E.A. Sports Today

‘Joy and purpose’

Familiar with Oxford’s baseball program, Janssen comes with Case’s urging, ready to feel a home again with his new dugout command

Cover photo: New Oxford baseball coach Travis Janssen, shown during his time as Austin Peay State University’s head coach, comes eager to return to the dugout. (Austin Peay State University photo)

The smells of infield dirt and finely cut grass, added to glove pops and spike crackles on a dugout floor, never leave the baseball mind. They just grow faint with time away.

Joe Medley, Editor

Travis Janssen has spent more than a year missing the sensory mix of earthly heaven, apportioned in the proximity and regularity he’s known through a lifetime of playing and coaching. The call to command another dugout came like a high and flat fastball.

“I’m ready to get back,” Oxford High’s new head baseball coach said. “The way I say it, as officially as I can say it, there’s no place that I’m more comfortable than on a baseball field.”

Choccolocco Park’s signature field, meet Travis Janssen. 

Travis Janssen, meet Choccolocco Park’s signature field, home of the reigning Alabama Class 6A state champion.

The home dugout has needed a new skipper since Wes Brooks moved into administration after 18 years of sights and sounds, mixed in a swirl of black, gold, green and brown.

Janssen has needed a dugout to call home since the aloof business side of coaching turned on him 40 games into Austin Peay State University’s 2022 season, not long after the school announced a move from the Ohio Valley Conference to the ASUN.

Janssen spent quite a few years in his happy place, including two stints in Jim Case’s dugout at Jacksonville State University. Janssen won 273 games while a head coach, earning a move up from NCAA Division II along the way. 

Once in Division I, he restored a program to respectability. He sent expectations to bat in Clarksville. Fair to say, they got on base, but expectations can take time to round the bases. 

Conference changes come with impatience and rarely come with sports like baseball in mind. Sports other than football and basketball just have to adapt on the fly.

Janssen showed he can coach in college. There’s every reason to think he can keep expectations rounding the bases in high school, though creciendo seasons like 2023 historically come only so often for Oxford. The program went 11 years between school-record, 39-win seasons, complete with matching 6A state tiles.

Janssen will have to retool after nine seniors, including five college signees, graduated.

Then again, Oxford has a college feel. Janssen saw that much when he toured the school’s new Champions Athletic Center, a good-but-new problem big enough that Oxford needed Brooks’ full-time help managing it.

“I was very familiar with the program,” he said. “I knew they were the best program in the area, so all of that, but then coming here and seeing the facilities and what they’ve done here, some of the facilities they have here are nicer than collegiate facilities.

“That part, it just really surprised me on what the commitment level was.”

Oxford had a lot to woo and sell a college coach.

Janssen’s hunger for the pitch came after a year-plus of giving lessons at an all-sports academy, traveling to learn this and that from other coaches and programs and looking for the next dugout command. He said he interviewed for jobs but nothing that justified moving his family with daughter Avery now a freshman at Vanderbilt University.

So, how did the Janssen-Oxford match come about? As one might guess, his now-retired Jax State boss started sending signals his and Oxford’s way.

“Coach Case was at a Braves game,” Janssen said. “Coach Case called me and said, ‘Hey, have you thought about this Oxford High baseball job?’”

Janssen learned of Brooks’ move on social media but hadn’t given it much thought before that conversation with Case.

“He said, ‘Boy, I hear it’s a really good situation,’” Janssen said. “He said, ‘I hear the athletics director (Larry Davidson) is incredible.’”

That was enough to get Janssen to apply, then he started hearing from Oxford people. 

“I think Coach Case probably planted my name,” Janssen said. 

Janssen’s application “sat for a while,” he said, and he began to suspect that Oxford had chosen someone else. The call for an interview came on a Saturday. He interviewed the following Wednesday, Sept. 13, and the Oxford City School Board approved his hiring six days later.

“I went super fast, once the interview happened,” Janssen said.

What kind of coach will Janssen be at Oxford? Clues likely come from their mutual connection.

Janssen called Case “consistent,” a boss “who gave me a lot of leash.”

Even when Case wasn’t initially sold on certain recruits, he erred on the side of trusting Janssen. More of those recruits than not worked out.

“He let me make mistakes,” Janssen said. “He helped me correct them. ….

“It’s a blessing to be around him. He’s the biggest mentor I have in coaching, but then also he’s impacted me just as a family person, as much as anybody has, with the exception of my parents, that I’ve come in contact with, so I owe so much to him. We have a really neat friendship, and he’s a person that I call if I need advice.”

Expect to see Case at Oxford games … no longer to recruit, but to watch his protege. Consider Case a presence, added to sights and smells that make a baseball mind’s earthly heaven feel just so.

“Just being on a field and being part of a team and helping lead that team,, that’s where I find a lot of joy and purpose,” Janssen said.”I’m very excited to get back on the field and in the dugout.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login