RIPLEY - No, baseball season hasn’t started. The field isn’t manicured and Rube’s Roost looks more like a deserted building covered in snow than the Viking’s baseball press box.
None of this matters to senior outfielder Tyler Pittenger. You see, “Pit” as he is affectionately known amongst his peers, has been in the weight room.
He has been watching video of his swing from last season and he is preparing to slide over to centerfield from his perch in left field to patrol the real estate departed by the graduated All-State slugger Jamin Jones.
“Tyler has been on a mission. He is setting an example for our young guys by taking advantage of our off-season program and always trying to get better. If they watch how he goes about his business in the off-season, they will continue to grow and meet their personal and team goals,” says head coach Shane Casto.
“We expect him to have an exceptional season.”
Pittenger, predicted to hit third in the order, has been as consistent as coal dust on a Boone County road. The 3-year starter has hit .300 the last two seasons. Last year, he ranked second on the team in doubles (4), RBI’s (18) triples (1) and sacrifices (4).
The muscular athlete also doubled as the starting tailback for coach Jimmy Frashier’s football team and rushed for nearly five hundred yards on a team choc-full of mobile quarterbacks (Trevor Tucker and Jake Martin) and a stable of competent young runners who all saw action.
Going into this season, Pittenger has altered his batting stance slightly. He hopes to get the most out of his swing by generating more energy and motion from his powerful legs and hips.
Coach Casto remembers one play from last season that in his eyes, set the senior slugger apart from the competition.
“He was walked and sprinted to first base as all coaches love to see. Then, he caught the catcher asleep and rounded the bag at first and slid into second safely”, said Casto.
“It was a beautiful play and a fine display of good old fashioned hustle.”
Pittenger began playing baseball in Charlotte North Carolina as a youth. He began with Tee ball and graduated to the Cal Ripken Youth League. His family soon moved to Ripley where he has competed in sports and enjoyed success.
Pittenger’s parents, Bill and Jami, are from Beckley originally. Bill played soccer, basketball and track as a youth. Tyler’s younger brother Cody is a freshman on the roster this season.
“I am excited to play on a team with Cody. He is going to be a really nice ball player for Ripley. I have no idea why I gravitated to baseball. My parents always supported me in whatever I wanted to do and so does my Grandfather.”
Page 2 of 2 - Jack Yearego, Pittenger’s grandfather, can be seen cheering his grandson on at Ray Swisher Field on cool spring evenings as the sun sets and the lights come on.
The Slugging outfielder has drawn interest from Eastern Kentucky University and is considering a post prep relationship with the diamond as an outfielder for the Colonels.
“I would love to keep playing. I haven’t made a decision yet. My education is my first priority but I am keeping all of my options open this spring,” said Pittenger.
Pittenger looks forward to the Viking’s first practice on February 25.
“I can’t wait to get on the field again. It has always been my favorite sport. I just don’t want it to end. I have so many great memories in baseball.”
Two of those memories that stand out to the slugger are beating a No. 3 ranked Cabell Midland team 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth last season. Pittenger had singled and advanced to second before Heath Barnette drove him in with a laser to right field.
Also burned into Pittenger’s mental hard drive forever is the joy of beating a No. 10 ranked South Charleston football team 7-6 on a chilly night in Memorial Stadium just three and a half months ago. Pittenger scored Ripley’s only touchdown on an off tackle jaunt to the left side where he bounced the play outside. He dove into the end zone, sliding through the pylon before being mugged by his teammates.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how I felt after those games. I want us to make more memories this baseball season.”
Lifelong memories will be made this spring. After all, there is fire in the “Pit”.