Texas A&M's surging baseball team wants to be a national powerhouse

Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire

Editor's note: This story was originally published on May 29 prior to the start of the Men's College World Series. It has been updated with game information.

In three seasons at Texas A&M, Jim Schlossnagle won the Aggies' first game in the Men's College World Series since 1993, led them to a No. 1 ranking this year and to a No. 3 overall NCAA tournament seed, their highest in school history.

In College Station preparing for the Men's College World Series (vs. Florida, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN), he has his sights set on a a national championship. The title has eluded both the Aggies and Schlossnagle, who had three 50-win seasons at TCU and led the Horned Frogs to the MCWS five times.

Despite all that success in Fort Worth, he came to College Station because he doesn't want to just build a championship program. He wants to make a monster.

He believes at a place like Texas A&M, he can shake things up, and he's not afraid to tell you. He "gets" the Aggie traditions, including choosing a senior each year to wear No. 12 to represent the school's famed 12th Man. He even pinch hit this year's 12, Ryan Targac, on senior day on the final day of the regular season and Targac delivered a single to run-rule then-No. 3 Arkansas to claim a series win over the Razorbacks, one of the most memorable moments in Olsen Field history.

He made the school song, "The Spirit of Aggieland," a new staple in the bottom of the third at Olsen Field this season, saying it was his favorite at football games.

"It's electric, man," he said.

But Schlossnagle isn't afraid to try to jolt the Aggies into a new era, either. Take, for instance, his decision to invite the championship-caliber Aggie Dance Team to perform at baseball games since the all-male Yell Leaders roam the sidelines at Kyle Field.

"They don't get to dance at football games, which I think is idiotic," Schlossnagle said. "That's just old Aggie thinking. ... The first year, with some people you would have thought I changed the school colors to burnt orange. The repercussions were the craziest thing I've ever experienced."

If it improves the game-day experience, Schlossnagle isn't afraid to take the heat. And he'd prefer it if the music was loud. And current.

"Traditions are awesome, but traditional thinking is not awesome," he said. "We've worked hard to try and find that blend of honoring A&M and everything that it is and its core traditions. But at the same time, we're making our game and our program attractive to a 15-year-old because that's who we're recruiting."

Before Schlossnagle got to College Station, Aggie fans saw his genius up close when their team played TCU. Schlossnagle's Horned Frogs went 9-7 against the Aggies in his 18 years there, including 6-2 against Texas A&M in the postseason and three occasions in which the Frogs ended the Aggies' season in super regional showdowns. Now, after three years of success in College Station, he's building a powerhouse his way. And he has earned enough clout to boldly push for change at a school that's desperate to win.

For new athletic director Trev Alberts, who arrived midseason in March and quickly learned Schlossnagle had big plans, he wouldn't want it any other way.

"Do you want somebody who cares so much that they're into every single detail to make the program great? Or somebody who doesn't care?" Alberts said. "We've got a guy leading our baseball program that understands the importance of the details and is a high-level executor. And quite frankly, that's why we've got a top-five baseball team in the country."

The biggest idea of all is Schlossnagle's vision for a stadium that befits the Aggies' grand ambitions. It's simple: All he's asking for is a new ballpark that's double the size of the one the Aggies opened in 2012, and for it to revolutionize the way colleges view their baseball facilities.

"What Camden Yards did to Major League Baseball, I think Texas A&M should strive to do that for college baseball," said Schlossnagle, a Maryland native, of the Baltimore Orioles' stadium that started an architectural trend to harken back to the era of classic baseball cathedrals.

No pressure, Alberts. But then again, Alberts said he's listening. And so is the administration. On May 7, Texas A&M's board of regents approved an $80 million renovation of the stadium.

"That's why I was attracted to Texas A&M," Alberts said. "This is a place where you can dream like that. ... I don't want to have to push coaches. I want coaches who push me and our administrative team and this place is filled with them. And Jim is one of the leaders."

And that's also why Schlossnagle traded his purple in for maroon. With two grown children, after going through a divorce and turning 50, he decided he was ready to take on a new challenge. But only if he could do it on the biggest stage.

"I didn't need this job. I had a great job," Schlossnagle said. "To be honest with you, TCU's program was ahead of Texas A&M's program. I didn't leave for a better job. I left for a different job."

Different, because TCU is a private school with the second-smallest enrollment among power conferences. Schlossnagle said he couldn't help but wonder what life would be like at a giant state school with the accompanying enrollment (69,598 students in 2023 to 12,785 at TCU) and substantial athletic budget ($279.2 million in operating revenue in 2023 fiscal year, according to USA Today, a little more than four times what TCU budgeted for athletics revenue in 2023).

"If you asked the average college fan, on a scale of 1 to 10, where was Texas A&M's baseball program in 2021, they would have said, 'Hey, man, it's a solid 8,' right?" Schlossnagle said. "But the attraction wasn't the 8. The attraction was the difference between 8 and 10."

So he got to work. Schlossnagle knows how to find talent and develop it. Five Aggies were named to All-SEC first or second teams this season, the most in the conference. Three of those first-teamers were transfers: Catcher Jackson Appel (Penn), outfielder Braden Montgomery (Stanford) and Evan Aschenbeck (Blinn College).

But as obsessive as Schlossnagle is about talent, he's just as interested in making Texas A&M an impossible place to play for opponents. As the top seed in their own regional, the Aggies' 32-3 home record at Olsen Field this year looms large, particularly with rival Texas coming to town.

There will be a rowdy atmosphere, but that's the norm at Texas A&M games. The fans are known for several traditions, but mostly the famous "Ball 5" chant that starts after four straight balls are thrown out of the strike zone, with an entire stadium adding a number for each additional non-strike. In 2017, Mississippi State pitcher Konnor Pilkington suffered the indignity of starting a string of 12 straight balls while the chant lasted nearly 11 minutes. Once a player throws a strike, the entire stadium erupts in cheers.

So imagine that scene with twice as many fans. That's the kind of dreaming Schlossnagle is doing, noting that while the Blue Bell Park renovation is nearly 13 years old, that's an eternity in the cutthroat world of SEC baseball.

"If you look at the SEC West -- just in our division -- since 2012, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Alabama and LSU have either built brand new ballparks or done major renovations since then," Schlossnagle said. "Auburn has spent more money on their stadium than Texas A&M. We're the biggest school with supposedly the most money. Kyle Field [102,733, largest stadium in the SEC] is to college football what Olsen Field should be to college baseball."

He's right. Every stadium in the West has been renovated, rebuilt or upgraded since then, while the Aggies actually decreased seating capacity in their redevelopment to add more amenities, with a listed capacity of 6,100 and a post-2012 record crowd of 8,075 for a game against Vanderbilt in April.

Arkansas, for instance, built a new stadium in 1996 and added a $27 million development facility in 2022. Mississippi State unveiled a three-phase, four-year, $68 million renovation of its legendary Dudy Noble Field for the 2019 season and continues to set attendance records, including the current NCAA baseball on-campus single-game attendance record at 16,423 in 2023 vs. Ole Miss.

Schlossnagle said his dream would be a 12,000- to 15,000-seat venue. In a perfect world, he'd love to build from scratch elsewhere on campus. Olsen is hemmed in by a road on one side and train tracks behind the outfield wall. But with a long history at the site and an iconic view of Kyle Field in center field and the occasional train blowing its horn during a game -- sometimes to the tune of the "Aggie War Hymn" -- Schlossnagle appreciates the unique elements of the stadium's location.

While Schlossnagle keeps an eye on the big issues, he wants his players to have fun, and in return, for the fans to feel like they're in on the action. In 2022, after a speech to his team saying he wants them to be "hungry for wins" like when you eat one Pringle and can't stop, Pringles or giant Pringles props were everywhere around the dugout. Even Julius Pringles, the real name of the mustachioed potato chip mascot, came to town.

This year, players wanted to started playing an Irish folk song called "Rattlin' Bog" after scoring. They debuted it before a three-game homestand against Vanderbilt, torching the Commodores 36-6 in those games, setting a program record for runs in an SEC series that thrilled a packed ballpark. His players regularly make TikToks where the team plays golf on the field trying to hit targets around the stadium.

"Everyone talks about Pringles in 2022," Schlossnagle said during an appearance on TexAgs this week. "Why did they talk about Pringles? Because we won. 'Rattlin' Bog,' fungo golf and all that stuff is cool when you win. Have your substance be your style. Part of what makes us good is the guys play with some freedom and play loose."

As the Aggies cooled down toward the end of the regular season, with seven of their 13 losses coming in May, but they dominated in both the regionals and super regionals and look to have gotten their groove back. However, they're now without one of their stars in Braden Montgomery, who broke his ankle in Game 1 against Oregon this past weekend.

Schlossnagle knows there will be plenty of attention on his team this week in Omaha even without Montgomery. But he has had to deal with the attention that comes with being a Texas school that faces the Longhorns on a regular basis, so he's fairly used to it.

He's lived it in midweek one-off nonconference games between the two teams since he's been at A&M, including a 9-2 win in Austin in March that marked the Aggies' fifth win in their past six games against the Longhorns. One of those other wins came in the Men's College World Series in 2022, with Schlossnagle joking that if they hadn't won, fans might not have even remembered that they made it to Omaha. He eschews any coachspeak on what the heat means around the rivalry.

"That's like nuclear stuff," he said. "But there isn't a moment in my day where I think about what Texas is doing. I think if you go look at general society today with social media, everybody does the comparison game. And A&M and Texas have been doing the comparison game for a couple hundred years."

Still, he offers one measuring stick of his own to help his cause.

"[Texas'] Disch-Falk holds more fans, and that shouldn't be the case," he said.

Schlossnagle has studied stadium renderings and he's excited. Now he's got a chance to keep building, and keep earning more capital for his vision for Texas A&M to be a different kind of college baseball program.

"What I'm trying to do is get this program right where it should be relative to the size and power and strength of the school," Schlossnagle said.

With his $80 million ballpark -- one of the most expensive college baseball projects ever envisioned -- scheduled to begin construction in 2026, Schlossnagle can begin to see the monster taking shape. He's already building a program worthy of such a venue.