At one time or another, every young baseball player dreams of being a Major Leaguer. Usually, somewhere along the way, the game itself lets him know that he’s gone as far as he can. That moment can come at any time. The player may be in his first year of Cal Ripken or Little League, or he might be winding up his 15th season of Minor League ball.
The game will let him know.
Then there’s the select few whose dream comes true and the game embraces them at its highest level.
The dream is still alive for Tyler Sawyer who took another step towards its fulfillment on Thursday, Jan. 15, when he signed a letter of intent to continue his baseball career under scholarship at Crowder Junior College in Neosho, Mo.[more]
“It’s the right fit for me,” said Sawyer who begins his senior season for the Bryant Hornets in mid-February. “It fits into everything that I want to do later for baseball, and that’s get to the Major Leagues. It was the coaches, the location, what (Division I) colleges look at Crowder and the fact that they’ve had nine players drafted the last five years.”
There was no doubt about his decision once he visited the school.
“I’d been to a lot of places but this one just fit perfect,” he related. “I was looking at Texarkana (Community College) pretty hard but then I visited Crowder and that was it.”
One of the advantages of a junior college is that a player can step right in and start playing a lot and that was also a factor for Sawyer, who has starred as a pitcher, an infielder and at the plate.
“I wanted to go somewhere I could get some playing time early,” he acknowledged. “I’ll try to do my best whatever I’m doing.”
For the Hornets in 2008, Sawyer, the son of Buzz and Joy Sawyer, was 5-3 with a 3.17 earned run average. In 42 innings, he struck out 47 and walked just 19. He hit in some bad luck, finishing with a .237 average but in 59 at bats only struck out seven times. He drove in 10 runs on 14 hits.
In American Legion for the Bryant Black Sox, he got it going offensively, batting .381 with just 16 strikeouts in 139 at bats. He was second on the team in doubles with 11 and drove in 38 runs. On the mound, he was 7-2 with a 3.11 ERA, fanning 49 in 47 1/3 innings with just 11 walks.
As a sophomore in high school, he hit .243 wit4h 15 RBIs on 17 hits. Hwas second on the team in innings pitched, going 1-3 with a 3.74 ERA.
That summer for the Sox team that went to the American Legion World Series, Sawyer hit .339 with just 13 strikeouts in 127 at bats and 31 runs batted in. He was 6-2 with a 1.74 earned run average, fanning 62 and walking just 26 in 60 1/3 innings.
He signed a little earlier than originally planned, as it turned out.
“I was planning on the spring (signing date) just to see what else was out there but, like I said, Crowder’s just awesome,” he said. “And I think it’s good so I can concentrate on this season. I don’t have to think about it and worry about coaches in the stands or anything. I’m just going to try to have fun. It should be a good year. Our team’s going to be awesome.”
“Crowder’s getting a tremendous two-way player,” said new Bryant Hornets head baseball coach Kirk Bock, “a guy that will pitch, probably eventually at any level, and a fantastic defensive player. He’s a workhorse in practice. I have not seen him have a bad day since I’ve been here as far as mentally. He comes to work. Now, he makes mistakes like everyone else but as far as a kid having a bad day I haven’t seen it in four months.
“He’ll probably be our ace,” Bock continued. “Right now, it’s hard to tell until we get them out there and I really see them compete but we feel like he’s going to be our go-to guy, he and (Ben) Wells. He’ll also be our shortstop when he’s not pitching.”
“He can pitch and then play a regular position and swing the bat,” concurred Black Sox manager Craig Harrison. “I think they moved him around last year in the (high school) lineup but when we got him out there, the first practice, we said you’re going to be our three hole and you’re going to stay there all season. If you hit .110, we’re not going to be very good, but you’re going to hit in the three hole. We left him there and he hit well for us, hit the ball the other way. He knows situations. With a man on second, he’ll pull the ball to get him to third with one out.”
Sawyer spread the credit for his success around. “Family, coaches, friends just pushing me in practice,” he said. “I’ve been playing since I was 4.”
He, like teammate Kaleb Jobe who recently signed with UALR, was a standout on the Bryant Little League team that gained national television notoriety by making it a win away from competing in the Little League World Series. Two years ago, he was major contributor to the Black Sox team that became just the fourth Arkansas team to reach the American Legion World Series.
Harrison pointed out Sawyer’s leadership, particularly last season.
“The first thing that comes to me is after we lost to Lake Hamilton last summer,” Harrison related. “It was a miserable game and we’d just beaten (Little Rock) Blue the night before in the biggest game of the year and the next night we laid an egg. And we crawled (the players) pretty good. On the way home, Tyler sent me a text message that said, ‘Give me the freakin’ ball. I’m going to shove it tomorrow night.’ The next night, we were playing (Little Rock) Continental (Express) and for six innings he was as good as I’ve ever seen him, just throwing it by guys and with a really good change-up.
“That’s the kind of player Crowder’s getting; the kind of guy that’s not afraid to take the ball, saying, ‘I want to be the one in charge,’” he continued. “And he’s done that so many times for us, down in the Regional a couple of years ago, he came in in the finals of the winners bracket and for four innings was just as sharp as you’ve ever seen a guy on the mound.
“He’s a great guy to be around,” Harrison concluded. “When players sign, you’re proud of all of them but I really enjoy coaching Tyler, the way he comes to the ballpark ready to beat somebody.”