As a freshman, junior pitcher Glenn Otto wasn’t sure how much playing time he would get. The Rice baseball team was stacked with talented upperclassmen pitchers and Otto wondered if he was going to get any innings. However, in an opening day matchup against the University of Texas, Austin Longhorns, Otto was called on in relief and struck out the side of the sixth best team in the nation in his collegiate debut to prove his spot among the best in college baseball. Recently named a preseason All-American, Otto said despite the 3-1 loss to Texas, his first taste of college baseball is his most memorable moment as an Owl.

“That feeling of being on the field for the first time at Reckling —I got a taste of what college baseball was all about and how to succeed as a pitcher,” Otto said.

The native Houstonian said his baseball career began as a toddler when his dad would routinely sit him in a high chair in front of Astros games on the TV, and continued when he joined T-ball as a four-year-old.

“I have some videos of [my T-ball days] and they were pretty ugly,” Otto said. “Good thing I’ve gotten better since those days.”

Last season, Otto threw 71.2 innings and recorded a 2.26 ERA while racking up eight saves and nine wins in a league high 33 relief appearances. According to Otto, the best performance of his life came last season in a 1-0 win against University of Texas, San Antonio.

“I came in the seventh inning [and] ended up facing 10 batters and striking out eight,” Otto said. “I threw a lot of strikes and commanded the zone really well. Spot the fastball well and throw off of that — I felt like I did that exceptionally well.”

Head coach Wayne Graham said Otto’s performance last year was strong enough to make him the team’s most valuable player of the 2016 season.

“He has an above average fastball and arguably one of the best curveballs in college baseball,” Graham said. “When he’s throwing strikes, he’s incredibly effective, and most of last year, he did throw strikes.”

Otto’s effectiveness culminated in the opportunity to play for Baseball USA’s 2016 Collegiate National Team. Team USA went 11-7-1 overall, including 7-7 in international play, which included series in Taiwan, Japan and Cuba. Although Otto had a 9.64 ERA in 4.2 innings pitched, he said he was very thankful for the once-in-a lifetime experience.

Otto said that he enjoyed the atmosphere of Cuba the best, a country where he was fortunate enough to return to as an Owl in late November.

“I felt like I really got a complete experience over there and that’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Otto said. “It’s just nice to know what it’s like over there and how nice we have it over here. We take things for granted. You get back here and you start to be a lot more thankful for your family, the resources, and all the opportunities you get. I feel that was a huge blessing I was given.”

Otto, who compares himself to pitcher Will Harris of the Astros, will look to continue his stellar performance as a preseason All-American. He is one of only two relief pitchers nationwide who received this accolade. Otto said he is thankful but does not give it high importance.

“It’s always nice to get individual honors,” Otto said. “I felt like I’ve put in a lot of work to get to this point, but at the end of the day, that’s not why I’m playing the game. I’m playing the game to get us back to Omaha and to help my teammates out the best I can.”

The road to Omaha, the site of the College World Series, begins on Feb. 17 in Austin when the Owls take on the Longhorns to open the season. The night before, Otto said that he will probably be participating in his only pregame ritual: eating pasta.

“I like to always eat a lot of pasta the night before a game,” Otto said. “Big carb load — try to get some energy for when I’m out there.”

A few hours before game time, Otto said he will probably be listening to “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC or “Jukebox Hero” by Foreigner, preferring country or classic rock over hip hop. True to his word, Otto’s walkup song this year is a classic country song: “Fireman” by George Strait. According to Otto, he chose the song not only because he likes the song, but also because it is symbolic of his role on the team.

“In my role that I’m in, I’m honestly trying to put out as many fires as I can,” Otto said. “I’m going to be there, try to keep the offense off balance, and try to put out whatever fire they try to start.”

Otto’s ability to put out the fire will be instrumental in Rice’s success this year, and Otto said that regardless of the results, he will keep his head down and continue working.

“If you have a bad day or a good day, you always love the game,” Otto said. “The bad days get you stronger and the good days keep you humble. Just try to keep it going as long as I can and when God tells me it’s time to hang ‘em up, then it’s time to hang ‘em up. But until then, I’ll try to compete with everybody and beat everybody I can.”