Written by Matt Wixon
Garland's baseball playoff drought dates back to Nixon administration, but it can all end Thursday
GARLAND – When a team’s playoff drought dates back to before its current players were born, that’s pretty remarkable. But the Garland baseball program’s frustration stretches to another level.
“My dad wasn’t even born yet,” senior shortstop VJ Gates said.
Well, 42 years is a long time. In 1972, when Richard Nixon was president and gasoline was less than 40 cents per gallon, Garland drove into the playoffs with a heavy-hitting lineup. The Owls lost in the bi-district round to Hurst L.D. Bell in a game that was delayed by rain.
Then began the dry spell, which can finally end Thursday night when Garland (15-11, 6-5 in District 11-5A) plays at North Garland (1-8 in district). Garland can clinch a playoff spot with a victory, and it can also get in with a loss by Garland Lakeview (5-6) to Rowlett (7-3) on Thursday.
“Every year, I’ve been saying this year is our year,” said Gates, who has played for the varsity since he was a freshman. “Last year, we slipped up and were one game away. This year it’s really here.”
It’s there for the taking, anyway. But it’s easy to understand why Garland coach Nick Siratt is cautious. It’s also easy to see how much this season means to the former Garland baseball player, who left Irving MacArthur in 2007 to take over as the Owls’ coach.
After last week’s victory over Garland Naaman Forest, which completed Garland’s sweep of a team that has already clinched a playoff spot, the coach had tears in his eyes.
“It got emotional at the end of that one,” Siratt said. “I don’t know what it will be like Thursday.”
It could be quite a scene, considering more and more Garland alums have been attending games in recent weeks. They’ve seen a Garland team that started district with three losses turn the season around with the help of two strong starting pitchers: juniors Cameron Smith and Seth O’Neil. Smith, the team’s ace, is 4-1 in his last six district appearances with one save and a 1.75 earned-run average. He had 10 strikeouts in last week’s 2-0 win over Naaman Forest.
Pitching is the difference this year, Siratt said.
“I’ve got four or five guys that I can put on the mound and feel pretty comfortable,” he said.
If Garland makes the playoffs as the fourth seed, its first-round opponent will be District 12-5A champion Rockwall-Heath. That means Siratt will face old friend and classmate Greg Harvey, who led Rockwall-Heath to the 4A state title in 2012. Two more Garland baseball alums are head coaches in the Dallas area: Beau Snodgrass (Kaufman) and Clay Wolfe (Royse City).
That’s a lot of coaches who’ve sprouted from a program in a dust-bowl playoff drought.
“We’ve had some good ballplayers here,” Siratt said. “There’s been some bad luck, and other times, the other teams have just been better.”
Now Garland is one victory away.
“People have always been doubting us,” senior center fielder Luke Feuchter said. “They were saying, ‘Another year of Garland baseball not going to the playoffs.’”
It can all change Thursday night.
“They’re going to be wrong this year,” Gates said.