Learning curves: Arkansas’ chess-fueled Tygart

FAYETTEVILLE — As Arkansas pitcher Brady Tygart takes to the mound, batters eye his tattooed forearm displaying roses with his 2003 birth year shaded in the middle.

The 19-year-old from Hernando, Mississippi, built a reputation confusing older hitters with consistent knee-breaking balls. His curveball spinning at over 3,000 rpm is a pitch he had no choice but to develop.

Tygart, recently selected as one of 62 players on the NCBWA Stopper of the Year midseason watch list as college baseball’s best close, sports a 1.59 ERA and a grip on the closer role as a true freshman for the fourth-row Razorbacks. However, Josh and Belinda Tygart’s son had a much different freshman experience a few years ago at Lewisburg High School, just south of Memphis.

He didn’t have a season after being cut from the ninth-grade team due to a lack of speed and height. His fastball peaked at around 80 mph at this age and he’s far from a standout physically.

It was the second time he had been kicked from a baseball team. He was not selected for a travel squad in a local youth league.

“It was good for Brady in the long run because it put a chip on his shoulder,” Josh Tygart said. “He always felt he had something to prove.”

Being overlooked by a 4A high school in Northwest Mississippi is likely the end of the road for many pitchers. For Tygart, that was just the beginning.

He decided to focus on things he could control, like pitch movement and accuracy. At the start of his sophomore year, Tygart went through a growth spurt that coincided with a moderate increase in speed, but still needed to fill his meager 6-2 frame.

That summer, his mother drove him five hours to Razorbacks baseball camp, where he seduced Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson. His fastball clocked in at around 87 mph, but last-minute action on his pitches raised eyebrows from the coaching staff.

Johnson brushed off the lanky right-hander and asked how many offers he had.

“I don’t have any offers yet,” Tygart told him.

Johnson told Tygart to ask his mother to meet with Johnson and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn at the office. There he received his first scholarship offer to present the Razorbacks.

“They saw that he was still in the body of a little boy with giant feet and he had all the movements in the world,” Belinda Tygart said.

Johnson’s faith in Arkansas strength trainer Blaine Kinsley, whom he called one of the best trainers in the country, led him to believe that Tygart could add 10 to 15 pounds of muscle and become a difference factor.

“If Kinsley could beef it up in the weight room, we knew we’d have something special,” said Johnson, who is now the Minnesota Twins’ pitching coach.

A week after receiving an offer from Arkansas, he attended camp at Mississippi State and left with his second offer. Although he lives about an hour from the Ole Miss campus, he has never caught the attention of the Rebels.

“I think it’ll be pretty cool if he gets the chance to pitch against Ole Miss and maybe it will mean a little extra for him,” Josh Tygart said of this week’s series at Baum-Walker Stadium. .

Tygart’s rise to kingpin of the Razorback bullpen surprised almost everyone. He suffered a hairline fracture in his arm on his first outing last fall and was suspended for the remainder of fall camp.

“A lot of the time when freshmen come in, you don’t even consider that they’re going to be your closest friend,” Johnson said.

“It’s kind of shocking to me that it’s closing,” Josh Tygart said. “I didn’t expect something like this. Honestly, I was just hoping he would get a round or two here and there to gain some experience.

On April 3, Tygart entered the eighth inning of a 3–3 game against Mississippi State and struck out six consecutive batters. He allowed 1 hit and 1 walk in a career-high 3 2/3 shutout innings.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will believe in you for you,” Tygart said in the post-game interview.

The mental toughness required to pitch successfully in crucial situations is something the rookie reliever has been preparing for since his little league debut.

While coaching his son’s first seasons of kiddie pitch, Josh Tygart intentionally put him on the mound in places where he was doomed. The hope was that the more pressure he was exposed to, the less it would affect him.

“We didn’t pamper him at all,” Josh Tygart said. “The worse the situation, the better. We told him to go out there and throw some strikes.

The pitcher faced similar pressure during his final two years at Lewisburg High School, where a lack of running support often resulted in a loss. He allowed 2 earned runs and struck out 104 batters in 56 innings, according to MaxPreps.

The Tygarts wanted their son to wait until his freshman year to decide between Arkansas and Mississippi State. However, he had no interest in waiting and signed with the Razorbacks in February 2019.

“He tells us all the time that he’s right where he belongs,” Belinda Tygart said of Brady’s decision to leave Mississippi.

Josh (Little Rock) and Belinda (Arkadelphia) grew up in Arkansas and couldn’t be prouder to see their son living out his childhood dream while battling for their national team.

“It’s something he’s had his eye on since he was 7 years old,” Josh Tygart said. “Watching your child work over the past 12 years…it’s very satisfying as a parent to see it pay off.”

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