The College World Series is underway this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. For many, this will be the last stop in a long and successful baseball career. Some will go on to the Major Leagues, but fewer still will go on to accomplish the unprecedented, which is what former Texas Christian University pitcher Brandon Finnegan did last year.
Watching him on TV against the best in the world, I think I was more proud of him that day than I was for my big league debut.Kirk Saarloos, TCU pitching coach and former MLB pitcher
"Before TCU I was just a Fort Worth kid," Finnegan said. "My dad taught me and my brother how to play baseball growing up. Started playing when I was 4. Started pitching when I was, I think, 10."
When he was 17, Finnegan attended TCU's baseball camp. After seeing him deliver just one pitch, TCU head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle offered Finnegan a scholarship on the spot.
"He’s kind of a squatty body guy, not very tall, but he had a very quick and live arm," Schlossnagle said. "He didn’t have a whole idea of where the ball was going, but he was also a good athlete. He wasn’t a bad hitter and he was a pretty good outfielder."
But TCU's 2013 season was a big disappointment, after which Finnegan and his teammates weren’t thinking about making history ... they were only thinking about how to improve the next season.
"We had expectations," Finnegan said. "We had a really bad season as a team. We finished 29-28. It was horrible."
Kirk Saarloos, pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at TCU, wasn't happy with the year either.
"We had a terrible year, he pitched good, but just didn’t get any run support and [he] didn’t win a game," Saarloos said. "So he was probably looking at me cross-eyed. But it all came full circle in his junior year. He put it all together and led the best pitching staff in the country."
"We made it all the way to the World Series," Finnegan said, "and that was a dream."
Finnegan, who by that time had been drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Royals, was taken aback by the College World Series’ carnival atmosphere.
"It was just unreal, the life around it," the left-handed hurler said. "There’s tons of places to eat. Tents everywhere, tons of people. We just went on a big roll. I think we went on a nine-game winning streak, lost one, then went on an eight-game winning streak. We were just rolling."
Despite Finnegan’s strong performance on the mound, the Horned Frogs were eliminated two days later against Ole Miss.
"We ended up losing and getting put out," Finnegan said. "I thought that was the worst thing to happen to me in baseball. It wasn’t embarrassing. It was just sad because I knew that my career at TCU was over."
But in one sense, Finnegan’s real accomplishment was still ahead of him. Ten days after TCU's season ended, Finnegan joined the Kansas City Royals' Class-A affiliate in Wilmington, Delaware. A month after that, he moved to Northwest Arkansas, where the Royals have a Double-A team. And a month after that, as the Double-A season was coming to an end, Finnegan got called into his manager's office again. He told the story:
"He said, ‘I heard you got a new car.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m driving it home tomorrow.’
He started laughing. He goes, ‘You’re not going home. You’re going to the big leagues, kid. You just got called up.’ I was just like, ‘Wow!'"
Kansas City was in the middle of a pennant race and needed some pitching help. Finnegan went from starter to reliever and became a key contributor to the Royals’ 2014 playoff run.
"We just went on a roll," Finnegan said. "We won eight games straight in the postseason, and it was just crazy. The fans were awesome, the town was awesome. Everybody just loved us."
And then, on Oct. 25, 2014, after just seven weeks as a Major League pitcher, Brandon Finnegan made history. He became the first player in baseball history to play in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year.
Saarloos, who pitched in the big leagues from 2002 to 2008, couldn't believe what he was seeing when Finnegan took the mound in the 2014 Fall Classic.
"It was kind of surreal experience," he said. "I know it was for him. It was for me. Just a couple months prior he was in our dugout. Now, watching him on TV against the best in the world, I think I was more proud of him that day than I was for my big league debut."
For his part, Finnegan is humble and a little sheepish about his accomplishment.
"It still hasn’t hit me yet," he said. "Thank God, because I think if it did I don’t know what it would do to my head. So I mean, I ended up having a really good 2014 year. And they took my hat to the Baseball Hall of Fame, so that’s pretty cool. "
Finnegan was sent down to the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers, at the end of May. He hopes to make it back to the bigs in time to help the Royals on another postseason run.
This segment aired on June 13, 2015.