How Taylor Travess carved out a starting spot with his hometown team
The drive from Springfield High School to PK Park is a short one: By Google Maps’ calculations, it’s just a six minute connecting drive from Centennial Boulevard onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
But for Oregon junior Taylor Travess, the journey was much, much longer.
Travess, a former three-sport star at Springfield, has become a mainstay in the starting lineup for Oregon baseball after arriving in the fall uncertain whether he’d see an inning of playing time. To get there, it took two years in a wood-bat junior college league and a summer of hopping fences just to get access to a batting cage.
“I always wanted to play at Oregon,” Travess said. “Even as a little kid in the backyard, I wore an Oregon jersey. I went to every Oregon football game growing up. I’ve always wanted to be a Duck. They never showed interest in me in high school, so I didn’t know if that was ever going to happen. So I had to walk into the office and demand for it to happen.”
Most of Travess’ scholarship offers coming out of high school were for football — he was an all-state wide receiver for the Millers in 2013 — but he was confident that if he carved a spot on a baseball roster somewhere, he would be able to improve and make it to the Division-I level.
That team ended up being at Mt. Hood Community College, a perennial league-title contender in the Northwest Athletic Conference. He played almost every game during his two-year stay with the Saints and hit a respectable .295 during his sophomore year in a league that is notoriously heavy on pitching talent.
“It was hard,” Travess said. “The program at Mt. Hood is tough. It’s gritty. That’s just the way it is. You work hard to win, and if you lose, you’re a failure. It creates a winning mentality, and that’s why I enjoyed being there. I mean, living in Gresham wasn’t fun. Playing community college baseball wasn’t ideally what I wanted to do. But I learned so much there; it made me such a better baseball player, and I love every bit of it.”
Travess initially received offers from Central Florida and Marshall University after his sophomore year, but his own hesitation to pick a location left him without a scholarship by the time summer came around.
Rather than move to the other side of the country to walk on to a team, he decided to take a shot at walking on with the team he grew up watching.
But even during the summer, while many Oregon players were taking cuts in the Cape Cod League, Travess was without a team. He had a 10-day stint with the Corvallis Knights and filled in the gaps by playing non-league games for his former American Legion team, the Willamette Valley Titans. But in-game chances that are crucial for development were still scarce.
He took to self-training during his time off the field.
“You jump the fence at Springfield High School and pull out a tee and hit,” Travess said. “That’s the only thing I really could have done.”
The same bellicose attitude that got him through those summer days was enough to earn him a walk-on spot with the Ducks. Travess plays with a certain edge to his game that makes for some uneasy moments in the outfield but also helped him jump straight from the NWAC to the Pac-12 in less than a year.
Travess joined the Oregon roster in the fall and played almost exclusively as a late-inning defensive replacement early in the spring. But by early April, Horton was experimenting with different lineups to try to shake away Oregon’s offensive struggles. He inserted Travess into the No. 8 spot in the lineup on April 7, and Travess went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a triple. Since then, he’s been in the starting lineup almost every day and owns a .254 batting average, good for fifth-best on the team.
“I didn’t even know I was going to be here until a week before the whole thing started,” Travess said. “So for [coach Jay Ulhman] and Horton to give me the chance to even put the uniform on in the fall is a blessing. I’m just trying to make sure I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Follow Jarrid Denney on Twitter @jarrid_denney