Some of the best pitchers in baseball come from the State of Texas. Whether that’s because of the hearty weather or the frying pan sized steaks eaten by its citizens, the correlation is a mystery. Right-hander Travis Driskill was among that group. Although he didn’t win 200 games in his career or garner consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he enjoyed a lengthy professional career that took him a lot further than many ever get.
Born in 1971, Driskill attended L.C. Anderson High School in Austin before going on to Blinn College (Brenham, Texas) and then Texas Tech. He was drafted twice after high school graduation but stuck with college, hoping to improve his stock as a prospect.
In 1993, he was taken in the fourth round by the Cleveland Indians. He spent eight years in their organization, a brief stint in Japan and another two in the minors for the Houston Astros, yet never made the majors despite solid numbers year in and year out.
His big break came following the 2001 season when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. The 2002 squad was a putrid 67-95 and had issues with its starting rotation, which created an opening for the then 30-year-old. He appeared in 29 games (19 starts) and acquitted himself admirably, going 8-8 with a 4.95 ERA.
That was to be the biggest opportunity of his career. He pitched in parts of four other major league seasons with Baltimore, the Colorado Rockies and the Astros but never got himself a permanent gig, and retired as a player following the 2007 season. In 57 career games (19 starts), he was a combined 11-14 with a 5.23 ERA and a save. He also won 97 games and had a 4.03 ERA in parts of 15 minor league seasons. More information about his career statistics is available at BaseballReference.com.
Perhaps Driskill’s best major league game was a start on June 5, 2002 against David Wells and the New York Yankees. In that contest, the righty went a career-high 7.2 innings in beating the portly southpaw 4-3. Not a bad highlight for a career!
Since his playing days ended, Driskill has coached, done some announcing and most importantly been a parent. Earlier this year, he took some time to answer questions about his career.
Travis Driskill Interview:
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Kirby Puckett- Just loved the passion and excitement that he brought to the game. Favorite moment was Game 6 of the 1991 World Series when he helped the team to Game 7 with his defense and the obvious home run off of (Charlie) Leibrandt.
Can you describe your draft experience(s)?: Drafted three times. 76th round by the Astros out of high school; 11th round by the Angels out of Blinn Junior College; fourth round (by the Indians) out of Texas Tech, which was 1993. The draft for me was always about improving my position for a higher bonus.
What pitches did you throw, and which was your out pitch?: I threw a standard mix of pitches. Fastball- two and four-seam, curveball, slider and split. The split was my out pitch and by the time I reached the majors it was probably the only pitch that would have been graded just above average on the 20-80 scale.
As a pitcher who had a good deal of success in the minors, was it frustrating that it took nine years to reach the majors?: I would like to have made the big leagues sooner but as I reflect on my career, had I made it earlier I might have had a shorter overall career because on the day I got called up, I can honestly say I was ready. But had it happened sooner, I do not believe I would have been prepared to handle it. Now when I think about where I am today, I know I got the most out of myself and I like where my life is headed, so I can say it and be truthful that I did not have many frustrations.
What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: I have two. The first would probably be striking out Derek Jeter three times in one game. The thing that made it cool was the fact that Derek was my oldest son’s favorite player.
The second was facing Barry Bonds. After having spent nine seasons in the minors, I had nothing to lose in facing Barry. I made my mind up that if I got to pitch to him I would attack him in and with fastballs. So, this is 2002 and he hit 73 home runs the year before. On the day he was oh-for-two with a walk off me, and the walk was not intentional but just a good at-bat.
What was your experience pitching in Japan like?: I was 26 when I went, and not ready to handle the rigors of being overseas and being in a big league type of environment. I wish it would have worked out better because of the financials, but like everything in life things work out for a reason, and I chalk it up to a learning experience. I was able to learn the split-finger fastball over there and bring it back, which helped me get to the majors.
Who was your most influential coach or manager?: Jim Hickey probably had the most influence because I learned who I was as a pitcher under him, and so I believe he was the one who put the final polish on me, which allowed me to be ready for my call-up the next year.
The coach I admire the most and would run through fire for is Burt Hooton. Burt had a way of putting things that made the most sense to me and he never worried about what others thought because he knew in his heard he was right, and in my experience he was right about 99.9 percent of the time.
What are you up to since retiring as a player?: After my career was done in 2007, I got right into coaching with the Astros and did that for four years, coaching all over the Astros’ system except Triple-A.
At the end of 2011, I was let go by the Astros for what I believe was me being the round peg trying to fit in a square hole. I have no ill will for being let go because now I watch my two sons and their athletic endeavors, which is a whole lot more fulfilling than coaching. I work with my dad as well, and do some color analyst for the Round Rock Express on the radio. Maybe when the kids are out of the house, I might try to pursue another coaching job, but not in the near future.
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