OMAHA, Neb. — The 2014 College World Series is part national competition, part Texas Invitational.
There’s the University of Texas, Texas Tech, Texas Christian University and ... Virginia pitcher Brandon Waddell.
“At home, we’ve had several people call us because they made a big deal out of it,” said Chuck Waddell, Brandon’s father. “Brandon’s from Texas, but not on one of the three Texas teams.”
At 8 tonight, Waddell will start for UVa (50-14) when it takes on TCU (48-16) in the winners’ bracket game of this eight-team tournament.
Waddell is a Houston native. He admires former Houston Astros closer Billy Wagner. He strongly prefers throwing in the heat as opposed to the wintry conditions that routinely hit Davenport Field during the season’s early months.
Yet playing college baseball in his home state was never high on Waddell’s priority list.
“I decided I wanted to get out of Texas in the beginning,” Waddell said Monday after the Cavaliers wrapped practice at Creighton University. “So I didn’t talk much to Texas schools. ... I lived there my whole life, so I wanted to experience something new.”
Matt Kirby was eager to provide that fresh opportunity for Waddell after watching the left-hander toss at a showcase camp on Stanford’s campus in summer 2011.
“He reminded me a lot of Cliff Lee at that camp,” Kirby said.
Then a Georgetown assistant coach, Kirby had a desire to see Waddell in a Hoyas uniform.
“His fastball was 87-88 [mph],” Kirby said. “He had a good sweeping breaking ball. I said, ‘All right, this guy can pitch a little bit.’”
But bringing that kind of arm to Georgetown, a program still seeking its first NCAA Tournament appearance, was going to be a tough sell.
Virginia, a program coming off its second College World Series trip in three years, was a tad more attractive.
Within a few weeks of making initial contact with Waddell at Stanford, Kirby took an assistant coach job at UVa.
“The first day I was on campus,” Kirby said, “I told Coach [Brian] O’Connor, ‘Hey, you guys got to see this guy. I think he’s a really good pitcher.’”
Shortly thereafter, Cavaliers pitching coach Karl Kuhn was on his way to the Lone Star State to spot Virginia’s future weekend rotation mainstay for himself.
“It came down to Stanford and Virginia,” Chuck Waddell said. “And he liked Virginia better.”
On Feb. 15, 2013, at East Carolina, Waddell became the first freshman to start a Virginia season opener in nearly 30 years.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder has a career record of 15-6 with a 3.28 ERA. Tonight will be Waddell’s fifth NCAA Tournament appearance. He’s 3-1 in the postseason.
“He’s been a pleasure to have,” O’Connor said. “For somebody to come in and be your Friday night starter as a true freshman, like Brandon did last year, and then being in our rotation all year this year, it’s made a big difference for us.”
A Texas-sized crowd of over 23,000 is expected to be in TD Ameritrade Park when Waddell squares off against the Horned Frogs and their stud hurler, Brandon Finnegan.
Finnegan, a first-round selection of the Kansas City Royals, is a Forth Worth native.
The lefty — and his mid-90s fastball that’s led to a Big 12-best 129 strikeouts this season — stayed home for college.
Waddell — and his controlled mixture of three pitches — traveled over 1,300 miles.
Tonight, they share a mound in eastern Nebraska.
“Finnegan’s a power guy that went in the first round,” O’Connor said. “He’s got a great arm, great breaking ball, great résumé, really, really talented.
“Waddell’s going to have pitchability and throw strikes and get contact.”
And crash the Texas Invitational in the process.
“It’s pretty exciting,’ Waddell said.