Jim Tyler had long since given up his dream of pitching against major leaguers or, indeed, of pitching against anyone. It had been almost half a century since he had signed a $100-a-month minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox and almost four decades since he had last pitched in a baseball game, for the Class A Macon (Ga.) Peaches of the old South Atlantic League. "I hadn't thrown a ball since I coached my son's Little League team, and that had been almost 30 years," says Tyler.
Seven years ago, however, while watching an Atlanta Brave game on TV at his home in Macon, Tyler heard announcer and former Brave pitcher Ernie Johnson talking about a Brave fantasy camp. Tyler was intrigued. "I wonder if I can still do it," he said to his wife, Evelyn.
"Do what?" she asked.
"Pitch—at the fantasy camp Ernie Johnson's talking about," said Tyler.
Evelyn was somewhat skeptical, but she told her husband of 48 years, "If you really want to do it, then go to it."
So it was that the 67-year-old Tyler launched his comeback. Since returning to the mound, Tyler, now 74, has been a mainstay of the Braves, a team in the Greater Atlanta Men's Senior Baseball League for players 36 and over. "People in the Men's Senior Baseball League [which has 34,000 players in 38 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Holland] have checked, and they say I'm the oldest guy still pitching," says Tyler, who has two children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. "That's nice to know, but that's not why I pitch. I do it because I love it, and I can still get people out."
Indeed he can, both as a starter and as a reliever. He also helps out occasionally in the infield as well as the outfield. After giving up only one earned run and two hits in four innings of a game he started in June, Tyler was pressed into action at third base in the second game of a double-header when the regular third sacker had to leave.
Evelyn Tyler, who was on hand, was hardly delighted to see her husband at the hot corner. "I could tell by the look on her face that she didn't like the idea of my playing third base," says Jim. As it turned out, nothing was hit his way, and after two innings another player took over, to Evelyn's relief.
Tyler is a bona fide pitcher, and a stylish one at that, with a fastball in the mid-60's, an excellent curve, a good slider and a deft changeup. "The key to Jim's success is his great control and the way he mixes up his pitches and keeps hitters off balance," says Wayne Coleman, 46, who is the Braves' player-manager. "He's very consistent; he never has a bad outing. And he's throwing better than he did during his first year, in 1990."
It was Coleman who recruited Tyler when the Braves were being formed in 1990. "I'd met Jim at a fantasy camp that winter, and after I got back home, I called and asked if he would pitch for us," says Coleman, who heads a management-consultant firm located outside Atlanta. "I knew if he was going to play in our league, I didn't want to have to hit against him."