Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Five years ago. TCU was in its first super regional. Hoping to go to Omaha for the College World Series. We were visiting Trinity for the first time. And I promised them in my sermon that even though I am a native Austinite I believed TCU would beat Texas.

That goal was accomplished. Now five years later they faced a different foe. And our investment was different. Now TCU baseball isn't a sort of esoteric ideal. It has meaning, connections, and people. Former players and alums in our pews, hopefuls all around, and a 1st grade teacher.

Annika began 1st grade at Westcliff Elementary this year. Westcliff is located about a mile south of TCU and as such gets many student teachers from the school of education. Our principal loves this because she can watch these teachers and decide which she thinks would be good fits as first year teachers. This year Annika had on of those 1st year teachers. A young woman who shared the same name as Annika's Tante, Kristen.

Some parents are nervous about 1st year teachers. But I love them just like I like First Call Pastors. They are up to date on the most recent teaching techniques, aren't full of "this is how we used to do it," have energy, and the best realize they still need to learn. They are willing to take parental concerns into account, to recognize they don't know it all, and take input.

Annika's teacher was those things. She cared for the kids, shared stories about her dogs Chance and Piper, encouraged them appropriately, and worked with us to find solutions to learning issues. She had been a student-athlete at TCU (soccer) and so provided them with a great example that girls can be smart and athletic. Annika and her classmates came to love their teacher and ultimately they came to know that their first grade teacher had a friend. He was still a student at TCU and his name was Preston. He would come sometimes and eat lunch with the class when they had earned the chance to eat in their room. Annika said he was nice but that was about it.

I met Preston first in the fall at the Westcliff Fall Festival. We were introduced by Kristen and he seemed like a very polite nice young man. I didn't really think too much about it and Annika was more interested in the fact that Chance the dog was there. This spring however, we came to a realization when Annika came home and told us that Kristen was going to Los Angeles to watch Preston play baseball. That was when a light came on. Her friend Preston was not just a nice young man, he was also an All-American pitcher, the 2014 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and perhaps the best ever to play that position at TCU. He was going to LA to pitch at Dodger Stadium against Vanderbilt. One of the best teams in the country (and won that game as well).

So throughout the spring Annika's class heard more about Preston, got to talk to him when he came to lunch, and they made good luck cards for the team as TCU had a great season and won the Big 12 regular season title outright. Everything was looking GREAT for TCU baseball. And then the wheels came off. They went 0-2 in the Big 12 tournament and had to battle back through the losers bracket to win their own regional to get to play Texas A&M in a "Super Regional" (a best of three series) to go back to the College World Series in Omaha.

Saturday afternoon TCU's bats were on fire and won the first game of the series in a romp. This set up Sunday afternoon as the chance for them to close out the series and go on to Omaha. Record crowds of more than 7,000 (Lupton Stadium's official capacity is about 5,500) would be on hand. Preston would be pitching. I told the congregation at worship Sunday morning that it was a lock. TCU was heading back to Omaha.

Preston pitched a great game against a strong hitting A&M team. Annika watched the game on television with Kendra and was so excited to see Preston on the mound. She would hide her eyes every time he went into the wind-up and listen to hear the crowd to know if something good or bad had happened. Lots of good happened. He gave up one run, pitched 9.1 innings (for you scoring at home that means he pitched the first part of the 10th inning as well) but the Frogs bats were quiet and they lost 2-1 in 10.

As a former athlete I know how devastating those kinds of losses are. To play well and yet lose is frustrating and can gnaw at you for weeks, even years. Yet the next day, the last day of school, I came to Annika's classroom to get a picture of her and her teacher and guess who was there, Preston. He was helping Kristen clean out her classroom. Throwing away papers, getting pictures and signs off the wall, and ultimately sitting in little chairs and having pizza with 7 year olds at their end of year party. His team had another game to play that night but because he had pitched the day before there was nothing physically he could do to support them. So he ate pizza with a classroom of kids who had come to know him and didn't care if he won, they just liked Preston being around.

Later that night (well technically early Tuesday morning) the Frogs did clinch their trip to Omaha after 16 innings. Preston of course didn't pitch. But he was there on the bench. Rooting on his team, wearing the rally cap to end all rally caps. When I showed Annika a picture of him with 15+ "rally caps" on his head the next day she just giggled and said in a silly voice "Preston!"

When we moved to Fort Worth I wanted to get a home close to the University. I grew up close to the University of Texas so I know the fun, energy, and opportunities that being in proximity to a college can bring. Sure there are downsides but overall it is these connections I value. To have my daughter witness first hand examples of young people who are successful in athletics and academics. To know them not just as posters on a wall or images on a TV but as people.

So thanks Westcliff Elementary for a great first grade year. And thanks Kristen and Preston for giving my daughter and my family one more reason to say "Go Frogs!"