EDMOND — Tyler Crabtree likes getting hits.
What baseball player doesn’t?
But he also doesn’t mind getting hit.
Last season, he got hit by a pitch 41 times, tying an NCAA Division II single-season record. This season, the Central Oklahoma leadoff man isn’t on pace to break that record, but he’s still been plunked 16 times.
“Any day I can wear one for my team,” he said without even a hint of irony, “is a good day.”
If that’s the case, then Crabtree has lots of good days.
Let’s put this into some perspective. The guy who led Major League Baseball in hit by pitches last season was Shin-Soo Choo, then with the Reds, now with the Rangers. He got hit 26 times, but he played in 154 games.
That’s once every 5.9 games.
Last season, Crabtree got hit once every 1.2 games.
This season: 1.8 games.
By all accounts, Crabtree is a smart guy. Likes to read in his free time. Wants to be a pastor after he graduates in May.
And he’s not a masochist either, though his teammates sometimes wonder.
“A lot of them just joke around with me and say I’m crazy and stuff, but ... ” he said, shrugging, “it works, so I just try to do it.”
Yep, you read that right. Crabtree tries to get hit. Crowds the plate. Does whatever he can within the rules. And he never, ever jumps out of the way.
When you step in the batter’s box, getting on base is the goal — even more so when you’re the leadoff hitter — and Crabtree is willing to do whatever it takes.
That’s something his dad taught from the beginning.
“If a ball is comin’ at you, wear it,” he told Tyler. “Get on base. It’s a free base.”
That mentality was reinforced when Crabtree saw that a couple players who he admired while growing up in McAlester were willing to take one for the team, too. So, throughout little league and summer ball and high school, Crabtree welcomed the chance to get hit by a pitch.
But his HBP numbers really soared in college.
While at Eastern Oklahoma College in Wilburton, he played for Craig Price, who was a big fan of small ball. Bunt. Walk. Do anything to get on base and manufacture runs.
“Any way you can get on base ... you do it,” Crabtree said.
Including getting smacked by a fastball.
“And if you get out of the way, he’s yellin’ at you.”
Crabtree got plunked 41 times as a sophomore at Eastern. The next season, his first at UCO, he got hit another 41 times.
Because he’s a right-handed hitter, pretty much every pitch that hits him gets him on the left side of his body. He’s taken pitches off his leg, hip and torso, but his arm and shoulder get the brunt of them.
That’s by design.
While at Eastern, Crabtree was playing in an early-season game on a cold, rainy day when he got plunked on the elbow. It was the most pain he’d ever been in after getting hit by a pitch. Still is. The ball on bone paired with the cold made for a most unpleasant experience.
One of his teammates wore an EvoShield guard on his elbow, so that day, Crabtree asked his dad to go find one for him.
He’s worn that guard ever since.
It isn’t huge, maybe 4 or 5 inches long, but it’s got padding and strong plastic. If Crabtree sees a pitch coming inside, he tries to aim his elbow guard in the ball’s direction.
“But it doesn’t always hit there,” Crabtree admitted.
Still, most of the hits don’t hurt. Not that much, anyway. There are occasional bruises and welts, but Crabtree shrugs off the pain.
Do his coaches ever cringe that one of their best players is getting hit by a pitch once every couple games?
“No,” UCO coach Dax Leone said flatly.
He chuckled, probably realizing how strange his resoluteness sounded.
“I think he’s got it down to a pretty good science,” Leone explained. “He’s just taken ownership of it.”
Plus, Crabtree was a football player in high school. Played catcher most of his life, too. So, pain and discomfort are things to which he’s grown accustomed.
About the only thing that Leone laments about Crabtree’s penchance for getting hit by pitches is that it sometimes overshadows the rest of his skills. He hit for the cycle just last weekend. He is great at hitting to the opposite field, key when pitchers are throwing away and trying to avoid plunking him. He is one of the top defensive outfielders in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, too.
Leone also counts Crabtree as one of the two best people who he’s coached in his decade-plus of coaching.
“The success that we’ve had in our short time here ... a lot of it has to do with Tyler,” said Leone, who is in his fourth season at UCO. “Our program is really lucky to have him.”
Bruises, welts and all.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.