Colvin owes his career to 'Pap'

Colvin owes his career to 'Pap'

CHICAGO -- In his locker at Wrigley Field, and also on the road, Tyler Colvin tapes a photo of himself and his grandfather, Jerry Colvin.

When Tyler got his first big league hit with the Cubs last Sept. 21, he gave the ball and the bat to Jerry. When he hit his first home run on April 8, he gave that ball to Jerry.

In his home in Augusta, Ga., Jerry Colvin has every one of Tyler's jerseys framed, every trophy he's ever won, every baseball card. Someday, when Tyler has his own home, he'll be given all the souvenirs to put in his den. Jerry will have the memories.

"I'm going to write a book one day," Jerry said. "It's a dream come true for him and us, too. He's the first one from this small town to make the Major Leagues."

Tyler got to the Major Leagues because of his 70-year-old grandfather, who helped raise the young outfielder, taught him the game and schooled him on life.

So on Father's Day, let's salute the man known in the Colvin family as "Pap."

"He's my dad," Tyler said. "And my best friend. When I talk to my uncle, he's like, 'Yeah, I talked to Dad the other day -- oh, I mean Granddad.' That's the way it is. He raised me and he raised my uncle, too. That's the way I look at him. I believe he feels that way toward me, too."

Tyler's father deserted his family about a year after Tyler was born, and Jerry and his wife, Cece, took in Tyler and his mother, Tricia. Early on, Tyler made his future intentions very clear.

"He told me in either the fifth or sixth grade, he said, 'Pap, I'm going to play Major League ball someday,' " Jerry said. "You hear a kid say that and say, 'OK' and don't think much of it. He must have meant it."

Tyler did.

"I always told him I wanted to be a Major League baseball player, but it looks so far away when you're young," Tyler said. "Coming into my junior year of high school, I was thinking about how I wanted to get into a decent school and play and worried about getting an education."

Tyler's baseball schooling began in the trailer park where the Colvins lived. There was no manicured baseball diamond, just gravel. Grandfather and grandson would play catch for hours. Tyler wanted to be a pitcher.

"It got to the point where I had to buy some shin guards," Jerry said.

The hard work paid off. In his junior year, Tyler was 9-1 with an ERA under 1.00. He was named the Aiken County Player of the Year.

"He could probably pitch now," Jerry said.

College was another challenge. Jerry decided that Tyler needed to see what schools had to offer, so for seven consecutive weekends, the two drove to various campuses, visiting Tennessee, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Clemson, among others. Tyler wasn't drafted out of high school by any Major League teams, but Clemson coach Jack Leggett did come to talk to him.

Leggett didn't need any pitchers -- he wanted Tyler's bat in the Tigers' lineup. So Tyler became a first baseman. But, as Jerry says, Clemson added an All-America first baseman who "ran like he had a piano on his back." So Tyler became an outfielder.

And Jerry was the proud grandfather, watching his kid from the stands.

"I did go to 186 consecutive Clemson baseball games," Jerry said. "He didn't play a game at Clemson that I didn't see in person. I drove to Miami and Boston and Omaha and Waco, Texas, and Lubbock, Texas. I put 83,000 miles on a van in three years. This kid, he excels as an athlete, and I didn't want to miss anything."

"We talk about that all the time," Tyler said of the visits the two made to the college campuses. "He spent a lot of money on me taking me to those campuses so I could get educated in the game and learn different things about the game that I needed to learn."

Tyler recently sent Jerry some new golf clubs. Cece passed away earlier this year, and Jerry is still busy with a freight-shipping business, but he is testing those clubs every chance he gets.

If Tyler needs anything, Jerry is there. Jerry drove 600 miles to Florida to pick up a dog Tyler had bought for himself and his fiance, Molly. He watches Tyler's sister's dog. And he follows every at-bat. It will be hard for Tyler to repay his grandfather for everything he's done.

Jerry will be in Chicago at the end of June for a Cubs homestand. He went to Pittsburgh from May 4-6, when the rookie outfielder played just two innings. Jerry then drove to Cincinnati for the next series, and Tyler didn't play until the third game of the set. He hit a two-run homer in that game.

"I guess the whole trip was worth it for that," Jerry said.

The two stay in touch daily through phone conversations or text messages. Often, Jerry sends a tip or two after a game.

"He's kind of like a hero here," Jerry said of his grandson. "He never would acknowledge that during his time in the Minor Leagues. People wanted to interview him, but he shied away from it. He didn't think he had excelled or didn't think he was where he was supposed to be to get acknowledged. His attitude has not changed since he got [to the big leagues]. He understands the hardest thing now is to stay there."

Jerry doesn't have to look far to be reminded of those days when he and Tyler played catch on the gravel, and he insisted on telling this story.

"I would pitch to him from behind a screen," he said. "One time I left my foot out, and he hit a line drive that hit me on the end of the toenail, and it drove it back into my toe. That was 10 years ago.

"Every time I look down at my toenail, it reminds me of Tyler Eugene."

But there's another story that would make any parent and grandparent proud. Jerry had a friend who was very ill and who asked if Tyler would hit a home run for him. That was in April, when the Cubs were playing in Milwaukee.

"That's the night he hit it off the scoreboard in Milwaukee and it bounced back on the field," Jerry said. "After the game, he said, 'Pap, call Mr. Bolton and tell him not only did I hit the home run to make him feel better, I got the ball for him.' And Tyler wrote on the ball, 'To Mr. Bolton, I hope this made you feel better, Tyler Colvin.' "

That'll make a granddad proud.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.