ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Four weeks ago, Tabor College standout Tyler Marsh boarded a plane for Pensacola Florida in hopes of playing professional baseball in the Southeastern League.
“I don’t know what they look for, but I think I played pretty well in Florida,” he said. “It just depends on who is looking for what type of player. I think I can compete with anyone in this league.”
Marsh spent two weeks in Florida, but wasn’t retained at Pensacola. He did, however, make the roster of the Selma (Ala.) Cloverleafs, where he is one of 20 aspiring players.
“The contract is good for as long as the ink is wet,” Marsh said in an interview from Alabama. “You can be cut anytime, depending on how good you play.”
Marsh faces a 72-game schedule in the next 76 days.
“We get $12 a day for food, and they put us up in hotel rooms,” Marsh said.
“We have two or three guys to a room, depending on how well we’re playing at the time,” he added with a laugh.
The Southeastern League encompasses teams from Florida to Georgia to Louisiana.
“Pensacola was so humid it was ridiculous,” Tyler said. “So far, Alabama has been pretty decent. It’s about 80 to 85 degrees, but they have some huge mosquitoes.
“Most teams take buses, but we don’t have money for that, so we take vans,” he said. “We only have two coaches, so players have to help drive.
“Last night we played in Hattisburg, Miss., and the game got over at 10 p.m. We didn’t leave town until midnight, so we got back at about 4 a.m.”
On Friday, the Cloverleafs were scheduled to play in Macon, Ga., after spending the past two weeks in Alabama and Mississippi.
Although the season is still young, Marsh is beginning to get a feel for how the system works.
“It’s definitely a lot faster game than in college,” he said. “The pitching is a lot better, compared to what I’m used to.
“There are more people in the stands, but it’s still the same game.”
Typically, Marsh said, crowds will range from 1,000 to 3,000 per game, although the early season portion of their schedule is still competing with NCAA college regionals.
How reality compares to his expectations has varied.
“Pensacola was more organized than I expected,” he said. “Here in Alabama, organization and the travel part isn’t quite what I expected, but the baseball is pretty much how I thought it would be.”
Once the season gets into a groove, Marsh sees his days as being long but not entirely structured.
“Typically, I like to get up early, but our day doesn’t really start until 2 or 3 (in the afternoon) with batting practice,” he said. “Games usually start at 7 and we’ll be done around 10.
“I guess I’m kind of a nerd, because I brought along books to read in the mornings in my spare time,” he added. “But basically our mornings are free-other than trying to catch up on sleep.”
While the league is labeled as “developmental,” it’s also instructional.
“They’ll tell you what you need to work on, but it’s one of those deals where they know you’re good enough to have made it this far, so they tell you to just keep doing what you’ve been doing,” he said.
“But I’ve changed a couple things and feel I’m getting a lot better. I’ve learned quite a bit in four weeks.”
Instruction for Marsh has been provided by numerous coaches, from Pensacola to Selma.
“The two weeks I was in Florida, we had a coach who was a scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and played with the Cincinnati Reds,” he said. “David Aragon is the coach here. He’s been affiliated with the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.”
“They definitely know their stuff.”
While it’s too early to gauge how much success Marsh may have, early indications are that he’ll more than hold his own in the Deep South.
“My first start, I went 2-for-2 and the next two games, I play designated hitter,” he said. “I was hitless in those two, but did draw two walks.
“Hitting with wood bats takes a little bit of getting used to.”
Defensively, Marsh said he’s playing second base right now, but expects to also play third and a little bit at short stop.
“My playing time will come,” Marsh said. “The first thing I wanted to do was make a team. Once I made the team, then I’ll concentrate on playing time.”
Marsh said the majority of his teammates played Division I baseball in college, but the league has numerous ex-minor league players.
“Our team is young,” he said. “We don’t have that many minor leaguers on our team.”
From this point on, he and his teammates will be playing games.
“Right now, we play nearly every day, and the days we have off the rest of the summer, we’ll be traveling,” he said. “The practices are basically over now. The coach says this isn’t like high school of college, so we don’t call him coach. We just call him by his first name.”
Currently, Marsh is just trying to get adjusted to his surroundings and the grueling schedule.
Those worried Marsh won’t be back this fall to play football at Tabor this fall can relax.
“I’ll definitely be back to play football at Tabor this fall,” Marsh said. “Our season is over in mid-August-or late August if we make the playoffs.
“Going into the summer, I didn’t know what would happen down here, but I know the season will be over before football season starts.
“I like to think I can compete with anyone around here,” Marsh said. “It’s not very glamorous, but it’s still an opportunity to play.”