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Rick Houston | | May 29, 2015

Family man

  Tampa catcher Nick Tindall poses with his wife Katey and child Max.

CARY, N.C. -- Imagine being 17 years old and playing minor league baseball.

Millions dream of one day being paid to play baseball, and Tindall had made it. Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 17th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft, he was assigned to the organization’s rookie league affiliate in the Gulf Coast League.

Yet almost as soon as he got there, things just didn’t seem the same. He was used to swinging fancy composite bats, not the wooden ones they use in the pros. He struggled at the plate that first season, hitting just .185 in 17 games.

The next season wasn’t any better. He played in just 12 games, and got just five hits in thirty-three trips to the plate. His batting average was .152.

“You’re seeing pitching you haven’t seen,” Tindall said. “You’re thrown into a mix of guys of different ages with more talent than you. When you first get there, it’s a little overwhelming.”

It had been a culture shock going from the fancy loaded composite bats to wooden ones, and even the pace of the game was different. During spring training in 2010, the team seemed to be loaded with catchers and he was released.

For the first time in his life, baseball was in doubt and that stung deeply.

“I can honestly tell you I didn’t really know what they said to me,” Tindall remembered. “I just knew at that point, it was over. The feeling was really confusing, because I was only 19 years old. I hadn’t gone to school yet, and I really didn’t know what was lined up in the future for me. It was kind of scary. At 19 years old, I didn’t know whether I was going to play baseball or not again.”

He had some choices, but not playing baseball again was not one of them. Tindall could at the very least have probably found himself an independent league team somewhere. Yet where would that have left him had even that not worked out? He would’ve been out of baseball, with no education and no direction.

He enrolled at Quincy University in Illinois, and did well as a sophomore.

“I think it was the easiest decision I could’ve had,” Tindall continued. “When my high school coach came and told me there was an opportunity to do that, I felt blessed. Having the opportunity to continue to play baseball and get the education that me and my parents wanted me to have for free was a blessing in disguise.”

Baseball was back in his life, and he was glad of it. It had been an unsettling thing to think of himself without the game, but his perspective was changing. He was married now, and he and wife Katey had a son, Max.

That’s the ultimate game changer. The couple found out earlier this month that Max will have a younger brother or sister come January.

“This game isn’t going to last forever,” Tindall said. “[Having a wife and child] really helped me understand that there’s more important things outside the game. If I don’t ever get the chance to play professional ball again, I’ve come to reality and I’m really comfortable with that. Outside of baseball, I have my beautiful wife and my amazing son.”

After spending a year on the field at Quincy, he talked to Katey about wanting the chance to someday play for a national championship. There was a school down in Florida that always seemed to be in the mix, and it needed a catcher.

Nick Tindall was headed to Tampa.

In his very first year with the Spartans, the team made it to the NCAA Division II Championship and was expected to all but walk away with the national championship trophy. That was the plan, but not the reality.

After dropping its opener, Tampa made it all the way to Friday’s last chance game against Colorado Mesa. The game was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth when Colorado Mesa’s Kevan Elcock lifted a fly ball to shallow right field.

There was no way Garrett Woodward would try to score from third … but he did anyway. The ball got to Tindall in time.

And it popped out of his glove. Woodward scored. Game over. Season over.

They say that history has a way of repeating itself, and in Tindall’s case, that’s a fact. In the irony of all ironies, Tampa’s South Regional championship against Florida Tech was decided May 17 on an incredibly similar play.

This time, it was a line shot to short center field. Casey Scoggins caught the ball, then fired to Tindall. The Florida Tech runner and the ball arrived at almost the same instant.

This time, however, Tindall held on to the ball and the runner was out. Game over, again, only this time with Tampa on top and headed back here to Cary for the third year in a row.

“I was so overwhelmed with emotion,” Tindall said. “It’s just crazy how this game works. Last year left the worst taste in my mouth. That one play kept replaying in my head.”

Tindall would sometimes joke about how last year ended, and to have the trip to Cary decided on what amounted to the very same kind of play? It was sweet redemption.

He was not letting go of the baseball against Florida Tech. Not only did he tag the runner for the final out of the game, Tindall still had the ball in his gloved hand after extricating himself from the ensuing dogpile.

No matter what happens here this week, Tindall appreciates the perspective … and redemption. Graduating with a degree in criminology, Tindall plans to join the Air Force.

“For me, there is life after baseball,” he concluded. “I’m putting my heart and soul into these last games, but I’m really looking forward to being able to start a new chapter in my life with my growing family.”