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Chris Cortez

Texas A&M righty Chris Cortez matures into star

Chris Cortez blossoms with maturity, confidence

Chris Cortez has grown tremendously since he made a cameo at the 2022 College World Series as a freshman. Texas A&M’s hard-throwing righthander is more mature physically and, perhaps more importantly, mentally.

He’s not in Omaha, Neb., to enjoy the experience. He’s expected to play a crucial role for the No. 3-seeded Aggies at the College World Series.

“This year I’m not just going to be excited,” said Cortez, one of four Aggies who will be the first players in school history to appear in two College World Series. “I want to win.  That’s a mindset switch. I’m going to win. That’s what I want to do. It’s not a vacation for me like I kind of felt it was my freshman year.”

Cortez capped a whirlwind freshman year two years ago in Omaha. He visited Texas A&M and its baseball stadium for the first time only a few days before enrolling in classes. Cortez was lured to A&M by pitching coach Nate Yeskie, the man who had garnered his initial commitment to the University of Arizona out of Las Vegas.

Chris Cortez always had Omaha in mind

After Yeskie bolted from Arizona to join Jim Schlossnagle’s initial coaching staff at Texas A&M, Cortez followed. Once on campus to begin his freshman year, Cortez toured Blue Bell Park and pointed at a sign that read “Omaha” at the end of a hallway. In that moment, he proudly declared his goal for the year and his A&M career.

Cortez, who can hit 100-mph with his fastball, struggled with his control as a freshman and even as a sophomore. He was baptized on a trip to the Dominican Republic around the Christmas holiday as a sophomore, beginning a spiritual journey that has defined him off the field. On the field, he has also changed his mindset.

“I’ve grown a ton,” he says. “My stuff has gotten better, but my mind has taken so many steps forward. I’m like my own biggest fan when I’m out pitching.”

Cortez refined the control on his blistering fastball and his slider. He also worked diligently on his focus. Before his sophomore season, he wrote “ACE” under the bill of his Texas A&M baseball caps.

‘ACE’ mentality

“ACE” reminded him that acting changes everything. Even when he wasn’t feeling 100 percent, he tried to act as though he felt 100 percent. He essentially vowed to fake it until he made it.

Unfortunately for Cortez, you cannot fake control. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder was 3-1 with a 7.34 ERA with 40 walks and 39 strikeouts over 41 ⅔ innings in 16 appearances as a sophomore.

Those stats were startling considering he walked only 13 and struck out 32 over 44 innings while posting a 4.91 ERA while earning a spot on the SEC’s All-Freshman team in 2022. He began his sophomore season in the starting rotation. He started only six games, though, before finishing in the bullpen.

COLLEGE STATION, TX – June 08, 2024 – Pitcher Chris Cortez #10 of the Texas A&M Aggies during the NCAA Super Regional game between the Oregon Ducks and the Texas A&M Aggies at Blue Bell Park in College Station, TX. Photo By Ethan Mito/Texas A&M Athletics

Cortez has blossomed under new pitching coach Max Weiner. Cortez is 9-3 with a 2.83 ERA, striking out an impressive 89 batters with only 29 walks over 57 ⅓ innings as a long reliever.

“Chris has really done well,” A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “It’s good to see him confident, positive, believing in himself. Chris is a guy that cares. Sometimes he over-cares. He wants to please so much that if he just makes a little bit of a mistake in his previous days he would let that snowball into something else.

“And now he’s truly playing pitch-to-pitch. Doesn’t look at the scoreboard, doesn’t worry about the last pitch. He is focused on the next pitch. He’s matured a lot.”

Key piece to A&M’s arsenal

Even though he didn’t earn All-America status, he was one of the Aggies’ most important pieces this season. After A&M’s ace was knocked out early in Game 1 of the Super Regional, Cortez struck out a career high 10 over 5 ⅔ scoreless innings of relief last Saturday to beat Oregon.

He has tried to remain positive, have fun and remain “neutral.” In other words, he doesn’t get too high nor too low. “ACE” is still written on the bill of his caps. He also talks to himself on the mound.

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“I throw in more positives like, ‘I’m the best in the country,’” he says. “I have a target, and I’m screaming those thoughts in my head. It keeps my mind off of negative talk.”

Cortez was the SEC co-Pitcher of the Week on April 16 after striking out 15 batters over 8 ⅓ scoreless innings in relief combined against UT-San Antonio and Vanderbilt. He has fanned at least eight batters at least five times this year, including three times against SEC foes Arkansas, Florida and Vanderbilt.

Focus is crucial for Chris Cortez

He struck out eight Razorbacks over three innings of relief. Cortez had eight strikeouts against the Gators over four innings. He threw 4 ⅓ innings while striking out eight Vanderbilt Commodores. Then he set his new career record in the Super Regionals. 

“Last year he put a lot of pressure on himself,” Carlos Cortez says of his son Chris. “This year’s he’s just going with it. … Physically he was fine. It was mental. He had to learn that aspect of the game to be able to control his emotions.”

Chris Cortez focuses on the hitter’s chest and then lets the pitch do its job when he throws his breaking ball. No matter what’s going on around him or how loud the stadium is, Cortez tries to remain at ease. 

“I’m super calm in my head,” he says. “I don’t even remember the crowd. I feed off the crowd from just adrenaline, but I’m so locked in that the crowd doesn’t mean as much.

“Before I would allow the energy from the stadium and everything to make me so amped. It would make my mind clutter and just speed me up instead of just being chill.”

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