Sometimes, it almost feels like a bizarre fantasy for Tyler Dyson.
The sophomore pitcher wants to look ahead to this season, but who could blame him for looking back to last June?
One day your being recruited as a walk-on by Florida.
Months later, you’re a forgotten pitcher in the bullpen.
And then you blink and you’re the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the College World Series.
Just a normal path to glory.
“I got my shot and just ran with it,” said the UF sophomore. “It is very surreal. I’m glad it happened the way it did at the end.”
The end was euphoric, a dogpile in Omaha that is now a part of history that the players see every day they come to practice. The journey to get to that point makes it a better story for Dyson.
In high school at Braden River in Bradenton, Dyson wasn’t a pitcher until his senior year. Well, he’d pitch every once in awhile.
“Just throwing,” he said. “I was just a guy throwing upper 80s and I thought that was hard.”
Florida had recruited him as a corner infielder through his junior season, but was not offering a scholarship.
Then, in the summer before his senior year, Dyson gave pitching a shot with the Florida Burn club team. It went so well he became a starter for his high school team.
Suddenly, colleges were interested in a 6-foot-3 righty throwing in the mid-90s.
“He was a little raw,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
Still, Sully could see Dyson as a hard-throwing closer when last season began. That plan was swallowed up by two things — too many deep pitching counts that caused hair-pulling by the coach in the dugout and the emergence of closer Michael Byrne.
By the time the Gators got to the Super Regional, Dyson had thrown all of 24⅔ innings for the season. For most Florida fans, he was an afterthought.
But all of that was about to change.
On a wet weekend, UF was in trouble because of rain delays that stripped down the pitching staff and Dyson was called on in the middle of the deciding game against Wake Forest.
If he could get O’Sullivan a couple of innings against a team that literally had been denting the scoreboard in right field, maybe they could piece the rest together to throw Alex Faedo at the end.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Dyson said. “It was the same game I’ve been playing since I was three years old in the backyard with my dad and my brother.”
He delivered five shutout innings out of nowhere and Florida advanced to the College World Series. There, he pitched in spot relief against Louisville, then gave Florida a special start and memorable in the last game of the season throwing six innings and allowing only one run.
“We were watching clips of that game and it was remarkable how he handled that stage,” O’Sullivan said.
All told, Dyson pitched 14⅓ innings in the postseason and allowed only one earned run.
Now comes the really good news for Florida.
“It’s unbelievable,” said infielder Jonathan India. “He has come so far since I saw him last year now. He’s an actual pitcher instead of a thrower.
“His change-up, it comes in at 88 (MPH) and drops like a sinker. I can’t wait to see what he does.”
The change was something he used occasionally in high school, but left in the bullpen as a freshman.
But as Florida’s No. 3 starter, Dyson knew he needed a third pitch to get through the grueling SEC and worked to that end all summer and fall.
“I’m feeling good with it,” he said. “I trust it now. I feel I can throw it in any count, confident with righties or lefties.”
And he has returned to the windup after pitching from the stretch last season following his slow start.
So the guy who has been clocked at 98 is now coming at batters with more power and a third pitch.
“Arguably, he could be a lot of teams’ No. 1 (pitcher),” O’Sullivan said.
Oh and there’s this.
“I’m glad I didn’t pitch until late,” he said. “I’m fresher. I don’t have much mileage on my arm.”
Not bad for a near walk-on.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.