By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For most minor league baseball players, extended spring training in Florida isn’t a memorable experience.
Tyler Ybarra enjoyed it all.
Ybarra, a lefthanded pitcher with the Bluefield Blue Jays, played in the Gulf Coast League in 2009, but had to sit out all last season.
“I played 2009 in the GCL. In 2010 I had family issues that kept me home for the year,” Ybarra said. “I am just getting back into the swing now and staying down here for a little bit.”
No wonder Ybarra was ready to get back on the diamond, even if it was under the hot Florida sun, playing games that no one saw but themselves.
“It is a very repetitive system, but if you go there and embrace the opportunity to get good work you can really fine-tune yourself and make yourself into the player you would like to be,” Ybarra said.
A 43rd round draft choice by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 from Wellington, Kan., the hard-throwing southpaw took advantage of the opportunity, and it has shown with four solid outings since arriving in Bluefield.
“I was in extended in 2009 as well. This year was different from 2009 because I took the year off and I am just happy to be back,” Ybarra said. “I was really happy to be in extended unlike other players who feel like they shouldn’t be there or aren’t happy to be there.
“I really embraced the fact to be playing ball. I think it helped me a lot to get real good work out of my time down there.”
That work has paid off, as Ybarra continues to chase his dream.
“It was always a dream,” he said. “Coming from the day I was 4 years old, it was always a dream of mine to be make it to this level and past.”
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Ybarra has posted a 2.61 earned run average with the Blue Jays, striking out 12 and walking just four as a middle reliever in 10 1/3 innings on the mound. His last outing came on Tuesday, allowing four hits, fanning four and surrendering one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings against Johnson City.
He’s enjoyed the opportunity to pitch in Bluefield, and is definitely liking the cooler weather, something that is rare in the summer in Florida and his home state of Kansas.
“It is a great atmosphere, when fans show up they give us great support, the weather out here, you can’t say enough about the weather, it is nice,” Ybarra said. “I am just enjoying it, enjoying the chance to play ball.”
Ybarra has found the Appalachian League to be a bigger challenge than the Gulf Coast League, which is where he pitched in ‘09. He was 2-4 with a 6.64 ERA in 15 appearances, striking out 11, walking 10 and unleashing seven wild pitches.
“The talent level here is a lot better (here), and the hitters are a lot better,” Ybarra said. “You have really got to mix your pitches a lot better and locate, to say the least.”
Ybarra isn’t the first member of his family to play professional baseball. His father, Jesse Ybarra, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, which made his son a fan of the Reds as a youngster growing up.
“I looked at the Cincinnati Reds a lot, my dad got drafted in ‘84 to the Reds and that kind of just fitting for me to like them,” Ybarra said. “I enjoy watching everybody, look at all the great ball players, you can’t even mention names because there are so many.”
A standout prep hurler, Ybarra still remembers a nervous feeling while waiting for his name to be called in the late rounds of the ‘09 draft.
“Waiting to get your name called is not a good feeling to wait so long, but when it is called it is as good as the first round,” Ybarra said. “The opportunity is what you are looking for.”
Much like Cliff Lee got all those years ago. Lee, now one of the top pitchers in baseball, is a standout southpaw with the Philadelphia Phillies. Not a bad player to pattern himself by.
“I enjoy watching Cliff Lee a lot, he has got real good stuff and as a lefthanded pitcher it is good to see another lefty with fine-tuned mechanics and somebody to look after,” Ybarra said.
Being lefthanded can’t hurt in Ybarra’s quest to reach the big leagues. Lefties are always a hot commodity, and he’s glad to be one.
“It is a good thing, it is a blessing to be lefthanded,” Ybarra said. “I don’t look into it as much not being normal because I have been lefty all my life so it is kind of natural now.
“It is definitely not a normal thing to see a lefty on the mound. It helps you get good life on the ball from a different side and kind of mix it up on the hitters.”
Being selected to play professional ball was a dream come true. He didn’t care who it was with.
“I didn’t really have a preference, I was just hoping to hear my name called and it came around and it was the Blue Jays,” said Ybarra, who turns 22 on Dec. 11. “Honestly, it was unexpected being the only Canadian team, but the Blue Jays’ organization is a great organization, the player development is very good.
“I am happy to be here and it is a blessing to be here and it is a good thing.”
As for how long Ybarra plans to chase his dreams, there is no deadline.
“As long God is willing to give me,” he said. “I will go 15 years if that is what I have got in me, just keep working on the smaller things like the maintenance program and things like that.
“I am hoping to make it a real long haul.”
—Contact Brian Woodson