*Country Boys Can Survive *
Tyler and Stephen Kolek are Country Strong
By Matt Malatesta
Tyler Kolek is right off of Hollywood’s central casting. The 6-foot-5 flame-throwing right-hander is a larger-than-life Texan that you see on the big screen.
His story is one of becoming a 10-year overnight success, who is now thrust onto the national scene and will likely be a Top 5 overall draft pick come June. How about this for irony? His hometown team, the Houston Astros, has the No.1 pick in this year’s draft.
The Koleks live on the 10,000-acre Trinity River Red Angus Ranch, where his father manages the land. Tyler and his brother Stephen have grown up hunting, fishing and working one of the most pristine pieces of property in Texas.
“It’s probably different than what your average high schooler is used to, but it’s a privilege to live here. We have a ton of space and do virtually everything outdoors. We can go hunting and fishing when we want, but we’ve put a lot of work in to this place as well. We’ve spent a lot of time on tractors.”
The Koleks attend Shephard High School, a Class 3A school between Cleveland and Livingston, Texas, on Highway 59. They live 15 minutes from the town of just over 2,000 in population.
So how does one of the nation’s top baseball players hail from such a desolate area?
“The boys really fell in love with baseball when they were about 10-years-old and we’ve been playing select ball since then,” dad James Kolek said of Tyler and his younger son Stephen. “We have been travelling down to the north side of Houston for a long time playing ball with the Legends and the Houston Heat for a long time. It’s what they love to do, and they are willing to put in the work.”
Tyler Kolek has starred at Shepherd since stepping on campus as a freshman. He started on varsity in all three sports, before strictly focusing on baseball last season.
“I loved football and played tight end and defensive end,” he said. “Basketball was okay, but there was just so much running. We also got into showing livestock in big shows in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston, before travel baseball started taking up most of our time.”
Kolek had done well in showcase baseball over the years, but last season he started trending nationally. The buzz came after a strange turn of events.
“During the season last year, I had thrown five no-hit innings against Huffman High School,” he recalls. “I played the last inning at first base. They bunted down the line and I was ready to catch a throw from our pitcher. I lost track of the ball and the runner ran right into my extended arm and broke it cleanly. He just caught it right.”
A surgery with screws and plates followed and Kolek’s high school season was over. He was hard-casted for a few weeks, but would move his bad arm around so much that he broke the cast. The doctors took it off, but he was not released. He could run and throw, but no game situations.
He was released just before for a summer tournament with the Houston Heat, and got a little work in over the weekend. The following day he would head to Arlington, Texas, for an Area Code game tryout. The goal at the tryout is to show your skills and make the scrimmage later that night, which pits the day’s best against each other.
“I threw two pitches at the tryout and they put me through to the night scrimmage,” he said. “I was a little surprised because I was just coming off that injury.”
He was clocked by the professional scouts at 99 and 102 mph.
“I really had great stuff that night at the scrimmage and everything exploded from there,” he said.
He was sent to the Perfect Game camp in Minneapolis the next week and the USA Trials in North Carolina the following week.
“It really all happened over that first two-week period,” he recalls. “I wasn’t overwhelmed, but more just surprised.”
His stock skyrocketed over the summer and he found himself hosting professional scouts on a weekly basis.
“We started in October and would have a scout over every week,” he said. “Then we went to three times a week to get to meet all the teams before the season started. Now it’s just a waiting game and whatever happens, happens.
“For now I’m just a high school pitcher trying to get our team to the playoffs,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out right now for the pros, I’m going to go to TCU and be a college pitcher.”
Don’t’ hold your breath Horned Frogs.
While Tyler is the MLB’s top prize this June, his brother Stephen is also a potential first or second-round draftee in 2015. The Texas A&M-commit has the height at 6-foot-4 and is a little more athletic.
“I’m just trying to make a name for myself,” Stephen said. “It’s been great to see him go through the process and I think he’s helped me get noticed as well. We are a little different as pitchers also. He likes to throw it by people and I like to hit the corners and get hitters off their timing.”
For now, Shepherd has one of the deadliest pitching staffs in the state, who both have golden arms.
Before long, however, these country kids could be coming to a town or professional stadium near you.