Tyler White and Dream Fulfillment
Tyler White was not a great baseball player for the Houston Astros. Yet, he will always hold a special place in the heart of her fans.
When I was a boy playing baseball, the annual Little League parade was maybe the biggest event in my hometown of Fairfax, Virginia. Every team, probably about a hundred, and almost all the players, proudly donning their new unis, marched in the parade. Many teams had floats. Sometimes the coaches rode on horses. A boy, and his family, would no more miss this event than they would miss Christmas.
The parade culminated at the “major league” field. It was near the middle of town, and we would pass the only McDonald’s in town on the way. Back then McDonald’s still had signs that said how many billions were sold nationwide. Or perhaps McDonald’s hadn’t gotten to the billion mark yet. (Really, I’m that old.) You had to eat in your car when you ate at that McDonald’s. That was before McDonald’s had interior dining.
As the teams congregated at the major’s field, stuffed in, shoulder to shoulder like sardines in a can, we listened until we snoozed at the speeches by league officials, local businessmen, local politicians, and at least one clergyman who would lead us in prayer. I only remember one thing that anyone ever said in the five of these events I participated in, ages 8 to 12.
When I was 12, some guy was droning on about the great life lessons we would get by playing in Little League. The thing I remember is his preface. He said that only four of the kids on the field that day would ever play professional ball. (I doubt there was even one as a point of fact) And as he said it, my head craned up, and I began to look around, searching for the other three major leaguers in the crowd besides myself.
Needless to say, I never made a penny playing professional baseball. But I will probably reincarnate on this plane over and over again until I finally do. Probably, many in this reading audience share the same frustration from the same deep, thwarted desire.
Truth is, as much as I hate to admit it, I just didn’t have the talent. In my dreams I could blow an invisible strike by Mickey Mantle after kicking my left leg way high, Juan Marichial style. (This is literally true, the dream part that is. I was once caught sleep-walking, imitating the Marichial leg kick)
In my dreams I could hit a home run every at bat, even against Sandy Koufax.
In truth, the only balls I ever hit over the fence were foul.
And that’s why we love Tyler White. He’s that 12 year-old who dreamed big, who had limited talent, but somehow made the dream happen. He’s one of the four in the big crowd who actually made it, and he’s the last one who you’d expect.
Tyler White wasn’t even good enough coming out of high school to get a baseball scholarship. You don’t have to be that great a player to get a baseball scholarship, at least to some of the smaller schools. Tyler White wasn’t even that promising.
He walked on and got a position at Western Carolina State, Hillbilly U, as I have sometimes jokingly called it. Despite his wide girth and roly poly, dough boy appearance, he became third base, and raked.
But just as many scouts could not believe a little guy like Jose Altuve could really play in the big leagues, so scouts almost totally ignored the short, round man from the smoky hills of Caroline.
Here’s what a baseball player looks like to a scout.
Here’s what a beer league soft ball player looks like.
Which one does Tyler resemble more?
Maybe not the second exactly, but definitely not the first, either.
Despite his size, White got better each year at West Carolina, but he still garnered scant interest from major league scouts, in part because the college is so remotely located. On draft day, 2013, he gave up following the picks, expecting to be overlooked, when his girlfriend texted him the news that the Astros had drafted him in the 33rd round. It was a very “Astros,” outside the box kind of pick.
But still, as one publication put it: that just meant White would be “organizational filler;” that is, the kind of player inserted into a rookie league lineup for the aspiring pitching prospects to strike out.
Except he hit. At every level. He even surpassed 2104 draftee A.J. Reed, nationally acclaimed second round pick, on the depth charts, mashing at AAA by 2015.
With the failure of the Astros system to find or develop competent first basemen, the travails of Brett Wallace, Chris Carter, Jon Singleton come to mind, Tyler White, slimmed down but still the everyman from nowhere, was starting first base for the 2016, World Series hopefuls, Houston Astros. He was mostly still considered to be a place-holder.
And then the fairy tale seemed to come true. In his first nine games in the big leagues White crushed big league pitching, slashing .483/.529/.897, with three home runs in 34 PAs. In his first big league series in fabled Yankees stadium he was 6 for 10, with a home run en route to getting awarded player of the week.
Here’s White, early 2016.
Even Fangraphs was all in on the fairy tale. On 4-21 they published, Tyler White Already Looks For Real.
This seemed too good to be true. Was it real? Could the Astros have really found a true slugger in the 33rd round? Was Tyler White going to put the Astros OVER THE TOP? Oh, how the everyman in all of us wanted to believe.
But then the dream vanished, as quickly as it was conjured. Like the Astros first basemen before him, White just faded miserably. By July, Tyler White was in AAA, and the Yuli Gurriel era at first began.
Tyler White made a short appearance on the 2017 World Champion Astros, but was not a major contributor that year. He seemed to be fading in the memory of Astros fans.
Then August, 2018.
This was no longer the image of Tyler White.
This became the new Tyler White.
Tyler White: The Great White, baseball killer.
From July 29th through August 30th, 2018, Tyler White slashed .352/.404/.736. He had nine home runs in 99 PAs.
The fairy tale was real. Cinderella lives. The everyman really could achieve the dream of every 12-year-old boy.
At what looks for now to be the pinnacle of his career, Tyler White, on August 29th, was the hero in this crucial victory over the second place Oakland A’s. His walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth gave the Astros a 2 1⁄2 game lead over the the A’s. A loss and the lead would have been only 1⁄2 game.
Here’s the season-saving blast. And the celebration.
This was how the game recap described Tyler White, his season, and his importance to the Astros last year.
Tyler White has officially become the best Astros story of 2018. This is the second time this month he has won a game with a late inning homer. He is not supposed to be here. He’s too pudgy, he’s too slow, he swings funny, he doesn’t have a position, he was drafted 33 round from hillbilly college NC. He has tried and failed numerous times in the big leagues, and it is a miracle he ever got a chance in the first place. What he has is what makes the rest of the team so great. He has never quit. He has never quit trying. He has never quit on himself. He has never believed the naysayers. He has never let failure stop him. Tyler White is why I love baseball and love the Astros.
The Dream Fades
This year, despite our fervent hopes, the dream has faded again. Tyler White was designated for assignment yesterday, slashing only .225/.320/.330 with three home runs for the year, far below our grandiose hopes, and nowhere near good enough for a 1B/DH on a contending team.
So the failure of Tyler White leaves me a little sad. Even if my dream of everyman stardom in baseball could not be realized, at least Tyler White made me think it was possible for somebody. He clearly didn’t belong there. But he was there. And he was mashing. If Tyler White could do it, anyone could.
But no, it turns out reality is bigger than our dreams after all.
Tyler, say it isn’t so. Don’t give up your dream. Don’t give up our dream. Never quit trying. Never believe the naysayers. Do not let this failure stop you.
I still love Tyler White.
I wish you the greatest success.