College Preview

Familiarity Brings Texas Friendship For Corey Knebel And Erich Weiss





AUSTIN, TEXAS—Corey Knebel and Erich Weiss know each other well. Too well, it seems sometimes.

"He's annoying," Weiss cracks on Knebel.

"I get tired of him," Knebel fires back.

"He's annoying," Weiss cracks on Knebel.

"I get tired of him," Knebel fires back.

They're kidding, these two congenial college juniors who are all but joined at the hip.

They're not so close that they finish each other's sentences. But Knebel finishes a lot of things, many of which Weiss starts.

Knebel, you see, is a closer. One of the best in the nation, in fact, as an All-American as a freshman and co-owner of the school record for saves in a season. And Weiss ranks as Texas' best hitter and probably best overall player.

They'll both have to live up to that lofty billing because they're critical parts of what looks to be a vastly improved Texas team that is eager to put behind it one of the worst seasons in the Augie Garrido era.

"He's a natural hitter," Knebel says of Weiss.

"He's a pure closer," Weiss says of Knebel.

Besides close teammates and team leaders, Knebel and Weiss also share quarters in a five-bedroom house with three other Longhorn players northwest of campus as roommates for the third straight year. They've all but been inseparable since they emerged from Central Texas high schools without any of the luster they possess now and reported to school in the summer before their rookie years.

"I was terrible in high school," Knebel says. "I was surprised I came here."

Corrects Weiss, "Uh, you were throwing 90 in our Brenham Tournament."

The tall righthander didn't always know where his devastating fastball was going. Neither did the tandem know their destinations. Weiss, a terrific lefthanded hitter for a state championship team at baseball hotbed Brenham about 90 miles east of Austin, wasn't even on the Longhorns' radar until late in the summer before his senior year.

Knebel's journey was even more improbable. He didn't have a single Division I offer and was headed to Angelina JC in Lufkin until Texas called in late April of his senior year at Georgetown, just half an hour north of Austin. He had fractured his right arm before his junior year and had played a lot of first base but wasn't highly pursued.

 "We were both tall, and skin and bones," Knebel said. Weiss weighed in at a slender 169 pounds. Knebel has added 10 pounds to a 6-foot-4 frame that now flirts with 220 pounds. Weiss carries 200 pounds on his 6-foot body and still runs very well

It didn't take long for them to announce their presence, Knebel with 19 saves and 1.13 ERA as a second-team All-American, Weiss wailing away for a .348/.483/.518 slash line and starting every game.

Neither wants to paste last season into their college scrapbooks, their own successes notwithstanding. Garrido's rotation never materialized in a season so injury-riddled the winningest coach in Division I baseball said "they were all playing for Grey's Anatomy."

Even so, Knebel shined with a 2.08 ERA and nine saves and ultimately moved into the role of ace for three May starts that included one shutout. He used his devastating fastball that tails away from lefthanders to allow just 50 hits in 74 innings; opponents hit .189.

The decision to return him to the bullpen wasn't difficult. "We're doing it for the same reason Huston Street was a closer and the same reason J. Brent Cox was a closer," Garrido said. "You've got to have someone to pitch to really good hitters to hold onto a one-run lead to get to a championship."

Weiss, shouldering the burden of a punchless team (its .263 average ranked eighth in the nine-team Big 12), overcame a sluggish .170 start in the first month. He wound up at .350/.428/.547 with a team-high 38 RBIs, but broke two batting helmets along way.

Both key Longhorns realize much is expected of them in 2013. Weiss hopes to enhance his power after hitting just nine home runs in two seasons. "Double-digit home runs would be nice," he sayd. "I don't want to jinx it, but I'd like to hit close to .400 or above it."

Knebel takes a more modest approach, gunning for 15 saves. "I bet he gets about 25 saves," Weiss interjects.

After last season, Garrido will settle for a more modest goal—a healthy team."I think we'll be a pretty good team," Garrido said. "The hex was on last year. It was Murphy's Law—whoever the hell Murphy is."

Kirk Bohls is a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.