PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Right on trackSolon Springs senior leads team on mound and at plate
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
For 14 years, Solon Springs senior Tyler Long has played baseball.
Each spring he pitched and played shortstop for the Eagles, and in the summers he traveled to Superior to play American Legion ball.
“I’m always thinking about baseball,” Long said. “I’m always doing stuff to try to better my baseball season.
“I just love to play baseball.”
From his earliest days, Long has played baseball — never T-ball, he’s quick to interject.
The local youth league made it very clear to him, at the age of 4, that T-ball wasn’t for him.
“They didn’t want me there,” said Long, smiling. “I really just threw too hard for the kids; they couldn’t catch it.”
That meant playing up a level at Little League for Long.
“I was too old to play with the little kids and I was too young to play with the older kids,” he said.
But Long didn’t mind competing with older players. It provided him with a challenge and gave him the opportunity to begin working on his favorite aspect of the game: pitching.
“Back then we didn’t have a pitching machine or have coaches pitch, we just had the kids throw,” Long said. “So I’ve been playing actual baseball for 14 years.
“I started pitching when I was four years old.”
In the 2013 baseball season, Long led the Solon Springs Eagles in every pitching category and helped the team advance to the WIAA Division 4 regional finals. He finished with a 3-2 pitching record, a 2.17 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 29 innings.
“Both losses came when we were shut out,” said Nathan Ahlberg, head coach of the Eagles. “One of those (came) when he did not give up an earned run.”
Long also provided Solon Spring with some pop at the plate. He led the team in extra-base hits with four doubles and a home run in the 12 games the Eagles played this season. His on-base percentage (.615), runs scored (13) and slugging percentage (.708) were all team highs as well.
Long ended the year with a .417 batting average. He had zero strikeouts when batting against conference opponents and in the whole season struck out just once, but he still considers 2013 a down year.
“Just because I didn’t get as many hits,” Long said.
One reason for Long’s decreased hit total was the snowy weather that cut the season in half.
“We didn’t get to play as many games. We were scheduled for like 23, 24 games and we ended up playing 10 — and they were all doubleheaders,” Long said. “I pitched the first game of every doubleheader, but then the second game my arm was so sore or so tired that it was kind of hard to perform well hitting and in the field.”
Opponents also did their best to keep the senior from collecting hits. In the regional finals, Washburn walked Long intentionally twice. For the season, he led the Eagles in walks with 14.
Long was named to the Indianhead All-Conference first team this season for the third straight year and was the top vote-getter in the conference.
Since the end of the high school season, Long has been playing with the Superior Reds.
His teammates joke endlessly about Solon Springs’ small enrollment — the Eagles play in Division 4, while the Superior Spartans play in Division 1 — but Long says that’s part of the fun.
“The first year I played with the Blues up here, the next season I wanted to get a game between Solon and Superior,” Long said. “Our Solon team has been getting better and better. If we play better teams I think we’ll keep progressing.”
Long hopes to continue playing baseball in college, but he has not yet committed to a school.
NOTES: Compared to 2012, Long’s batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all ticked up. … When asked about his favorite moment from his senior season, Long said senior teammate Jacob Dahlberg provided the highlight. This year was the first Dahlberg had ever played baseball. “He came in and the first game of the year he hit a single into right field,” Long said. “I thought that was pretty cool for him. He’s a big football and baseball player, but he’s never swung a bat.”