“Signed a professional baseball contract today. Been working my whole life for today. Thank you to everyone who supported me throughout the years and to my kids, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Work that much harder and prove them wrong.”
Ty Hoelzen was understandably elated when he announced on his Facebook page Sunday he had signed a contract with the Sonoma (Calif.) Stompers of the independent league Pacific Association. After all, it was a dream come true for the 2009 Douglas High School graduate.
“I’m excited to go there (Sonoma),” he said. “It’s nice I still have a chance to play professional ball … that I get to continue to play, and get paid.”
After completion of an injury-plagued senior season last spring at California State University Sacramento, Hoelzen returned to Northern Nevada and began to contemplate his future. He began coaching a 13-year-old travel team in August, plus he became a certified personal trainer with his own Battle Born Strength & Conditioning.
After a while, however, Hoelzen realized he missed baseball and that he still had a dream that had not been fulfilled.
“I had been telling the kids, ‘Don’t give up on a dream,’ that if you love baseball enough and work hard enough, anything is possible,” Hoelzen said. “Then one day one of the parents told me, ‘You should practice what you preach,’ and that got me thinking I should get back in shape and follow my dream.”
Hoelzen’s dream moved forward Sunday during a tryout in Redding, Calif.
“It was kind of a one-on-one tryout where I threw against an adult league team up there,” Hoelzen said. “The guy apparently liked what he saw because he signed me on the spot.”
Conditioning was a plus — Hoelzen teaches strength and speed classes at Line Drive University on Thursdays — and the left-hander was clocked in his usual mid-80 mph range. He also liked the movement he saw on his pitches.
“My body is in good shape and I think the rest (from pitching) has helped,” Hoelzen said. “I basically went without throwing from June until now. I’ve been throwing batting practice twice a week, but other than that, I’ve just been rehabbing.”
At 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Hoelzen knows he isn’t a power pitcher.
“I’ve always known I had to be a little bit smarter and a little more crafty,” he said. “I just try to focus on location, changing speeds and getting movement on the ball. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw, the bottom line is, you’ve got to get people out.”
Hoelzen was able to do just that at Douglas, as he logged 17 career wins and twice pitched his way to first-team all-Sierra League honors. He won some huge games as a senior in 2009, beating Damonte Ranch to help the Tigers win the region tournament, and then Cimarron-Memorial in the state tournament.
Former Douglas head coach John Glover vividly remembers the team tryouts in 2007, and Hoelzen’s reaction after learning he would start his sophomore season on the junior varsity.
“He was an unhappy camper that day,” Glover said. “He weighed all of 115 pounds, but he felt he deserved to be on the varsity. That just shows how competitive he is.”
Hoelzen did work his way back to the varsity by the end of that season, turned in a one-hit shutout performance against Merced (Calif.) in his debut at the Atwater Easter tournament, and started on the mound in the region tournament championship game against Galena.
“He threw four or five solid innings and kept us in the game,” Glover said of a game the Tigers lost to Galena, 8-5.
After considering an offer from Division II Colorado Mesa, Hoelzen decided to go the community college route to pursue his long-term goal of playing Division I baseball.
He took a roundabout route after signing with College of Southern Nevada in Henderson.
“I was just overwhelmed by all the talent down there,” Hoelzen said. “That was the year they had Bryce Harper and I think seven guys off that pitching staff got drafted (five went in the 11th round or higher and the Washington Nationals picked Harper No. 1 overall).”
Hoelzen transferred after the 2009 fall semester to Feather River College in Quincy, Calif., where he earned all-conference recognition as a freshman (5-2, 1.66 ERA) and helped the Golden Eagles win back-to-back conference titles.
After moving on to Sacramento State, he was converted from starter to relief pitcher.
“I feel I had a lot of success,” Hoelzen said. “I set a single-season record for relief appearances (31) as a junior and ended up something like seventh on the (school’s) all-time list of relief appearances.”
Among his highlights in two seasons with the Hornets, Hoelzen threw 2.1 innings of shutout relief to beat Nevada at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in 2012, and then on Feb. 26, 2013, threw 4 shutout innings in his only start for the Hornets to beat the Wolf Pack, 4-1.
Glover is not surprised to see Hoelzen still pursuing baseball.
“Rick Kester (former Douglas pitching coach) and I were talking the other day how he is one of the most competitive kids we’ve had, at least in the time I’ve been here,” Glover said. “I think this is a great opportunity for him.”
Hoelzen is scheduled to report for spring training on May 20 for a season that begins in June. He has yet to step on the field to play, however, this is certainly a step in the right direction.
“I’ve been told since I was in high school, ‘You’re too small,’” he said. “But I’ve always used that as motivation to prove to people they were wrong.”