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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
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).