Aaron Fitt

The “right things” matter to Virginia’s Tyler Wilson

by Aaron Fitt June 27, 2011 in Baseball

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In a conversation with Tyler Wilson, it doesn’t take long for the magnetism of his personality to become perfectly apparent. Virginia’s instantly likable senior righthander has a clear, confident voice and a naturally friendly disposition. It’s no wonder his teammates are drawn to him and eager to follow his lead.

“Everbody loves Tyler Wilson, there’s no doubt,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “He’s just got an infectious personality—he’s somebody you love being around. He’s very honest. I don’t know what else to say—the kid just looks at the world the right way. I believe when you’re that way, you’re rewarded for it.”

Wilson’s worldview is inherently gratifying. When helping others is what makes you tick, external rewards become less important. Of course, Wilson still said he was “very, very excited” to be named the winner of the 2011 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, which honors a senior who has excelled in athletics as well as academics, while demonstrating the values of leadership and community service.

“What makes me happy as a person is making other people happy,” Wilson said. “I think it’s really important to use my position as a player here at the University of Virginia to reach out to others—not only different students in the UVa. community, but helping students around here. I like to volunteer in middle schools, and to help people that need it. I think when you’re in a position with an immense amount of blessings as an individual, it’s your job to share them.”

Wilson’s service in the community goes beyond the work he does as a tutor for fellow UVa. students and local middle schoolers. He has also volunteered with the Special Olympics, where he was thrilled to work with athletes “who are just as in love with the sport that they play as I am with baseball.” He has worked with the Angel Tree organization to sponsor a family and deliver gifts during the holidays. He is heavily involved with bible study and campus ministry groups. And he works with the Abundant Life program, which helps underprivileged children in the Charlottesville area.

“We set up programs where we will teach them different sports—we’ll teach them soccer, teach them basketball, and really just give them an opportunity to get out with other kids,” Wilson said. “We give them an environment that’s full of energy and love, and let them reach some kind of success, and be with an organized group of people who are looking to put them on the right path.”

Even Wilson’s post-baseball plan is built around his desire to helping other people. A biology major, Wilson is an outstanding student who has appeared on UVa.‘s honor roll six times, and he said he would like to go to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon when his playing days are done. Specifically, he wants to perform Tommy John surgery on athletes who injure their elbows.

“My dream as a child has always been to play pro baseball,” said Wilson, a 10th-round pick by the Orioles this June. “I’ve been blessed enough to have that opportunity, and that’s coming up here soon. I’m going to give that 120 percent every day that I can. But growing up, I thought it was important to establish another career option that I was in love with. I love the medical field. Knowing how directly Tommy John surgery is related to baseball, that seems like a perfect fit if that becomes an option down the line—to help put people back together, give them another chance to succeed.”

Wilson had an opportunity to start his pro career after his second consecutive standout season in Virginia’s bullpen in 2010, but he made it clear to scouts that he intended to return to school for his senior year, so he slipped to the 35th round of the draft. Wilson’s wipeout slider and resilient arm made him a serious weapon in the bullpen, but the Cavs needed him as a starter this spring, and he embraced the conversion—anything to help the team. His quality four-pitch mix—which also includes an 88-92 mph fastball, a solid changeup and an occasional curveball—has helped him thrive in a starting role. He was 8-0, 2.34 with 111 strikeouts and 21 walks in 88 innings heading into Virginia’s super regional matchup with UC Irvine.

“Everything’s worked out for him,” O’Connor said. “I talked to him about making him a starter last year in his senior year, and he’s risen to the occasion and has been Mr. Consistent for us all year long. It’s always about others, and not about Tyler.

“He has been a terrific pitcher for our program, and he’s had a lot of success both out of the bullpen and now this year starting. But more important than that, he’s been a real leader in our clubhouse for a couple of years. He’s one of those special players that the right things matter to him all the time. He’s very, very unselfish, and I think the world of him. I’m just so proud of him.”