Tyler Sturgill gets his moment in the spotlight
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Watauga's regular catcher, David Martin, was a three-year starter, one of the most feared hitters in the Northwestern Conference, and is headed to Lenoir-Rhyne College to play baseball next spring. Martin, who never missed a game because of injury, was also durable.
That left Sturgill, a junior on the varsity team last season, with limited options in the field. Watauga's starting lineup had eight seniors, which was a big reason why the Pioneers finished second in the NWC standings. One of Watauga's 10 NWC victories was against league champion South Caldwell.
Still, Sturgill played his role of mostly being the bullpen catcher. It's not exactly the most glamorous position on the roster, but it's still important. Sometimes, pitchers have very little time to get ready and need somebody who can get them the most warm-up pitches in a short amount of time.
Sturgill, who goes into the 2013 season as one of the few returning players, is the leading candidate to catch full time. He said that Martin, who as a freshman backed up Adam Church, but was the designated hitter and played some outfield, was one of the players who kept him in good spirits during the 2012 year.
“David always did a really good job of patting you on the back when you were doing the backup job because he knew that it's tough,” Sturgill said. “He was a backup once, through he got to hit.”
Sturgill is the starting catcher for the Watauga Junior Legion baseball team this summer. He catches the first game of Watauga's doubleheaders and is the designated hitter in the second game. Steadman Sauls is the catcher for the second game.
Sturgill feels that although he's paid his dues on the Watauga bench, he also feels he's learned a lot and can use it in 2013.
“It's OK knowing that you'll get your chance and that you're getting better practicing every day,” Sturgill said. “I understood that David was a way better catcher and a way better hitter. He's a real nice guy. He knows how to catch and knows how to hit. He's a real nice guy and I was the backup.”
Sturgill is not a stranger to the Watauga legion program. He played following his freshman year, but struggled at the plate. Sturgill returned following his sophomore year and fared much better at the plate.
Coached by Dustin Kerley that season, Sturgill credited the jayvee boss with helping him regain his offense.
“Legion is what set it up,” Sturgill said. “Coach Kerley helped me get my swing back and really got my season together.”
Watauga got off to a slow start, but also played some of the better teams in the legion conference. The Pioneers went 6-2 in a four-game homestand after the Pioneers started hitting the ball better.
Sturgill said current coach Brad Rudisill, who is an assistant coach with the Watauga varsity team in the spring, shook the players up, and they responded.
It's a much different atmosphere than the Junior Little League, where things are much more laidback than on the prep level. Players are expected to run on and off the field, and to pay attention to the game itself, even if they're on the bench.
Sturgill is not limited to catching. He can also pitch, something he has not done until this season.
“I've never pitched in high school,” Sturgill said. “We were just goofing around one time and (Watauga coach Pete) Hardee said “Why don't you throw a few?” He said I was hitting about 83-84 and he said ‘Wow, I didn't know you had it in you.'”
Sturgill started working with former Watauga ace Ethan Greene, who is pitching for the Caldwell County Legion Post 29 team, and will pitch at Pfeiffer College next spring. Greene taught Sturgill how to throw a slider and a change-up to keep batters honest.
Sturgill lets his catcher call the pitches when he's on the mound.
That means Sturgill works with Sauls, who the rising senior called “a great catcher.”
Through all this, Sturgill has to balance playing basketball. He played on the varsity team last season, and could be a starter for the Pioneers this winter.
He plays basketball four times a week, and then heads over to the baseball field afterward. One week, Sturgill had basketball practice early in the afternoon, which was followed by weight lifting before his baseball game.
Sturgill does not have many more days like that coming up in the near future. Watauga hosts Maiden at 5 p.m. Saturday and closes out the regular season at 3 p.m. Sunday at East Burke.
It is unknown if Watauga will make the playoffs.