2014 CWS OPENING CEREMONIES
THE FRESHMAN: TCU'S TYLER ALEXANDER   THE SENIOR: TEXAS' MARK PAYTON

OMAHA, Neb. -- People say attending the College World Series is something one should experience at least once in their life.

The fans, the media, the excitement in the air.

But could you imagine experiencing this for the first time as an 19-year-old?

Well, that is what TCU's Tyler Alexander is facing this weekend. 

"I have never been a part of anything like this in my life,"  Alexander said. "I feel like a celebrity in Omaha."

Just one year ago, Alexander was awaiting his time at TCU and now fans, children and onlookers surround this left-handed pitcher outside TD Ameritrade Park. People whom Alexander has never met want a photo with him.

"This time last year, I was probably lying in bed," Alexander joked. "I had already committed to TCU ... and I had no idea I would be [at the CWS] in a year."

Never before has Alexander played baseball at this level -- much less with this much attention.

"The Super Regional was the first time I have played on national TV," Alexander said. "And 24,000 fans -- gosh -- the most I have played in front of would have to be about 8,000."

TCU faces Texas Tech at 3 p.m. ET Sunday, and about 24,000 will fill the stadium, not to mention the thousands of people watching from home.

Alexander been a part of quite a season with the Horned Frogs. TCU has won 32 of its past 36 games, the Big 12 title, the Fort Worth Regional and most recently the Fort Worth Super Regional.

"My favorite memory so far is winning a Super Regional and dogpiling with my team," Alexander said. "Actually I just loved the entire Super Regional experience."

Alexander has also gotten some attention after his performances this year. He has 10 wins on the year. The last Horned Frog to earn 10 wins as a freshman was Matt Purke in 2010. Purke went on to be 16-0 his freshman year, and was named freshman of the year.

Sophomore teammate Boomer White said, "Tyler has been incredible this year, he's our Sunday starter and I think he has been a great addition."

Alexander and White agree that a championship would be a great addition to the team locker room. And Alexander said that is what he is here to get.

"Personally, I am a the CWS to win a championship title," Alexander said. "And I think we can do it."

-- Abby Hill, NCAA.com

 

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Texas Longhorns have been here a few times.

Mark Payton has been here a few times.

Payton, a senior outfielder, played on the 2011 Longhorn team that made it to the College World Series.

However, that year the Longhorns only lasted two games. After being drafted and after much deliberation, Payton decided to return for his senior season with one destination in mind: Omaha.

As he lined up with his teammates in the tunnel beneath TD Ameritrade Park, Payton smiled with his sunglasses on his head and his iPhone in his hand, ready to capture all the magic of the College World Series’ Opening Celebration Day.

“It’s one of the coolest experiences about being [in Omaha],” Payton said.

“One of my favorite parts of the ceremony is walking through this tunnel from center field all the way down to the infield, watching the video of our highlights from Super Regionals.”

With GoPros and iPhones at the helm, the Longhorns waved to fans, took photos and soaked in every moment of the opening ceremonies before the first day of competition gets under way at the ballpark on Saturday.

“These guys, they won’t understand until they walk out,” he said. “People told me, but you just don’t know. When you step out there, it blows your mind.”

Texas will open play against UC Irvine at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, when the Longhorns will look to make the most of their record 35th CWS appearance behind Payton’s leadership.

As a freshman on that 2011 squad, he started all 65 games for the Longhorns, batting .263 with 63 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, 25 RBI and six stolen bases.

Three years later, Payton’s growth hasn’t slowed. He has become the Big 12 Conference’s active career leader in total bases (382), walks (146), triples (19), doubles (50), RBI (121) and on-base percentage (.427).

A Chicago native, Payton is on a 101-game reached-base streak dating to last year -- the longest streak in Big 12 history. His two-run homer in the Austin Super Regional against Houston gave the Longhorns all the momentum they would need to sweep the Cougars and earn the trip north to Omaha.

Texas may have celebrated its CWS berth on Friday night with all the pomp and circumstance, but come Saturday afternoon, the Longhorns and Payton hope they have something new to celebrate -- a win.

  -- Sarah Higgins, NCAA.com