TAMPA — Preston Tucker, a 25-year-old Major League Baseball player living the dream, says he loves to come home and …
Play whiffle ball in the family back yard against his brother, Kyle, who just happened to be the No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft.
"We played each other yesterday," said Preston, standing Tuesday night with a big grin inside the third base dugout at Plant High, where he and his brother graduated in 2008 and 2015, respectively.
"Mom bought us a new (plastic) bat at the dollar store because our other one broke," Kyle said. "We've played ever since we were little. We still play whiffle ball like we were kids."
Pretensions? Not with the Tuckers, major league or not.
That's why when Plant coach Dennis Braun stood at home plate before Tuesday's high school baseball season opener and announced that Preston's number, No. 25, was being retired, Preston couldn't have possibly been any more appreciative.
"This is where it all started for me, and that means so much," he said. "This is where I was taught that you have to have an approach and stick with it. This place was pivotal in my development."
Fact is, Preston caught fire in high school. As a junior, he set single-season school records for batting average (.561) and RBIs (51).
He carried that momentum through the University of Florida, where in three years, he became the school's all-time leader in games played (265), games started (259), total bases (596), at-bats (1,035), hits (341), RBIs (258) and doubles (70), and he ranked second with 57 home runs.
In 2012, he was drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Astros, then proceeded to continue his powerful tear through the minor leagues, earning minor league all-star bids in 2013 and 2014.
On May 7, 2015, just before his 6-foot-4 brother, Kyle, was selected by the Astros as the fifth overall pick, Preston made his major-league debut where in the ninth inning, he collected his first major-league hit, a game-tying single.
As Braun announced all of this to the crowd Tuesday night near home, Preston stood by grinning with three former players who also had their Panther numbers retired — Corey Brown (No. 2), Joe Urso (35) and John Ramos (5).
Minutes later behind them on the fence near the rightfield line, Preston's name and number (25) were revealed on a huge banner, not far down from Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (No. 9).
Minutes after that, Preston and Kyle shook hands and hugged their parents, Mike and Lisa, took pictures with the framed jersey and chatted and chuckled about everything, including …
"Whiffle ball," Preston said. "The other day, my sister (Hannah) even hit a home run."
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In the end, the Tuckers think playing whiffle ball has actually helped them over the years with their hand-eye coordination because, as Kyle said, "the ball moves way more than a baseball. It curves and dives and moves way more."
Maybe someday soon, Preston and Kyle will play a game of whiffle ball at home before Kyle's Panther number (30) is retired.
"Sounds good to me," said Preston, surrounded by friends, family and former teammates at Plant's field. "I'm ready."