Tink. Pop. Tink. Pop. The ball hits the metal bat and flies to the outfield.
Their cleats touch the plate as they square off their bodies in preparation for what’s coming at them.
To speculators, it’s just a ball. For the players, it’s the future, and they’ve got one shot.
Pitcher Tyler Russell sat underneath the dugout in his Palomar baseball uniform and opened like a book, in the most genuine of ways. He stared off at the field watching what he calls his brotherhood practice for the game that was introduced to him so long ago.
Russell started playing baseball at the age of 4 and it has changed the course of his life, irrevocably. Not only was the love for the game now an unbreakable bond, but also formed a stronger one between him and his father Chris Russell.
This day, March 23, was not just another day, it was the 50th birthday of his father who passed away one year ago after battling Melanoma cancer for 15 months.
“My dad played baseball when he was a kid,” he said. “He started me out when I was 4 and ever since then I’ve loved the game, me and him connected through it, and it was just a bonding thing for us.”
Russell grew up in Murrieta, Calif. and played for many of the leagues in the area before continuing throughout high school. He was accepted into Eastern Michigan State University and pitched for one season of their NCAA Division I team.
However after his father’s cancer worsened, Russell came home to Murrieta before finishing the season and stayed through his father’s death and continues to be there for his mother and sister.
Through the loss, the family has grieved together and strengthened their relationships. Russell’s mother and 18-year-old sister continue to support Tyler just as his father had every chance he got.
“One of the coolest stories about my dad was last year it was our first series for college out in Eastern Michigan, we were out in South Carolina playing Clemson and three days before the game, the cancer was breaking out in his body and he went to lift up something light, like taking a drink or something like that and his arm broke,” Russel said.
“He had to get surgery the day before his flight to South Carolina, he got surgery, got a huge metal bar in his arm and he still came out. He flew all the way out from California to South Carolina just to see me play. It was just the kind of guy he was. He was always there.”
Russell said that he is still here regardless of his physical absence, “He’s not here in person but he still keeps me going. I can still hear him in my head telling me everything he used to”
On days like today, one would expect Russell to be absent from practice and with good reason. However coach Buck Taylor said Russell is a great teammate.
“I worked with him when he was younger, and I was really close with his family,” Taylor said. “His work ethic is great, everything he does, he does for his dad honestly. Just a great kid. A bulldog on the mound and just a great teammate.”
The friendship between Taylor and Russell is a strong bond. Russell vouches that Taylor is the best coach he has ever had, by both encouraging and correcting him. Russell said just learning more and playing better by listening to his coaches, is his favorite part about playing for Palomar College.
While he enjoys it, he will be moving on to accept a scholarship from Oral Roberts University, in Oklahoma, to play Division 1, with plans to complete college and possibly get drafted along with potentially coaching baseball in the future.
Russell also hopes to have a family one day and pass down all that he was given from his father.
“My dad was my rock and he taught me everything I knew about the game up until now, no matter if he’s here or not, he lives with me and I can still hear him and he told me one thing. It sticks with me forever (that) he said, ‘when you got something good don’t let it go.’ ”
“I’ve got baseball and so I’m not gonna let it go,” he added.