Tyler McSparran will be playing baseball at Missouri after all.
Just not in the way everybody thought.
He won’t be spiking up for Tim Jamieson’s Tigers, despite what many believed for fifteen minutes last November when an innocent, sarcastic tweet ballooned into a mini recruiting scandal, but he’ll be playing nonetheless.
“They thought that I faked a national letter of intent,” McSparran says now, disbelieving. “At the time I was pissed because they totally blew it out of proportion.”
The date was November 9, a Wednesday. On a typical Wednesday during this particular time in McSparran’s life, he would take classes at Miramar College – a quaint two-year school in his hometown of San Diego – and normally not moonlight as the center of the latest intercollegiate athletic controversy.
He had been attending Miramar for three months, his home during a semester-long hiatus between transfers from Xavier University and whatever school he would attend in the spring. McSparran had attended Xavier out of high school, and almost immediately regretted his decision. It was too small. Their sport management program wasn’t what he thought it’d be. Ohio was not California. He applied to several schools including Missouri, then went home to Miramar to make his decision.
This particular Wednesday was the day McSparran made it. He would transfer to Missouri to study sports journalism. Columbia had everything he wanted – a world-class program, big-time college sports, and a roaring social scene. He mailed in his initial deposit, and tweeted “officially a missouri tiger” to inform his friends and family he’d be moving across the country again.
Then his world blew up.
This particular Wednesday also happened to be National Signing Day for intercollegiate sports. Announcements were popping up all across the country of five-star recruits in baseball, basketball, volleyball, tennis and at least seven other sports committing to their schools.
Hunter Mense, a former player and volunteer assistant for Missouri baseball, saw McSparran’s tweet and asked him if he would be playing a sport at his new school.
“I wrote back, ‘yeah, baseball.’, half jokingly and half because I was planning on playing club,” said McSparran.
The next morning he awoke to multiple mentions on Twitter from Columbia-based media and blogs. Posts appeared on SimmonsField.com, a popular Missouri baseball website run by blogger T.R. Robertson. McSparran’s high school coach and family received emails. Reporters pried Sarah Miester, Tiger volleyball player who went to high school with McSparran. Who was this mystery man Missouri had landed?
In reality, McSparran hadn’t played a game since high school.
He tweeted back to Blumberg, apologizing even though he had made no mistake. After all, what had he done wrong? Been ignorant to the seriousness lazy reporters place in random tweets? He had officially become a Missouri tiger, and was planning on playing club baseball. He wasn’t inaccurate. They were.
The media didn’t see it that way. Instead they villianized McSparran, posting apologetic pieces implying their had been mislead. The Columbia Tribune ran a story blasting the 20-year-old, mocking his twitter feed in an article that inappropriately defames a regular kid who was just excited about changing schools.
“I wasn’t in any way trying to fake anything,” McSparran said. “I was just joking around. Faking my national letter of intent was never my intent whatsoever.”
Flash forward a few months, and the Missouri baseball team is hosting Oklahoma State in late March. McSparran is watching from behind home plate, donning a Cincinnati Reds cap to match his black-and-red San Diego State hooded sweatshirt. In between innings, an older man with glasses comes over and sits down next to him. It’s Robertson. He’s recognized the sweatshirt and connected the dots. Now he finally gets to meet his mystery man.
“He came up and said ‘Are you Tyler McSparran? I’m the guy who wrote the blog and blew everything out of proportion,” McSparran said. “He said he wanted to let me know that that post got more hits than any other post he’d had on the site. So that was pretty funny. We laughed it off.”
Robertson could not be reached for comment, but he did comment on his blog, mentioning their chance encounter in an end-of-year themed post.
He calls McSparran “the Mizzou student from San Diego who I catapulted into his 15 minutes of fame as a new MU Baseball recruit last November,” and goes on to say “we laughed, we talked about how crazy it all was, we went back to watching the game.”
Which brings us to now. McSparran transferred to Missouri last spring, when club baseball was in full swing and tryouts closed. In September, he began his attempt to stay true to his promise, attending multiple meetings and workouts. He made it past the first round of cuts, the fall season.
For the fall, coaches take the best 80 or so kids and divide them into five or six teams. They play a full fall schedule against each other, and when that’s over another tryout is held. Coaches take into account performance in the tryout and fall season to narrow that number down from 80 to 25 to eventually 13.
McSparran didn’t miss a game, played centerfield and gradually made his way up in the lineup. On game days, he hit for average, showed some speed and played solid defense. On off days, he hired a hitting coach – former MU player and Cleveland Indians farmhand Greg Folgia – to help him sharpen his skills.
Eventually last Saturday morning came, the final tryout. McSparran stayed in Friday night, got a good night sleep and woke up early. He fixed himself breakfast, had a cup of coffee, and put on his baseball pants.
The workout ended around 1 p.m. By 3, he had received the call. He made it. Tyler McSparran would play baseball at Missouri.
“I was good on my word,” he said. “I said I was going to be playing baseball at Mizzou, and I’m playing baseball at Mizzou.”