Maple Ridge’s Tyler O’Neill has a well-earned reputation for hitting the long ball. And one night in North Vancouver earlier this year, the kid they call Tank hit a home run so big it turned his whole season around.
It’s easy to see where the nickname came from. O’Neill has always been physically big, something he owes to both genetics and his own hard work. O’Neill’s father Terry, is a former Mr. Canada, and taught him everything he knows about weight-lifting.
“If I’m not playing ball or studying, I’m lifting weights,” he says. “I don’t take days off.”
Last winter, however, O’Neill’s passion for the game of baseball may have got the better of him when he suffered a hernia while working out.
“I don’t know if I wasn’t breathing enough or what, but it just went pop,” O’Neill recalls.
Still suffering the effects of hernia surgery, O’Neill’s batting average slumped to the low .200s midway through the 2012 Premier Baseball League season. After a pep talk with his coach Doug Mathieson of the Langley Blaze, O’Neill changed up his swing, and soon found the results he was looking for.
“My coach told me I have to start playing out of my shoes, and I followed his advice,” he says. “I started using my strength and swinging with everything I had.”
The North Shore Twins opted to pitch around the batter ahead of him that night in North Vancouver, no doubt hoping capitalize on the slugger’s slump.
O’Neill wasn’t having any of it, knocking an out-of-the-park home run to bust his slump and turn his season around. It was his first home run of the season.
By the time the 2012 came to a close, O’Neill was named the BCPBL’s rookie of the year, top offensive player, led the league in home runs (six), most RBIs (39), had the highest slugging percentage (.680), and most extra base hits (20).
“That was my first extra base hit all year,” he says of the home run in North Vancouver.
Not surprisingly, he was named to the BCPBL’s first all-star team, and was a member of Team B.C., hitting three homers in nine games at the Canada Cup.
Although he’s still a Grade 12 student at Garibaldi secondary school in Maple Ridge, where he holds a 3.7 grade point average, O’Neill already has big league bat speed. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
O’Neill is currently being courted by a host of NCAA Division 1 schools, and has seen his stock rise ahead of the 2013 Major League Baseball draft in June.
However, he hasn’t made up his mind yet if wants to go the college route, or head straight to the pros.
“It all depends on where I get drafted,” he says. “I’m just focussed on going as high as I can.”
In the meantime, O’Neill is spending the fall touring with scouting teams across the US, and preparing for his second year in the BCPBL with the Langley Blaze. O’Neill is the only ball player from Western Canada going to the seventh annual Power Showcase Home Run Derby in the new Miami Marlins Stadium. O’Neill also gets the chance to play in an international all-star game as part of the event.
“I’ve only ever been in one home run derby before, so I’m hoping to make it 2-0,” he says.