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When Brandon Tyler received the email back in November, he wasn't sure what to think, even with the USA Baseball logo on it.

"I thought it was a joke at first," the Hammond junior said.

So Tyler checked it out with Kenny Fullman, one of his travel ball coaches with the Chicago White Sox Ace, and he confirmed what was in the letter was legit. Tyler had been selected as one of 64 high school players to attend the 2018 MLB/USA Baseball Dream Series at Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

For real.

"I told some people, some of them didn’t believe it," Tyler said. "I'm excited and nervous. I'm scared to mess up in front of (Major League Baseball) scouts."

The all-expenses-paid event, held in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, is in its second year. It hosts a diverse group of pitchers and catchers in a special development camp atmosphere that also serves as a showcase for professional scouts and collegiate recruiters to evaluate kids who may not have had the opportunity for exposure through other events.

How did Tyler get chosen? He's not exactly sure but he figures it has something to do with the exposure he received with the Windy City-based travel team he's been a part of since eighth grade.

"I've been to a lot of showcases," he said. "We're watched by college, MLB scouts."

Tyler made a splash as a freshman at Hammond Academy, where a talented Hawks squad had a good season, but was unable to play in the state tournament due to an athletic department error. He transferred to Hammond High last year, but was not granted eligibility to play for the Wildcats. It wasn't a lost spring for Tyler though, as the right-handed pitcher-outfielder spent his weekends playing in the Hitters Baseball Academy in Racine, Wisconsin.

He left this morning for Arizona, where he'll spend Friday through Monday. With the semester ending at Hammond and an MLK Day on Monday, Tyler will only miss one day of school, while experiencing some outside-the-classroom learning.

"I hope to become a better person and player," he said.

Former MLB pitcher LaTroy Hawkins from West Side is part of a coaching staff of past big leaguers, including Dave Stewart, Marquis Grissom, Charles Johnson and ex-White Sox manager Jerry Manuel. Tyler spoke by phone with Hawkins, who gave him the ins and outs of the weekend and some helpful hints.

"His advice was to be early, make sure I'm in the hotel room by curfew, mainly to have fun," Tyler said. "I feel like I'm repping the whole city (of Hammond) in general."

Currently 6-foot, Tyler hopes to sprout three or four more inches while he's still in high school. He already hits 86 miles per hour on the radar gun, complemented by a curve ball and changeup. Tyler aspires to a career in the sport, but is wisely keeping his options open. He plans to go into law in college, following after his uncle, a personal injury lawyer.

"I want to make baseball part of my life," he said. "My main goal is MLB, but right now I'm focusing on college, getting a good scholarship."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at


Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.