Calls of support for outfielder Wesley Moss ring out from a small group of Sul Ross State University (SRSU) fans are swallowed by the enormity of a worn down stadium in Alpine, Texas. As the SRSU sophomore steps into the box, the voices of the scattered spectators mix with cheers, jeers and muted laughter from both dugouts. Standing on the mound, Trinity senior Chris Tate cannot hear them. As Tate begins his windup, time suddenly slows down for both Tate and Moss. As if pitcher and batter are alone in Kokernot Field, Wesley stares down the blurred ball, and in a split second he attempts to analyze the pitch and act on his decision. The strike hurled from the hands of Tate barely misses Moss’s swinging bat, before landing in Parker Cormack’s outstretched mitt.
“The competition between me, the pitcher, and the batter, is the most competitive one on one standoff in sports,” Tate said.
In the blink of an eye, this moment is over, and with it the eleventh inning, but it is this moment of standoff that Tate loves most about the sport of baseball.
“I used to kind of sit back and not treat the altercation as something aggressive,” Tate said. “If you sit back you’re going to get beat. In a sense you have to have the confidence and the aggressiveness to go after people. Talent won’t win you a game alone.”
Pitchers exercise control over much of the outcome of games, but baseball is not just a battle between the man on the mound and the one in the box. Despite his position, alone and above the field, Tate explains that a pitcher’s performance cannot be attributed to the pitcher alone.
“Sometimes I think people forget that when you’re pitching you have eight other people behind you who are going to be able to help you out,” Tate said. “[Junior] Parker Cormack and [alum] Drew Butler, are both really good catchers and it makes it really easy to trust what they’re doing, to know they’re at their best. And then it’s simply up to you to go with them and they kind of lead you. The catcher is literally the captain of the team. So like when a pitcher pitches well it’s not just because the pitcher’s pitching well, there are other people that are involved. Especially the catcher.”
The strike against Moss was the third strike of the third out of the eleventh inning in a close matched game, for which Tate ultimately took a win. However, the Trinity career of this Arizona native did not start out with strike outs. In the first half of his time at Trinity, like many of the pitchers on the large Tiger staff, Tate was rarely afforded time on the mound. Coming from a large high school where he played varsity since sophomore year, Tate found this frustrating.
“I had never been around a team and not played on it so this was really difficult for me in the beginning. So coming here I had pitched well, I had success [in high school] so I was assuming: “˜Ok keep working hard, keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be able to pitch.’ That obviously wasn’t the situation so it definitely tested my character,” Tate said. “Two years of it was obviously frustrating but at the same time, it just makes being able to play junior and senior year and make an impact, makes it more real and meaningful.”
Tate got his first real chance to pitch last year, taking the mound for a team that would prove themselves the greatest in the Division.
“Last year was the first year I consistently got on the mound and every time I got out there it was just about “˜Wow I’m on the mound. This is awesome’ and enjoying it,” Tate said.
Competition is not just against the batter, Tate explains, but against your teammates as well. On a team with a staff of 24 pitchers “” and 20 position players “” competition is stiff.
“We always support each other, we want the best for each other, but it is dogfighting trying to get onto a travel roster and then from there trying to pitch.” Tate said. “People get frustrated sometimes, but overall the large group breeds a very competitive dynamic that pushes people.”
Tate credits a friendly rivalry with sophomore LHP Andrew Hoffman for pushing him to throw better. Tate explains how, in the pin, instead of focusing on how well they were doing, they instead looked at what each player could do to one up the other.
“Hoffman pitched Friday, how did he do? He came out of the pen, saved the game, I wanna do better,” Tate said.
At one point the two southpaws had near identical ERAs and it became a constant back and forth between the pair to best one another. Ultimately this rivalry led to even more success as members of the pitching staff pushed one another, giving accountability to whoever is on the mound.
“I want him to throw great because that sets a bar and then I have to meet that bar,” Tate said. “We were successful last year and I think a lot of it was from this inner competition.”
That year the team went into their second World Series fresh off of a third place victory the year before.
“So coming back you’d think there was a lot of pressure but I think we were honestly so relaxed and there was this inner confidence and we just knew that we were good. We didn’t know we were gonna win every game. We made that happen, but there was this inner confidence that allowed us to be extremely relaxed and just back each other up,” Tate said.
After losing a line up of strong seniors, the team faces a difficult season in the shadow of last year’s success.
“At the beginning of the season and up till now there has been a little bit of, “˜we’ve got some big shoes to fill’ kind of mentality and I think that’s hurt us thus far, but I think we’re just starting to realize last year is last year,” Tate said. “People want to compare us to last year and it’s confusing because it’s only one year, but it’s such a different team. There’s a different dynamic and so like yes there is I guess there’s roaming thought of “˜Oh wow. We won the national championship last year,’ but I don’t think anyone at this point is saying “˜Oh, we have to do it again.’ I think it’s about focusing on “˜ok how can I win this game?'”