By Forest Stulting
In his number 28 black jersey and gray pants, Tyler Uberstine stood atop the artificial mound inside Northwestern’s Trienens Performance Center. He took a deep breath and fired home. “Strike one,” yelled the umpire. Uberstine finally had his chance. “It was great to find a coaching staff that supported and wanted me,” Uberstine said.
With the 2020 NCAA baseball season one week away, Northwestern began practice two weekends ago. Seven first-year players help make up the Wildcats’ 30-man roster. Among the newcomers is Uberstine, a redshirt-sophomore transfer from the University of Southern California. His journey to Evanston is a unique one. It is a journey filled with determination, grit and the will to always compete.
As a Southern California high school freshman, Uberstine didn’t stand even five feet tall and barely played on his freshman team. A year later, not much changed. His junior year he didn’t make varsity. As a senior, he started to grow and throw harder but got few chances on the varsity team. This left him with no scholarship offers to play college baseball.
In the fall of 2018, he enrolled at USC, just northeast of his hometown, Manhattan Beach. By now, 5 feet, 6 inches tall, he joined the club team, but he longed for something more competitive. So he asked USC’s varsity baseball coach if he could try out for the team as a sophomore. The coach obliged — sending Uberstine on a life-changing journey.
During the second semester of his freshman year, he quit the club team and began specialized baseball training at PFA (Preparation, Fitness, Attitude) in Claremont, California. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m., Uberstine Ubered an hour and a half each way to complete his throwing program and workout — all before class. He worked with Dave Coggin, a former professional pitcher, and saw gradual gains.
“When I wasn’t throwing over there [at PFA], I would throw with my roommate on top of a parking structure to long toss,” Uberstine said.
By the time fall practice began his sophomore year, Uberstine’s velocity sat in the mid- to high-80s. But he knew he needed more to make the team with 39 players vying for 35 spots. “My first pitch in warmups [during a scrimmage] I spiked the ball, I was so nervous,” Uberstine said. He hadn’t faced a batter since high school. However, he worked through the nerves and impressed the coaching staff enough that they kept him around for the start of official practice in January.
Over winter break, Uberstine and teammate Alex Cornwell trained every day, and Cornwell introduced Uberstine to analytics, a tool that would later become important for Uberstine’s development. When team practice began, more improvement became evident. “The student manager came up to me after a scrimmage and said, ‘Hey, you just hit 90 mph three times,’” Uberstine said. “That was a personal goal.”
But cuts came two days before the season began in mid-February. While in the locker room, Uberstine received a text from his coach saying he wanted to meet. “As I walk into his office, before I shook his hand, he says, ‘Tyler, we don’t have a spot for you on the team.’ I was in shock,” Uberstine said.
Not ready to give up, he put his name in the transfer portal and searched for a chance to play elsewhere. So Uberstine ignited his training regimen, this time at Beimel Elite Athletics in Los Angeles, and he applied to many of the same colleges he did in high school, with the exception of one: Northwestern.
After researching Northwestern, Uberstine sent a video of his USC scrimmages and stats to the Wildcats’ pitching coach, Josh Reynolds. Reynolds showed immediate interest, but he wasn’t sure the team would have room on the roster. Uberstine was not deterred. He kept working out at Beimel, a place known for implementing analytics, such as spin rate and spin efficiency, and for working with slow-motion cameras. Using that technology, Joe Beimel, the founder of Beimel, helped correct a mechanical issue. When Uberstine’s front foot would land, his hips weren’t completely open. Squaring your hips toward home plate helps add velocity, according to Beimel. Once Uberstine fixed this issue, he added more velocity, topping out at 92.4 mph in his first bullpen since getting cut.
“He just had that desire to play DI baseball,” Beimel said.
Around the time Reynolds knew the Wildcats would have room on the roster, Uberstine sent the coach a video of him throwing 92.4 mph. “Coach Reynolds responded back in all caps, WE WANT YOU AT NORTHWESTERN,” Uberstine recalled.
From the beginning, Uberstine and Reynolds connected; both knew and enjoyed the analytical side of pitching. They talked several times a week about how Uberstine fit into the program and could grow. “Watching him go from where he was to getting even better, it became clear this is someone we want,” Reynolds said.
When Uberstine finished final exams at USC, he planned a visit to Evanston. He arrived a day before the last regular season series of the year. “I watched practice and met the coaches and players, and I thought this is where I should be.”
The next day, May 16, 2019, Uberstine committed to Northwestern. “I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Beimel said. “He’s the kind of guy that has a chance to play professional baseball.”
Determination had finally materialized into a chance.
“Always compete,” Uberstine said. “That is what drives me.”