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Crisp County ace Tyler set for national stage

Crisp County’s Robert Tyler pitched in one All-Star game last week at Petco Park in San Diego and will take the mound in a second today at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Yawn)

Crisp County’s Robert Tyler pitched in one All-Star game last week at Petco Park in San Diego and will take the mound in a second today at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Yawn)

CORDELE — Robert Tyler’s big curveball has bent its way from Cordele to San Diego and now to Chicago, where the right-handed pitcher will take the mound today at Wrigley Field in the prestigious Under Armour All-Star Game.

Tyler is one of 36 high school players from around the country who will be showcased in the game, which will be televised at 1:30 p.m. by the MLB Network.

It has been whirlwind ride for Tyler, a senior at Crisp County High School, who pitched in the Perfect Game All American Classic last week at Petco Park in San Diego, came home for a week, and then flew from Atlanta to Chicago on Friday to pitch in the even bigger Under Armour Game today.

“I’m excited,’’ Tyler told The Herald by telephone Friday evening from the Atlanta airport. “It’s just a dream come true.’’

Still, he doesn’t feel the pressure of being on such a big stage.

“At first when you get there I’m sure everyone is nervous,’’ he said. “And you have some nerves in the bullpen, but once you get on the mound and throw that first warmup pitch, you just get in a zone and pitch.’’

He’s handling the spotlight with ease, and Tyler said he has become friends with many of the players, especially those on his East team.

“When we get together it’s like family,’’ he said. “We rag on each other, but we want each other to do well.’’

His fastball and curveball have improved over the years, and recently Tyler had to work on his autograph.

“We signed about 1,000 autographs in San Diego,’’ said Tyler, who expects to sign more again today. “They gave us baseball cards and then they had hundreds of posters, and we signed them all. At first my autograph wasn’t too good, but it’s getting better. I like doing stuff for the fans.’’

Tyler’s fastball has been clocked at 94 to 95 mph. But he also has a changeup with a mature touch to it, and a big-time curveball.

“He’s special. He’s very special,’’ Crisp County coach Bill Pate said. “I’m very excited for Robert. It’s quite an experience. I’ve had previous kids go through this but he’s the first to pitch in both games. He is one of the top pitchers in the country. They had 18 pitchers in San Diego and 16 in Chicago, and he’s pitching in both games, so you would have to say he’s one of the (nation’s) top pitchers.’’

Pate coached Tim Drew at Lowndes High before Drew was drafted by the Indians in the first round (26th overall) in 1998, and he coached Kyle Davies at Stockbridge High before the Braves took Davies in the fourth round in 2001.

“They are very close,’’ he said of the three pitchers. “Robert is a little different kind of pitcher. Tim had an 86 mph slider to go with a 94-plus (mph) fastball, and Kyle had a 95 mph fastball and pinpoint control.

“Robert has great control, too and doesn’t walk a lot of people. He has a fastball and a changeup and a real good curveball. He’s got the big overhand curveball. It’s pretty good. He’s like the Tim Hudson mold, and the others were in the John Smoltz mold (because of the slider).’’

Pate knows it’s going to be a big year for Tyler.

“The thing I love is he is going to these big showcases in front of big crowds, and come spring he will lead the team and be a guy who will feel like, ‘There’s nothing to this,’ and help his team next spring,’’ Pate said.

Tyler had amazing junior year at Crisp County, where he went 7-0 with a 0.73 ERA and averaged 10.9 strikeouts per seven-inning game in the regular season. He also batted .377 and led the team with 24 RBI. He had seven doubles, three triples, three homers and scored 23 runs. He has already verbally committed to Georgia, but the Major League Baseball Draft in June could change that. There will be scouts from every team in the big leagues at Wrigley Field today.

His dream has always been to play in the majors.

“Of course, anything can still happen,’’ Tyler said. “But it does feel like it’s getting closer. You just have to stay humble and not get a big head about it.’’

Tyler said he didn’t realize the significance of the two games when he was first contacted to play in the Perfect All-American Game and the Under Amour All-Star Game.

“I didn’t know,’’ Tyler said. “When they first called I didn’t know if I could get out of school. I didn’t know anything about (the games) and no one around Cordele had ever played in these games.’’

He said it hit him the minute he walked on the field at Petco Park.

“It’s just what you always dreamed of, walking in the stadium,’’ he said “I was overwhelmed. It’s been a great experience.’’