ROUND ROCK – Thursday night marked the halfway point in the Texas Collegiate League (TCL) season, which lasts for thirty games and a playoff. The Houston Cougars are well represented in this summers TCL, with a total of seven players now filling roster spots on two different teams.
The TCL is a wooden bat league, giving spectators a chance to view hitters without the added pop of the aluminum bats, and giving pitchers a chance to experiment and challenge hitters without worrying that each and every mistake is going to leave the ballpark. Several host teams play their home games in minor league ballparks, including Tulsa, Round Rock, San Antonio, Frisco, and Amarillo.
Ryan Hernandez is leaving his mark on the TCL this summer. Just a few days ago Hernandez was named TCL Player of the Week for the week of July 7-13. Ryan hit .474 on the week three doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and six runs scored. At the halfway point, he is batting .365 overall with five home runs and twelve RBI. Ryan has played in thirteen of the teams fifteen games so far, and he has only been held hitless in two of those games.
Ryan had been at home in Boston since the Cougars season ended and arrived back in Texas just a few days before the TCL season got underway. Asked at Hairy Men media day about being in Round Rock for real baseball now, Ryan replied quickly, “This is amazing.” Hernandez was also hoping to “get some reps at third base” to keep his versatility, but so far his time has been spent playing first base. “Whatever they want me to do, they can count on me.”
One of the Hernandez home runs occurred at Dell Diamond in Round Rock on July 8. The blast was so pure it cleared the Home Run Porch, well beyond the left-field wall. Andrew Felts, the director of PR and Communications for the Round Rock Express and the Hairy Men said after the blast, “In my four years with the Round Rock Express, I’ve seen four players send a ball over the Home Run Porch at Dell Diamond: Jorge Bonifacio, Joey Gallo, Yordan Alvarez…and Ryan Hernandez.”
Besides clearing the Home Run Porch, another thing those home runs all had in common: All were done with wooden bats.
Cole Turney has two home runs for Round Rock while playing the outfield. The incoming SanJac transfer has twelve hits overall, including hits in nine of his fourteen games played, and a 3-for-4 game. Turney bats left and has spent a sizable portion of his time batting in the third spot, just in front of Ryan Hernandez. When asked the day before the season started about being in the TCL this summer, he said he was excited for the season, “being out here feels like being back at home.” And asked about his expected playing time in a possibly crowded outfield, Turney said, “just as long as I’m out here and I get my work in every day, I’m not worried about that.”
Rey Mendoza is hitting .279 this summer having collected twelve base hits over eight games. Rey has four multi-hit games to his credit. The left-handed-hitting Mendoza was having a nice freshman season for the Cougars before the season ended and there may have been no one more anxious than he was to get on the field and play again. At media day for the Hairy Men, Mendoza commented, “Just to be in this atmosphere of baseball again is amazing.”
Dylan Post has been platooning at catcher with two other catchers, he does have a home run in his limited time behind the plate. As the season was about to get underway, Post said, “I just want to get back to actually playing.” Not knowing a season-ending injury was about to sideline one of the other catchers on the team the next day, Dylan has caught the most innings of the group to this point, and defensively Post has played well. Dylan is batting .364 to this point and has had a base hit in six of his eight games played (Worth noting, in one of those eight games played, Post was only a pinch-hitter with one at-bat).
Luke Almendarez is playing some tremendous defense at both shortstop and second base. His batting average has inched up in recent games, along with key RBI production. Luke has two multi-hit games and has a base bit in seven of his games played and three stolen bases. For Luke, the opportunity to play in Round Rock is a return home for the first-year Cougar.
Veteran Cougars catcher Kyle Lovelace joined the Round Rock team late. A season-ending injury to the opening day catcher in the team’s first game of the season created a very quick opening on the roster for a backstop. Kyle has only played in four games at the halfway point. He caught all of Round Rock’s combined no-hitter on Thursday night, when three pitchers closed out the first half of their season by no-hitting the Acadiana Cane Cutters.
The only player in the Texas Collegiate League not playing for the Round Rock Hairy Men is right-hander Jaycob Deese who pitches for the Brazos Valley Bombers. The incoming transfer from Galveston College has made three starts at the halfway point of the season. In his most recent start, Deese tossed three scoreless innings, striking out four. It was his second consecutive three-inning start after having gone 2 1/3 innings in his first start. So far Deese has allowed three earned runs for a 3.24 ERA combined with eight strikeouts.
With half of the season left to play, there is a lot to look forward to. The Cougars players are getting valuable playing time in the TCL facing good opposition in one form or another on every team they play. For fans wanting to catch games, opportunities are few in number, but every ballpark is reachable the rest of the way, tickets are affordable, and all ballparks are taking plenty of precautions with regard to spectator safety.
The Hairy Men begin the second half of their season Friday night when they host the Amarillo Sod Dogs for a three-game weekend series. –