Over the years, Texas first baseman Ivan Melendez collected baseballs that held special significance in his career.
Most of the baseballs in Melendez’s collection were collected during his youth. He did, however, add some memories during this season. Melendez recovered the baseball he hit for his 10th home run on March 22. He also won his 20th home run ball.
The baseball that turned into Melendez’s 28th homer of the season is also in his possession. That home run — smashed in No. 22 Texas’ 8-1 win over Kansas at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Friday — tied Kyle Russell’s school record.
“I feel really honored and feel like I’ve accomplished something,” Melendez said. “The job is not done. We still have playoffs, we still have a game tomorrow.”
After:As Ivan Melendez closes in on Texas history, Kyle Russell ‘can’t wait to kick off the baton’
Friday, the first round was not lacking in action. Trey Faltine converted a double play to pull Texas out of a goal-laden jam in the first half of the inning. When UT had their turn to walk away, Eric Kennedy went deep and Skyler Messinger launched a run against his former team.
But the biggest highlight belonged to Melendez.
After working a 2-0 count, Melendez hammered a Cole Larson offering to the berm beyond the fence in left field. The 453-foot blast matched the school standard set by Russell in 2007.
“I kind of earned myself a pitch to drive and I didn’t miss it,” Melendez said. “He threw a fastball to me in the area, which is (one of) the few I had all night.”
The record circuit ended up in the hands of Melendez’s cousin. Chaz Jiron said he tried to catch the historic home run with his bare hands, but the ball ricocheted away from him. Jiron began to barter with the father of the child who eventually ended up with baseball, but a bribe was unnecessary because “he was a good player at it. He knew he was my cousin”.
“It meant the world to me (to get that ball),” Jiron said. “Being part of my cousin making history meant everything to me.”
After:Ivan Melendez and Mitchell Daly hit remarkable home runs as No. 22 Texas crushes Kansas
In Friday’s win over the Jayhawks, Melendez wasn’t the only Longhorn to homer. Kennedy went deep twice. Austin Todd hit a baseball that landed in the same area as Melendez’s record shot.
Kennedy had not played at home since March 25. The veteran outfielder missed nine games last month after suffering a hamstring injury against Oklahoma on April 2.
“I was very lucky because I’ve never really been hurt in my life,” Kennedy said. “When it first happened it sucked, then I came back and it happened again so it really sucked. I had great support staff…they got me back as soon as possible , so that was great.”
Texas reinstated Kennedy to the roster this week. Kennedy played five innings in Tuesday’s game against Sam Houston State. He worked another five-inning shift on Thursday. On Friday, Kennedy played all nine innings.
Game key: Before Texas took their 3-0 lead, Kansas was about to strike first. In the first inning, Kansas charged after scoring two runs and cleanup hitter Nolan Metcalf was hit by a pitch.
Texas pitcher Lucas Gordon escaped unscathed when he coaxed Caleb Upshaw out of Caleb Upshaw. Faltine lined up the grounder, walked to second base, and fired the baseball to first base to complete the end-inning double play.
Gordon then pitched six innings. He allowed five hits and a run. With the win, Gordon improved his record to 6-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.55.
Notable number: 7. Seven Longhorns – Melendez, Kennedy, Messinger, Faltine, Murphy Stehly, Silas Ardoin and Dylan Campbell – have now had a multi-home run game this season. Melendez has gone deep twice in six different games. In addition to a two-homerun outing at Texas Tech, Stehly tied a school record in March when he hit three home runs against Incarnate Word.
Following: Texas (38-17, 13-10 Big 12) and Kansas (20-34, 4-19) wrap up their series at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. After this game, Texas will begin preparing for the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. Saturday marks KU’s final game of the season.
Texas will be either the fifth or sixth seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament. The Longhorns are tied for fifth in the conference standings with West Virginia (32-20, 13-10). Texas holds the tiebreaker against West Virginia, which ends its regular season against Kansas State.