple fractures and Tommy John surgery in the previous two years at TCU, Traver leaned on his beliefs as he rehabbed to get back on the field. “Without my faith, I don’t think I could have made it through my injuries over the last few years.”
[The game is rained out Tuesday night and rescheduled for the following night.]
April 29, 2015
2:15 p.m. Wednesday
It’s time to eat. The team gathers for a pre-game meal at Hoffbrau, the University Drive steakhouse that’s popular with the guys. More than that, it’s a team tradition. Traver eyes the restaurant’s neon sign as he backs his truck into a spot in front.
“I eat the same thing every time before a start,” he says. “A 20-ounce porterhouse medium-rare with double mashed potatoes on the night before, and Dr. Pepper chicken at team meal before we hit the field. … Ritual plays a big part in getting ourselves ready to get out there and perform.”
The mood changes as Traver and the team arrive at the baseball complex at Lupton Stadium. The pitcher’s demeanor is serious now. No more chitchat. It’s time to focus. They leave shortly for their game in Dallas.
“We take time to ourselves in the locker room to prepare in our own ways.”
Disembarking the bus at Dallas Baptist University before the game, the TCU players are steely-eyed. They have a job to do. All have faith in their fellow teammates. First comes the team meeting. Then the Horned Frogs hit the field to stretch.
Traver stays behind in the locker room alone. This is his process.
“I put my headphones on and listen to the same songs in the same order every time I throw,” he says after the game. “I start with ‘Drive’ by Alan Jackson and end with some harder rock, ‘Overtake You’ by Red.”
It’s a routine that has kept TCU in the top 10 in the nation the whole season. Dallas Baptist enters the game No. 15 in the polls.
Warm-up time: The baseball is a blur of white as it releases from Traver’s hand and pops in the back of the catcher’s glove. He’s in the bullpen with just the team’s pitching coach Kirk Saarloos and backup catcher Zack Plunkett. Traver and Saarloos make last-minute adjustments to the scouting report on the Patriots’ lineup.
“Go ahead and push through,” Saarloos advises. Traver follows with another crisp throw. “Beautiful, all day long.”
Traver joins teammates taking a knee in right field for prayer.
TCU takes the field while flags above the outfield fence wave in the evening breeze.
Shielding his eyes from the sun, Traver gets the sign from starting catcher Evan Skoug. The pitcher nods once and takes a breath while standing on the rubber. His motion crashes downward off of the mound. “Haaa!” screams the umpire, indicating a strike.
Moments later, the DBU batter walks back to the dugout defeated. Traver blew a fastball right past him for the game’s first out — a strikeout.
TCU players jog out onto the field to begin the bottom of the sixth inning, but Traver stays behind in the dugout. Standing at the padded rail, straight-faced and a step above his teammates, he claps to encourage the team. An ice pack the size of a small child covers his right shoulder. He is done for the night after five innings pitched. The scoreboard glows in yellow: DBU 4, TCU 1. He’s struck out seven and yielded only two earned runs, but the Horned Frogs are trailing.
“The thing about our bullpen is that no matter how you perform when you get out there, you have faith in the guys behind you to come in and execute,” Traver says after the game. “You know that they have your back.”
Down by two runs in the top of the ninth inning, TCU has one last chance to rally. Down to the last out, the Frogs have two men on and the seven-hole hitter in the box. The odds start to slip as the count runs to no balls and two strikes. The Dallas Baptist crowd roars as the final strikeout seals their victory.
The Horned Frogs remain straight-faced as they shake hands with their ecstatic opponents. Returning to the dugout, they pack their gear and head to the bus. No one is showing any emotion. [It will be the team’s last loss of the regular season, done in by four errors.]
Traver walks back to the bus without the ice pack. “I felt good out there,” he says. “I was throwing the best I have in a while. Obviously, I wish we had won. They [Dallas Baptist] had bounces go their way and balls that just fell in the gaps. It’s baseball. Sometimes that’s just how the game is.”
Later in the week, the Horned Frogs board a charter flight for a series in Morgantown against West Virginia. It’s a new day. The grind goes on.
Editor’s Note: The DBU decision was Mitchell Traver’s last loss of the season. He won the following week against Abilene Christian and twice in the post-season — versus Sacred Heart in the opener of the Fort Worth Regional and in the 16th inning in the deciding game of the Fort Worth Super Regional against Texas A&M.
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