SPOTLIGHT: Buchhorn goes from manager to RBI machine

Thursday, April 14, 2016
by Wes Bloomquist ||

TYLER – Trenton Buchhorn was washing uniforms, keeping stats and dragging the field as a freshman and hitting fungo and throwing batting practice for the next two years. After a tryout at Tyler Junior College didn’t result in a roster spot, Buchhorn suddenly became a former player and could have abandoned baseball all together. Instead, he humbled himself and stayed involved in the game by working as a manager and a student coach.

For three years following high school, Buchhorn went to the baseball field knowing he’d never play in a game for the Apaches. He also went there every day with the drive, determination and dream to one day play the game again.

“At first it was really hard seeing the guys out there on the field that I knew I could compete with,” Buchhorn said. “I always felt that I was as good as they were but I accepted my role. I was going to do everything I could to help the TJC baseball program on a daily basis. There were times I really thought playing was over for me. I could have never imagined doing what I’m doing today.”

Because of that decision as a young kid to see the big picture, take on non-playing tasks and remaining positive, Buchhorn now finds himself in the midst of producing one of the top UT Tyler and American Southwest Conference seasons at the plate with 39 RBI and a .368 average. His production includes 13 doubles, five triples, three home runs and having at least one hit in 26 of 29 games this season. He comes into this weekend’s series against Ozarks having produced an RBI in 11 straight games including a career-best five RBI in a win over Texas-Dallas and 22 RBI over that streak.

“It’s incredible because of the amount of time that he was away from the game and then he comes out here and puts up the numbers he’s putting up,” UT Tyler head coach Chris Bertrand said. “He’s such a productive player. There’s no way to really know, but there can’t be too many players in the country who can take three years away baseball and then have the season he’s having right now. The reason he’s successful is easy to know though. He puts in the work. He’s having the season he is having because of the work ethic he brings to the park every day. It’s impressive.”

Buchhorn, who had five RBI and five hits in last weekend’s three-game series at Belhaven, had not played baseball for three years after high school when he decided that he still wanted to return to the field – not as a manager or coach, but as a collegiate baseball player.

“My roommates at TJC, Reese Read and Cody Brown, helped push me to get motivated and start playing again,” Buchhorn said. “They didn’t want me to quit and just kept telling me to try. They knew how bad I wanted to play again. I started working out with them and hitting every day not knowing if I’d ever get an opportunity somewhere. My mindset was to work my butt off and earn that opportunity. I really just wanted to be on the field again.”

The next step involved finding a program that would give him a chance and asking TJC head coach Doug Wren to reach out to Bertrand about giving a student manager/coach who hadn’t played since high school an opportunity to play for the Patriots.

“As Trent continued to learn by watching during his time here, he also developed physically as well,” Wren said. “He put on some good weight and probably grew another inch or two.  I think he was just a late bloomer and needed an extra year or two to get his game college ready. Trent was able to watch a lot of good hitters over his stint here and he was able to hit a lot of fungo that I think helped shape his swing.”

That swing from the left-side of the plate which is now producing 1.34 RBI per game was on display for Bertrand and the Patriots staff during a tryout that Buchhorn nailed. After not making the TJC roster three years prior, Buchhorn earned himself an opportunity to wear a UT Tyler uniform instead of washing them. Though he never played for the Apaches and had not competed since his senior year at Arlington Martin, Buchhorn had helped a TJC program in various roles that won back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association Division III National Championships and racked up an 83-25 record over the two seasons he was a student coach. He developed physically for three years, but also built a firmer grasp of the game mentally. He would work with Wren and the coaching staff during the week and during games was in the press box keeping stats with Dr. Jon Groth right next to him broadcasting the games. Groth, who coached for 30 years including as the Apaches head coach for 17 seasons where he won 461 games, talked baseball with Buchhorn during those three seasons in the TJC press box and now watches him hit as he broadcasts home games at UT Tyler.

“It's really hard to remain motivated and actually improve your game when you're not actively involved in playing regularly,” Groth said. “For Trent to do so says so much about his work ethic and drive to get back on the field. As I've watched him this spring, he's shown a good ability to wait for a pitch he can handle. When he gets it, he's been aggressive and has put a lot of good swings on the ball so far. I've been impressed with his consistency. Baseball is a game of ups and downs and he has been quite consistent throughout the season, which isn't easy to do.”

In his first season at UT Tyler, Buchhorn’s .368 batting average is second on the team behind only Alex Bishop who enters this week with a blistering .428 average. The pair of left-handed hitters have 43 hits each and are providing a strong punch in middle of the lineup with Buchhorn, who has hit in the five-spot the majority of the season, leads the ASC with his 39 RBI and a .397 average with runners in scoring position. In the field he has played 16 games at third base, nine at second and four at shortstop this season and he leads the Patriots with 14 multi-hit games and 11 multi-RBI performances. He started his season with a seven-game hitting streak and also had a season-best 11-game hitting streak. He's currently reached base in 21 straight games.

“I think what helped me the most is being able to see the game from a different side other than from just being a player,” said Buchhorn, who is focused on playing right now but plans on pursuing a coaching career. “I really see hitting differently now. There’s an approach you have to take up there with you and my time in different roles helped me to see what I see now. You have to know what your job is all the time.”

Bertrand, Wren and Groth all agree that a large part of Buchhorn’s success this season has come through him gaining a viewpoint that comes when you’ve seen the game from another angle. Buchhorn obtained that perspective over the course of time at TJC where he was stating, coaching, listening, watching and maybe more than anything – missing the game. The studying of baseball included watching the Apache players take an approach to the plate that resulted in hits and runs while he was in the press box envisioning himself taking the ball the other way on an outside pitch and bringing in runners with timely situational hitting. Talking with Groth and Wren on a daily basis, he was learning the game in a way that most players rarely receive until after their career is over and is now putting that knowledge to use.

“Trent was patient and was a sponge during the next two years which I think was a huge factor in his playing development,” Wren said. “He was also able to see what works for a hitter and what doesn’t by watching his peers compete. He was able to take all that knowledge and apply it to his game once that time came. Trent’s success doesn’t surprise us at all. The time was right for Trent and now he’s reaping the benefits of a lot of reps, patience, and now an opportunity.”

There is not record-keeping for the NCAA for game streaks, so there is no record comparison for Buchhorn’s 11-game RBI streak to go from but to put it into perspective the Major League Baseball record is 17 games. A first baseman for the Chicago Cubs named Ray Grimes established that record back in 1922 which is still standing today. The New York Times wrote an article about the RBI streak when Mike Piazza threatened it but ultimately fell short at 13 games in the 2000 season. As the article explains, an RBI streak is harder than a hitting streak because of all the intangibles. Buchhorn has accomplished his streak with hits in 10 of 11 games with a sacrifice fly against LeTourneau producing a run in his only non-hit game during the streak. He’s hit two homers during the streak meaning he needed teammates to be on base during the other nine games to keep it going. Of course, he also needed to be clutch and drive them in which he is doing.

The odds against Buchhorn’s RBI streak are incredibly minuet, but at the same time, him playing collegiate baseball after three years of washing clothes, dragging the field, stating games and being listed as a TJC manger and student coach is an improbable accomplishment on its own.

“I’ve wanted this for so long that I come out here every day to work as hard as I can and not take a single second for granted,” Buchhorn said. “I’m in the cages before and after practice because I love it. Nothing is going to stop me from working to get better because I know what it’s like to not be playing.”