STILLWATER — Aaron Cornell looks at Saulyer Saxon and sees someone strikingly familiar.
Someone a lot like … him, only in reverse.
“I look at Saulyer as my left-handed twin,” said Cornell, the right-handed version of a modest Oklahoma State outfield platoon. “Saulyer does a lot of the same things I do, but from the left side.
“We kind of work in unison. We’re not on the field at the same time, but we take each other’s part. We’re one player, a switch-hitting player that can play outfield, hit at the top of the lineup, can bunt and do the same things.”
While true, those are but the details in assessing the overriding Saxon-Cornell impact on the team.
As seniors dealing with part-time roles, these co-op Cowboys have influenced the nation’s No. 6-ranked club most with their unselfishness. And not only in relation to each other, but in sharing time with youngsters within a roster bursting with evolving talent.
“They’ve given countless moments,” said OSU coach Josh Holliday. “Whether I pinch-hit for one of them in a tough situation – and I know they’d rather hit – they give way to the other player and they immediately turn and root for the other player
“Just the fact that they get it, and the overall performance of our team means more than their individual moments, I’m lucky. We’re lucky – there’s no I – we’re lucky. Personally, I appreciate them for that.”
Saxon has started 32 of OSU’s 51 games and played in 47. Cornell has 12 starts, with appearances in 30 games. Their stats are solid, not spectacular, even when combined.
And yet, each is considered a vital piece of a Cowboys club that stands 38-13 overall and 16-5 in the conference, in position to claim the program’s first Big 12 regular-season championship heading into this week’s Bedlam series.
Vital as contributors on the field, yes.
Vital, too, in the locker room and dugout and elsewhere.
“Saulyer Saxon asked me if he could room with (freshman) Ryan Sluder and help him grow up and teach him about college baseball and get him ready for his roles,” Holliday said. “Little things like that may seem trivial, but man, in the big picture they’re everything.
“They lead to tradition and relationships.”
Saxon stood anxiously in the back of the room when Holliday was announced as coach in the summer of 2012. He bought in immediately when Holliday heavily emphasized the concept of unity and team. And all that might have been easier a year ago, when Saxon was a fixture in center field, except he’s still all in.
“I think Cornell and I are in the same boat,” Saxon said, ”in that whatever the team needs, we’ll do.”
Said Cornell: “I’m not about me playing, I’m about us winning.”
Saxon hails from Shawnee, and Cornell is a Roff boy. Both claim those Okie roots in recognizing what OSU once was — and seems to be building toward again — as a factor in their unselfish motives to help restore the program.
Still, in today’s age of me-first attitudes and rampant transferring, such attitudes are rare.
“It’s almost extinct,” Holliday said. “It’s a compliment to their parents, having raised them to believe in a group and to wait for their turn. I couldn’t tell you how much it starts there, that underlying belief in a group, and it grows. And it’s reaching deep within our team.
“For young freshmen players who maybe aren’t getting their chance yet, who came in with expectations, to look to the side and see how these guys handle the situation… then by gosh, if those guys handle it in a mature way, then I better, too.
“That’s just a small example of what those kids mean. Not just how they play, but also how they’ve helped grow our team and helped it grow. And now that’s the strength of our team. The strength of our team is every single guy has a role.”