A.J. Balta took a shot in the dark, as he put it.
He was looking for a school that would simultaneously allow him to keep playing the game he loved but also would afford him a chance to start a master’s program in criminal justice.
Another caveat: The team needed to be good.
So Balta, who made 139 starts over the previous three seasons for Oregon and graduated in 2017, called TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle.
“I reached out to a handful of schools, and TCU was obviously one of the best programs in the country, so it was just a shot in the dark,” Balta said. “Coach Schlossnagle was gracious enough to give me a visit out here, and I just loved it.”
Balta and his dad, Henry, met Schlossnagle over dinner. Both left the TCU campus thinking it was a perfect fit.
“It’s a school that doesn’t just emphasize athletics,” Henry Balta said. “We’re a pretty heavy-duty academic family.”
A.J.’s sister Victoria Balta was an all-conference center fielder at Yale. She’s now working on a medical degree at Johns Hopkins.
The whole family met in Fort Worth for the Horned Frogs’ series against Kansas State. It’s the third time Henry and mom Liliana have made the trip from Valencia, Calif. (north of Los Angeles).
BACK TO BACK thanks to Balta! pic.twitter.com/mTSYGcLYGY
— TCU Baseball (@TCU_Baseball) March 24, 2018
“Coming in as an older guy, you’re going to have to earn your stripes and earn your spot,” A.J. Balta said. “You have the reputation of a team that has been to the College World Series four times in a row, so you know you’re going to be with the best of the best.”
So Schlossnagle made no promises. Balta would have to fight for playing time just like everyone else. But with such a young roster (with only three seniors, including Balta), Schlossnagle liked the idea of adding some experience from a Pac 12 player.
“Just go in there and grind it out and compete for it just like everyone else,” said Balta, who has started all 25 games and leads the team with eight doubles and is tied for the team lead with 18 RBIs. “I love it here. It’s slim pickin’s for the schools that want to open up their arms and welcome you as a fifth-year senior transfer.
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“Coach Schlossnagle gave me the opportunity. I can get started on my master’s and still keep the dream alive and play baseball as long as I can.”