Elvis was at bat, and the Quarterback was on the mound. At least that was the way some fired-up folks in Texas saw it last Friday night when Texas A&M and the University of Texas—ranked No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, by USA Today—met in College Station in the first game of a three-game series. The sold-out series (Games 2 and 3 were played in Austin on Saturday and Sunday) was more than a battle for No. 1 in the U.S. Much more. It was for No. 1 in the state of Texas.
This showdown gave spectators the opportunity to rag their foes' best players. For Aggie fans that archenemy is Elvis, i.e., Brooks Kieschnick, who was pitching for Texas; for Longhorn backers it is the Quarterback, a.k.a. Jeff Granger, who was on the mound for A&M. Kieschnick is also Texas's most-feared slugger—he's the Longhorns' designated hitter when he isn't pitching. "Aggie fans call mc Elvis because I shake my hips," says Kieschnick, who waggles his pelvis in the batter's box before each pitch. "They whoop and holler and wave money and say, 'Here's a dollar, do it again.' They think it gets to me, but it makes me play better." With 43 career dingers, he is the Longhorns' home run king. At week's end Kieschnick, who bats lefty, was hitting .351 with 19 home runs; as a righthanded pitcher he was 12-3 with a 2.83 ERA.
Last season Kieschnick won the Dick Howser Trophy, given annually to the best college baseball player in the country. He is a candidate for the award again this year, and so is Granger. At week's end Granger, a lefty, was 12-2 with a 2.34 ERA. For the most part Granger stopped allowing opponents to hit him last November, when he played his last game as quarterback for the Aggie football team. According to Granger, there's not much difference between his current role on the rubber and his former work on the gridiron. "Basically it's the same position—you're in control," he says. When pressed, he admits, "Baseball is safer. You just have this tiny white ball coming at you. You don't have a 240-pound linebacker trying to kill you."
On Friday, the Quarterback beat Elvis, as the Aggies won the first game of the series 6-2. Granger allowed six hits and struck out 12; Kieschnick took the loss, giving up three earned runs and striking out seven in 6‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, while going hitless in three at bats. The Aggies took the second game of the series 9-1 but dropped the third 3-1, bringing their record to 47-7. After Sunday's win the Longhorns were 44-12.
Granger and Kieschnick will probably match up again in the Southwest Conference tournament next week and maybe again in the College World Series next month, but this season figures to be their last in college. Although they are juniors, they are both likely to be first-round picks in the June draft. Granger is coveted for his 90-mph fastball; in a conference that boasts such alumni as Roger Clemens, Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell, Granger holds the record for career strikeouts.
Kieschnick's arm has also been impressive, but he will be drafted for his bat. "It's so unusual to have both skills in one package," says Texas coach Cliff Gustafson. "He could be a top pick as a pitcher or as a hitter. He may be the best hitter in the country." Gustafson, in his 26th year of coaching in Austin, says college baseball hasn't seen such hitting and pitching talent in one player since outfielder-pitcher Dave Winfield led Minnesota to the 1973 College World Series.
Though Texas and A&M fans might not want to believe it, Kieschnick, who is from Corpus Christi, and Granger, who is from Orange, are friends. "We roomed together at the Olympic trials last summer," says Granger. "Though I normally want to beat him, this past summer I wanted to help him."
Kieschnick and Granger were among the last players dropped from the U.S. Olympic team. Neither player had ever been cut from a team before, and both were devastated. Kieschnick couldn't stand the thought of a few months away from the game, so he signed up for a summer league in Alaska. Granger, who had told A&M football coach R.C. Slocum that the 1991 season would be his last in pads, showed up at summer drills and won the Aggies' starting quarterback job again. After leading A&M to seven straight wins, he suffered a concussion against SMU on Oct. 31 and subsequently lost his starting role to freshman Corey Pullig.
Off the field Granger and Kieschnick are very different. Granger is the Aggies' prankster, noted for scribbling phony notes on the locker room chalkboard that direct gullible teammates to SEE COACH IMMEDIATELY! AS for Kieschnick, Gustafson says, "He's the most intense ballplayer I've ever dealt with." Keep in mind that Gustafson coached Roger Clemens.
It's anyone's guess whether Granger or Kieschnick will win the Howser award or which one will be drafted first next month. But for now it's safe to say that the Lone Star State is big enough for more than one star.
The Aggie (far left) beat the Longhorn last week, but the two should come face-to-face again.