The Oklahoma Sooners were one win away from upsetting Virginia in Game Three at the 2010 Charlottesville Super Regional, yet their best player was hitless in the series. Garrett Buechele had been the Sooners’ leading hitter all season but had been shut down by the Cavaliers heading into the sixth inning of the final game. Staring at an 0-for in a pressure spot might consume other players. But Buechele?
“In the second game, I was hitting balls hard, just right at people,” he said. “It was almost like a running joke with the team. It was just another thing you can kinda laugh about.”
The easy-going Buechele is quick to give credit to his teammates, but coaches around the Big 12 will tell you that the junior third baseman is the heartbeat of the Sooners. Against Virginia, Oklahoma had already built a 6-0 lead by the time Buechele came to bat with two on in the sixth. When Virginia closer Kevin Arico tried one too many outside fastballs, Buechele went with one and drilled it for a two-run double, building the lead to 8-0.
“He knew he was getting a fastball away, and he went back to what he does well,” Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said. “He’s really smart about sitting on certain pitches because of his background with his father, Steve.
“If you’re pounding fastballs away and that’s how you like to get ahead, he’s going to hit that thing the other way for a double. And if you’re a guy that’s trying to get him back off the plate and he thinks it’s the time you’re coming back in, he’ll sit on it and he’ll hit it over the left-field wall.”
The Sooners went on to clinch their first trip to the College World Series since 1995, winning 11-0, with Buechele’s hit serving as the nail in the coffin.
“We realized at that point,” Golloway said, “we had ’em.”
Son Of A Star
Steve Buechele played 11 seasons in the majors from 1985-95 and is currently entering his second season managing the Rangers’ Double-A Frisco affiliate. The elder Buechele was the Rangers’ everyday third baseman from 1986-91 and also played for the Pirates and Cubs, hitting 137 lifetime home runs. But Garrett learned more than an approach to hitting from watching his father’s career.
“Just being around the big leaguers and seeing how they carried themselves, it’s one of those things you take for granted when you’re a little kid,” Buechele said. “Now when you look back on it, you realize how special it was. Being around the game that much really drove in the passion for me to play baseball.”
Undrafted and lightly recruited coming out of high school, Buechele looked like he was set to go to Kansas. However, a problem arose at the tail end of his official visit to Kansas’ campus. The Jayhawks’ coaches wanted to move him to catcher, a prospect Buechele wasn’t too enthralled with. He landed at Oklahoma instead.
Buechele arrived on OU’s campus in the fall of 2007 as a 17-year-old, and the Sooners’ coaches decided to redshirt him for the 2008 season.
“I just had to sit back and relax and be like, ‘All right, so this is how everything works,’ ” Buechele said. “I think that’s what that year for me, being redshirted, did. It was just getting to see the speed of the game and see how the seniors carried themselves.”
The redshirt year paid dividends. Buechele took over as Oklahoma’s everyday third baseman in 2009 and became the first Sooner to win the Big 12’s freshman of the year award, batting .353 with four home runs and 40 RBIs. More physically mature as a redshirt sophomore in 2010, Buechele led the Sooners in all three triple crown categories, batting .359—his average had been over .380 before his postseason slide—with 17 homers and 65 RBIs, on his way to being named a second-team all-American.
He also committed just five errors all season while starting all but three of Oklahoma’s games at third base. Buechele isn’t the rangiest defender at the hot corner, nor does he have the strongest arm, but his feel for the position and the game make up for it.
“Baseball players understand the rhythm of the game,” Golloway said. “They understand the hitter before he hits it. They understand if he’s fast or if he’s slow, and that clock immediately on contact starts. And Garrett has a great clock.”
Waiting One More Year
Buechele’s standout season as a draft-eligible sophomore led to him being taken by the Rangers in the 18th round of last year’s draft. It seemed like a perfect fit, as Buechele had always dreamed of being a Ranger, the club where his father made his name. But the Rangers had already taken a college third baseman, Mike Olt from Connecticut, in the supplemental first round. Knowing that he’d be playing behind Olt if he signed, Buechele elected to come back for another year with the Sooners.
Buechele’s return was welcome news in Norman, Okla., where the Sooners will return plenty of experience from last year’s Omaha team. Buechele was elected one of the Sooners’ four captains for the second time, the only player on the team with that distinction. He’s become renowned around the program for his mature yet fun-loving approach to the game, which quickly won over teammates.
“During a game or a practice or anything like that, I’m not too afraid to throw a joke around, make a few people laugh,” Buechele said. “If you’re having fun doing something that you love, only good things can come out of it.”
There’s more to Buechele’s leadership than humor though. For his part, Golloway said he really came to understand what Buechele means to his team after hearing it from a Hall of Famer. The Sooners traveled to the West Coast for a four-game series with San Diego State to open the 2010 season. After OU had won the first two games, Golloway had a conversation with Aztecs coach Tony Gwynn and one of his assistants.
“Before the game on Saturday, as I was talking to coach Gwynn and (assistant) coach (Mark) Martinez, they said ‘Buechele and (first baseman Cameron) Seitzer on your corners give your team a calming effect.’ I wouldn’t have said that at that time.
“I see that now, and I saw it during the course of the season. And that is how I would describe Garrett. He is a calming effect to our young players, to our players that maybe aren’t feeling they’re performing at the level they should. He keeps them loose, he keeps them confident and he plays at an extremely high level leading his team.”
|Garrett Buechele might the best son of a big leaguer in Division I baseball, but he’s not the only one. In fact, we came up with an entire team of big league progeny that would make their fathers proud.|
|Pos.||Player, School||Player (Relation)|
|C||C.J. Cron, Utah||Chris Cron (father)|
|1B||Cameron Seitzer, Oklahoma||Kevin Seitzer (father)|
|2B||L.J. Mazzilli, Connecticut||Lee Mazzilli (father)|
|3B||Garrett Buechele||Steve Buechele (father)|
|SS||Nolan Fontana, Florida||Lew Burdette (grandfather)|
|OF||Beau Amaral, UCLA||Rich Amaral (father)|
|OF||Tyler Thompson, Florida||Robbie Thompson (father)|
|OF||Mike Yastrzemski, Vanderbilt||Carl Yastrzemski (grandfather)|
|DH||Tyler Bream, Liberty||Sid Bream (father)|
|P||Jack Armstrong Jr., Vanderbilt||Jack Armstrong (father)|
|P||Craig Gullickson, Georgia||Bill Gullickson (father)|
|P||Brett Mooneyham, Stanford||Bill Mooneyham (father)|