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What a kick: Ex-Plant star Tanner Anderson makes first big league-start back home

With his family watching from their “lucky seats,” the 25-year-old pitcher duels with Rays pitcher Charlie Morton.
Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Tanner Anderson (53), from Plant High School, delivers from the mound during first inning action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Monday, June 10, 2019. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Jun. 11

ST. PETERSBURG — The kid on the pitcher’s mound has a grand leg kick that will become famous if he ever does, so robust that it is part Marichal, part Nureyev, part Rockette.

“What did this pitcher do, take ballet?” one fan said.

Meanwhile, the balancing act continued behind the plate.

“These are our lucky seats,” Lisa Anderson said. She wasn’t budging. What, and risk a bad inning for her boy? It was already nerve-wracking enough. That was her son Tanner out there on the mound at Tropicana Field on Monday night. Her husband, Lee, sat next to her.

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By the way, if you ever want to see a dream come true, try Section 105, Row CC, Seats 5 and 6. It just might work. Ask the Andersons.

“This is surreal,” Lee said.

There’s a first time for everything, and that happened to Tanner Ackley Anderson on Monday night. You don’t need a degree from Harvard to figure out when something is truly special, though, to be on the safe side, Anderson has a degree from Harvard. You don’t need to play the violin to make sweet music, though Anderson played the violin anyway.

The 25-year-old pitcher from Plant High School made his first major-league start, pitching for the Oakland Athletics, who called him up from Triple-A Las Vegas to help the club and eat some innings. At Tropicana Field no less, where Anderson grew up pulling for the Rays.

Nothing to it.

Lee and Lisa Anderson, the parents of Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Tanner Anderson, from Plant High School, watch from the stands with their son on the mound against the Rays. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

There is more. Anderson went out and matched scoreless innings with unsinkable, unbeatable Rays pitcher Charlie Morton, mixing a sinker, slide rand occasional change-up effectively until Brandon Lowe broke through with a two-run homer in the sixth to start the Rays toward a 6-2 win.

Anderson took the loss, but two hits over 5.2 innings, with five strikeouts felt like a win for a kid who has grinded his way to the majors all the way from a 20th-round pick in 2011. The noise from Section 105 said as much. The Andersons did their part for sleepy Rays attendance by gobbling up 25 or so tickets for family and friends. They slipped down to the railing for when Tanner came out after. The turnout had been a secret.

“I told my mom to invite anyone she wanted, but not to tell me so I wouldn’t get all nervous,” Tanner said.

He didn’t get all nervous, unlike his big-league debut with Pittsburgh last season.

“I felt like I was going to throw up for like three days, the nerves were so bad.”

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They were nowhere to be seen during his starting debut.

“Composure wise, he looked like he’d been playing, starting all year for us,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.

That doesn’t mean he’ll still be with the A’s through this weekend.

“He could leave tomorrow, but we have tonight,” Lisa said.

As does anyone else who loves a longshot.

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Tanner Anderson (53), from Plant High School, delivers from the mound during first-inning action. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

“I tell everyone that he’s kind of the one I don’t think people thought he would be here,” said Plant baseball coach Dennis Braun, who also was at Monday’s game. “That’s what makes it even more special.”

Plant has produced major-league talent, but Anderson, a middle-rounder, isn’t as well-known as former Panthers stars Peter Alonso, now tearing it up for the Mets, or the Tuckers, Kyle and Preston, or Mychal Givens, who was Anderson’s teammate at Plant. Anderson’s best high school pitching might have come when the Panthers faced Alonso High and its pitching star at the time: Jose Fernandez.

“I think we lost 1-0 every time,” Anderson said with a smile.

“But he kept throwing the ball over the plate,” Braun said. “He always threw strikes. Like I tell the kids at Plant, there are a lot of different avenues to this level. You’re not all going to be first-rounders.”

At Harvard, where Anderson first majored in biochemical engineering (hey, me too!) before switching to history of science, his baseball numbers were not extraordinary. He went 4-13 with a 5.41 ERA. In the minor leagues, the results were often mixed. Anderson was 4-4 with a 0.26 ERA with Las Vegas in the hitter-friendly, homer-happy Pacific Coast League before being called up.

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But there he was Monday night, lights out for five.

Now, about his delivery, and the distinctive leg kick.

“I felt the longer and later I could hold my leg back the more I could stay back and get some drive and power to the plate,” Anderson said. “It’s worked, so I keep doing it.”

He’s not your typical ballplayer, unless Mike Trout grew up playing the violin. Anderson stopped playing violin a while ago. Too bad.

“He just liked he competition of who was in what chair,” Lisa Anderson said. “But he never made it to first chair.”

Poor kid had to settle for the pitcher’s mound at the Trop on Monday, with a cheering section – and dream – come true.

Ain’t life a kick?

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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