From the dizzying highs of getting drafted to the terrifying lows of being released, the road to the majors is a tough one. 44 sports reporter Joe Downs has the story of one Otter who has learned to roll with the punches on his journey.
“If you just go through it enough, you kind of get used to it,” said Otters RHP Tyler Vail.
They say ‘With age comes wisdom’ and at 27 years old, Tyler Vail has gained plenty of wisdom, as well as experience. The burly right-hand pitcher was drafted out high school by Oakland, spent five years in the Athletics farm system, only to be cut loose at 22. However, Tyler rolled with the punches, getting a new lease on his baseball life with the Otters, and eventually earning himself a contract with the Diamondbacks. But two years later, the Easton, Pennsylvania native is back in Evansville, once again rolling with the punches.
“My dad’s always told me, ‘You’ve just got to be mentally tough,’ because life’s not easy. Especially in baseball, where it’s a game of failure, honestly. If you can just act like nothing’s happened, if you pitch good or you pitch bad, just stay the same person. In the end, it just all falls together.”
And fellow Easton, PA native and manager Andy McCauley is more than willing to help get Tyler get another shot at the Bigs.
“First and foremost, he’s a quality individual,” said Otters Manager Andy McCauley. “You know, just a real good kid that wants to win and wants to work hard every day and that goes a long way with me.”
“I think what keeps bringing me back is the coaching staff,” said Vail. “They’re so good and they’re so up front. They’re personable. You can talk with them about anything, not just baseball. And always, just the group of guys they bring in, it’s always so much fun with them. And it’s hard to stay away. I mean, I’m trying to stay here as long as I can.”
Now Tyler’s first season back with the Otters was a bit of a struggle, going 3-4 with a 4.33 earned run average, ultimately landing him in the bullpen at the start of 2019. However, just like the proverbial rubber ball, Vail has bounced back, thriving in the starting rotation, highlighted by setting the franchise’s all-time strikeout record earlier this year.
“When I came into the starting role, I kind of just relaxed and have fun. Honestly, didn’t really care what happened, I just let my natural ability take over. And I think I’ve done a lot better and I’ve given them a chance to win every time I pitch. So, that’s all I can ask for. If I go out there and the game, whether we’re winning or losing, but the game is close, that’s all I can really do.”
Now Tyler has certainly demonstrated he is deserving of another shot with a major league club. However, after nine seasons of ups and downs on his career path, Vail’s learned to appreciate the scenery on the journey.
“If I’m playing baseball every day, I get to come to the field every day, that’s pretty much the dream ever since I was little. That’s what I wanted to do, is play baseball. Yeah, obviously, I want to play in the big leagues. That’s the ultimate dream, but I mean it’s hard to complain right now. If you can just come out here and play a game when I’m 27, it’s hard to complain.”