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Being A Bomber A day in the life of baseball player Tyler Best

Story by Hendrix Magley | Photos by Traci Westcott

Just a little more than a month ago, Tyler Best was about 4,300 miles away from Huntingburg’s historic League Stadium.

He had just wrapped up an extremely successful freshman baseball season at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Shortly after the Rainbow Warriors’ season came to an end in the Big West Conference tournament, Tyler jumped on a plane for a 121⁄2-hour flight to a place he’d never been before to spend roughly two months with a family and about 30 other baseball players he had never met in his life.

Welcome to the life of a member of the Dubois County Bombers baseball team.

Tyler, who is from Eagle, Idaho, normally finds himself waking up to an alarm ringing. But on this particular Wednesday, July 3, at 10 a.m., just a little more than eight hours before the Bombers’ home game against the Franklin Duelers, he is awakened a little differently.

Seven-year-old Cooper Menke quickly makes sure Tyler is out of bed and ready for the day ahead. Cooper is the youngest of Jon and Allison Menke’s three children. The family, including older siblings Max and Mya, is Tyler’s host for the summer. It’s the second time the Menke family has hosted Bombers players. Also staying with the Menkes this season is Matt Ellis. They also served as a host family for Noah Sadler in 2015.

Dubois County Bombers infielder Tyler Best talks with his host-brother, Cooper Menke, 7, of Holland, before the game at League Stadium in Huntingburg on July 3. Cooper says the best part about having Tyler as a host-brother is everything. Wanting to be a Bomber himself one day, Cooper says he wants to play “second base, just like Tyler.”

“As soon as I flew in, I walked in here and they had a big dinner planned for me,” Tyler says. “They’re super nice, and I’m really thankful I got placed with these awesome people. I’m grateful they let me stay here, this place is beautiful.”

While Tyler has clicked with the family as a whole, he’s also created an incredible bond with Cooper in such a short time together.

It’s safe to say Tyler is very grateful to have met the energetic and playful 7-year-old.

“It’s a blessing. I’m really glad I met that kid,” Tyler says. “It feels good being a figure in his life that he can look up to and help put him on the right path.”

While he woke up in plenty of time to get ready for his daily workout, thanks to Cooper, he’s grateful to have teammate Matt Ellis by his side.

Tyler eats his breakfast — a protein shake and banana — as his roommate and teammate Matt Ellis looks in the refrigerator to prepare his meal at the home of their host family, Jon and Allison Menke, in Holland.

“He keeps me accountable, and gets me up when I want to sleep in,” Tyler says.

After Cooper says his goodbyes for the day to Tyler and Matt, the pair head to Southridge High School for their morning workout at the field house. Tyler does a variety of workouts, including bench press as well as the agility ladder, while Matt meets with fellow Bomber Zuriel Collins to do some lifting.

Focusing on conditioning and strength training, Tyler works out five days a week at the Southridge High School field house in Huntingburg.

After their workout session and a quick stop at Subway in Huntingburg for lunch, Tyler and Matt head back to the Menke household to grab their bats and prepare to get some swings in before their night game.

While some days they take their swings at the batting cages at League Stadium, this time they decide to use a facility Jon lets them use. Especially with the rain falling outside, it was a good day to take some swings indoors at one of the OFS Brands plants where Jon created an indoor batting cage and practice facility.

Tyler practices batting at a plant converted into a batting-cage by his host family.

With dark and cloudy skies and the forecast calling for more showers, it appears it’s going to be another rainout for the Bombers. To this point in the season, the team has already had to endure eight rainouts, which means the game has to be made up in the form of a doubleheader.

What’s Tyler’s thoughts on playing a doubleheader?

“Not a fan, 100%,” Tyler admits with a laugh. “When rainouts happen, there’s not really much we can do. Just try to play some pool or pingpong with the family and just relax.”

However, it quickly becomes clear the rain is going to move along and the Bombers will have a game after all. This means it’s time for Tyler and Matt to head to League Stadium and help get the field in pristine condition.

While Tyler isn’t necessarily one of the first ones to the field, he is still able to help his teammates rake the field and do all of the necessary tasks required to ensure the Bombers will be in action.

After a morning downpour, Tyler helps his teammates and coaches rake the field at League Stadium in Huntingburg to prepare for the evening game.

But mostly, as Tyler admits, it’s time for him and his fellow teammates to catch up with each other and, well, let’s just say, horse around.

Whether it’s joking around with Chase Hug or having conversations with Austin Duffy, it’s clear to see Tyler makes friends with his teammates rather quickly. It reminds his head coach Travis LaMar of his time playing with the Bombers.

“It’s great to have those connections. Some of those guys I still talk to more than anyone else I ever played with,” Travis says. “When you’re around these guys 24/7, it creates a bond that never seems to be broken. Everyone that has come through here feels they still have a sense of ownership with the Bombers.”

Dubois County Bombers catcher Britt Graham splashes water in Tyler’s face before the game. “It’s a ritual, we do it every game. I think it’s good luck,” Tyler says.

After all the work is done on the field and the respective teams finish their pre-game warmups, it’s finally time for baseball.

But before the first pitch, Tyler has to have one final chat with his buddy, Cooper. He’s anxiously sitting on the ledge by the Bombers dugout waiting for Tyler to finally take the field.

What did they talk about?

“I mostly talked to him about the new Spider-Man movie I just saw,” Cooper says. He is also quick to add that he considers himself a good-luck charm for Tyler.

Allison is grateful Cooper can have someone like Tyler to look up to at such a young age.

“He’s shown interest in [Cooper] right from the beginning, and he’s never ever been too busy for him,” Allison says. “When [Tyler] first got here, Tyler and Cooper sat down to play with toys right away. At heart, they’re both kids.”

Before the game, Tyler chats with his teammates in the locker room.

While it isn’t uncommon for Tyler’s host family to attend the Bombers’ home games, it’s the first time his parents Lenne Jo and Eric are able to see Tyler play in historic League Stadium.

They have taken a break from owning and operating Boise Diamond Ring Fine Jewelry Boutique in Boise, Idaho, to spend the week in southern Indiana watching Tyler play.

“We were excited to know that he was going to play down here because we were familiar with the ‘League of Their Own’ movie,” Lenne Jo says.

Lenne Jo recalls Tyler’s main sport growing up being football. But after suffering a few concussions, Tyler decided to put all of his attention on baseball. It’s safe to say that decision has paid off.

Tyler comes from a baseball-heavy background. His grandfather, Arnold Hallgren, played for the Milwaukee Braves with Hank Aaron and is also a member of the British Columbia Hall of Fame, while two of his uncles also played professional baseball — Tim Hallgren (Seattle Mariners, currently head of scouting for the Detroit Tigers) and Robert Hallgren (Houston Astros).

The Franklin Duelers defeated the Dubois County Bombers 7-6.

“He’s very humble about it, he likes to make it on his own,” Lenne Jo says about Tyler, referencing his baseball background. “He doesn’t like to talk about it too often.”

Lenne Jo still gets excited watching every play of Tyler’s — she is quick to stand up in jubilation when he crosses home plate to score a run — and she knows he’s worked extremely hard to get to where he is today.

“I could see from early on that he had a talent, so we gave him every opportunity we could,” Lenne Jo says. “I thought it would be football, but once it started with baseball, it all just came so natural to him. He was happy and I was happy.”

While that Wednesday game didn’t go the way Tyler and the rest of the Bombers’ had hoped — Franklin defeated them 7-6 — the end result wasn’t what Tyler was worried about when he got to spend some time with his family after the game.

“It’s great [to see my parents], they always brighten my day and I’m really glad both of them came,” Tyler says. “They’ve played the biggest role in where I’m at right now. They’ve always supported me, and they never pushed me to play — they’re so important to me.”

Tyler talks to his parents, Eric and Lenne Jo Best of Eagle, Idaho, after the game at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Tyler is also sure to talk with Cooper following the game. While Cooper knows Tyler won’t be living with him and his family much longer, he knows he can stay in contact with him whenever he wants, all thanks to modern technology.

“Since my iPad is connected to my mom’s phone, I can call him anytime I want,” Cooper says.

Cooper is hopeful to someday be just like Tyler, as he hopes to don a Bombers jersey and play at League Stadium. It’s even better that the pair both play in the infield as Cooper says Tyler has already taught him several valuable lessons, such as “always get the lead runner out first.”

But there’s one thing he still wants to get to do with Tyler before he leaves.

“We haven’t gotten to play catch yet, so I want to do that,” Cooper says. “I think we will.”

Tyler is adamant it will happen very soon, and he knows it’ll be a moment Cooper won’t forget.

“I always hit with him on the tee, and I always try to get him to hit ‘The Dinger Swing’ — at least that’s what he calls his home-run swing,” Tyler says with a laugh. “We’ll play catch soon — it feels good being the figure in his life he can look up to for baseball. Hopefully, I’m showing him the right way.”

The Herald | Dubois County, Indiana | Saturday, July 13, 2019

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