Tyler Danish says one day, preferably in the middle of a long and successful career pitching in the major leagues, he’ll sit his kids down and tell them the story of why he throws the way he does.
It goes like this:
It’s sophomore year, and catcher Luke Heyer and Tyler are tossing balls in the Durant High School bullpen.
Heyer suggests Tyler try something different.
“Throw it sidearm,” he says.
So Danish toes the rubber, goes into a windup and his arm drops down then whips across his chest.
The ball shot out of his hands, and danced — like a knuckleball if knuckleballs went 88 mph — before popping into Heyer’s mitt.
“We both looked at each other and said, ‘Wow,’ ” Tyler recalled.
The next game, Tyler struck out all three batters he faced with his new delivery.
“What in God’s name is he doing?” his mother, Charlotte, thought.
He was thinking about making the leap from college hopeful to pro prospect.
Within three months, Tyler went from throwing 86 mph to 90 and faster.
The University of Florida offered him a scholarship, and he accepted.
In June, a major-league baseball team will draft him — he’s projected by some to go in the top five rounds — probably higher than even he could have imagined.
“It’s a crazy story. Luke definitely gets some of the credit,” said Tyler, with a chuckle.
“It really changed everything.”
Tyler is one of the top right-handed pitchers in the country and hasn’t allowed a single earned run in 69 innings pitched. He has struck out 115 batters this season and allowed only 24 hits.
His record is 11-1, his only loss a 1-0 decision.
That side-armed delivery, which he says isn’t any different than the throws he makes when he plays shortstop, isn’t going anywhere.
“I’ve heard it’s unorthodox and it’s not normal, but I don’t feel any stress and my arm is never sore,” Tyler said. “A lot of pro scouts like it, and some don’t. But how does the saying go, ‘If something isn’t broke …’ ”
There is no arguing with the results. He has led Durant to its first home playoff game in 12 years, which he will start Wednesday, and continues to be virtually unhittable while hitting 97 on the radar gun — like he did against Newsome with eight scouts watching nearby.
At the plate, he leads the Cougars in hits (29), runs (22), RBIs (24) and home runs (seven).
His dad, Mike Danish, would be pretty darned proud.
Before he died of cancer 18 months ago, Tyler and Mike were bound by rawhide and aluminum.
Mike threw thousands of batting practice balls, caught thousands of pitches and devoted thousands of hours to the game his son loved.
So when Tyler talks about his dizzying success and promising future, he never once takes ownership. He rarely talks in the past tense.
Mike may not be here watching, but he is up there loving every minute of this, and you can’t convince Tyler otherwise.
Before Mike got sick, he was able to see his son explode.
He was there as Tyler’s pitches got faster and better, was there when Florida came calling, was there as his son shot up in the rankings during the summer of 2011.
Mike passed away in December that year, and at his wake, Randy Sullivan, the father of Tyler’s best friend, Ryan, gave the Durant pitcher a hug.
When he was 15, Sullivan’s father died of a heart attack at the age of 36, and Tyler’s anguish was painfully familiar.
“You never get over losing your hero,” said Sullivan, who runs the Armory pitching academy in Brandon. “We had a plan, we had a path. Then he’s not there. I had no compass without him.”
Sullivan and Tyler talk often, about the struggle. Sullivan wandered lost for two years, and he has helped Tyler avoid the same path. The senior credits Sullivan with helping him through a dark time.
And Mom, who packed every cooler for every baseball game her son ever played, is a rock.
She saw to it that her son stuck to the plan, and stayed on the path Mike had set him on, even if in the beginning Tyler wasn’t sure he could keep playing without his weekly batting practice sessions with Dad.
“It has made him a lot stronger, and made him a better person. He realizes you can’t take anything for granted, because what is here today may not be here tomorrow,” his mother said. “He keeps his dad close to his heart, and wants to do this not only for himself, but for his father.”
Danish is keeping his future goals — college or pro — to himself. He said his only goal right now is to win Wednesday, then keep winning.
A state title. College or pro baseball. His mother’s happiness.
“This has always been our dream,” he said, “and nothing is going to stop me.”
Region quarterfinals, 7 p.m. unless noted
8A: Wharton at East Lake
8A: Sarasota Riverview at Durant
6A: Dixie Hollins at King
6A: Leto at Osceola
6A: Gainesville at Springstead
6A: Sebring at Mitchell
6A: Land O’Lakes at Winter Haven, 7:30
4A: Arcadia DeSoto County at Berkeley Prep
4A: Tampa Catholic at Lake Placid
7A: Seminole at Steinbrenner
7A: Plant City at George Jenkins
7A: Haines City at Brandon
7A: Wiregrass Ranch at Countryside
5A: Eustis at Pasco
5A: Wesley Chapel at Hernando
5A: Lakewood at Jesuit
5A: Robinson at Dunedin
3A: Brooks DeBartolo at Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic
3A: Lakeland Christian at Tampa Prep
3A: Calvary Christian at Sarasota Out-of-Door
3A: Sarasota Cardinal Mooney at Clearwater Central Catholic
2A: Victory Christian at Cambridge Christian, 4
2A: Bayshore Christian at Winter Haven All Saints’
2A: Fort Myers Southwest Florida Christian at Canterbury, 6