Editor’s note: The following story is from the May 28 edition of the LocalSportsJournal.com magazine, which will be available in local retail stores this week. You can order home delivery of the Muskegon area’s only sports magazine by checking out the ad below,
By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – Fate finally smiled on Tyler Trovinger on May 22, after several years of dealing him a steady dose of horrible breaks in his college baseball career.
Trovinger, a former All-Stater at Mona Shores, began his career at Oakland University in 2017 with high hopes and promising early results. He became the starting shortstop as a freshman and put up good numbers, then started hitting the ball hard as a sophomore and seemed primed for a great junior season.
Then everything started to go wrong for Trovinger, in ways that nobody could have ever imagined.
In late 2018, just before Christmas, he was struck with a rare heart condition that forced him to miss the entire 2019 season. He returned to the field with great excitement in 2020, but only played a handful of games before COVID wiped out the rest of the campaign.
This year he was back on the field and playing well, until he broke the pinky finger on his left hand sliding into third base in a game in Milwaukee. He had surgery a week later, missed about a month of action, and almost missed the rest of the season.
Trovinger has been an infielder throughout college, and had only pitched a few innings here and there this season, before he was sidelined by the hand injury. But May 22 was the last game of the season for the Oakland baseball team. It was also Senior Day and the last game of Trovinger’s career with the Grizzlies, and the coaches wanted to give him the chance to see some action one last time.
His injured finger would not allow him to field properly in the infield or outfield, which left only one option. He went in to pitch in the seventh inning of a 9-9 game and ended up doing great, only giving up one run, pitching 1-2-3 innings in the seventh and ninth, and getting his very first career win on the mound.
It was an amazing moment for Trovinger, who overcame repeated disappointment and some very gloomy days as he battled to keep playing the game he loves.
“It was a very emotional moment when I got that last out,” Trovinger, 22, told LocalSportsJournal.com. “It was my last time on that field with that team, wearing those colors with the word Oakland across my chest.”
‘Can I catch a break?’
Trovinger was a three-sport standout at Mona Shores. He made headlines in football by being one of two backup quarterbacks who led the Sailors to a miracle comeback victory in the 2014 state semifinals against Farmington Hills Harrison, and the starting quarterback a year later, when he led Mona Shores to a 9-0 regular season.
But his biggest passion has always been baseball, and he’s always been very good at it. In the summer of 2016, Trovinger was among a select group of high school stars who were chosen to play in the East-West All-Star Baseball Classic at Detroit’s Comerica Park. He left his mark by hitting a double and scoring a run in that game.
After that he was off to Oakland University, where he became the starting shortstop immediately in his first year and was named to the Horizon League’s All-Freshman team. As a sophomore he started making hard contact at the plate, leading the Grizzlies with 28 RBIs, tying for the team lead with five home runs, and placing second on the squad with 43 hits.
But the smooth ride was over at that point, and a series of horrific challenges started blocking his path.
The first came in December of 2018. He was back home in Muskegon on Christmas break when he was blindsided by a virus that ended up attacking his heart, causing a condition called myocarditis. His heart became inflamed and the amount of blood being pumped away from the organ slowed.
Trovinger learned from doctors that if he had waited much longer to be treated, he could have suffered a heart attack.
The bizarre illness passed quickly, and Trovinger was hoping to still play baseball, but a doctor strongly advised him to sit out the upcoming season as a precaution, so his junior year was wiped out before it started.
“One day I woke up with a sore throat, it was very sensitive to the touch, and I was sweating and having hot flashes, just feeling under the weather,” Trovinger said. “Once the upper respiratory infection went away, I felt fine for a day, then I started getting chest pains. When they got too bad I went to the hospital and stayed there for two nights.
“It was really scary. The first thing that came to my mind was baseball season, and possibly not being able to play due to recovery time. I was freaking out about that.”
After a miserable 2019 with no baseball at all, Trovinger finally returned to action in early 2020. and was looking forward to having a great comeback season. Unfortunately the season only lasted about 12 games when COVID brought the entire sports world to a screeching halt.
Suddenly he was faced with the painful reality of missing most of two straight seasons of college baseball, a circumstance that might have driven others away from the sport.
“I had never went that long without playing baseball, and it took a toll on me,” Trovinger said. “I was very excited to get out there again, but (the season) turned out to be kind of a tease. We were just getting ready to go to Chicago for our first conference game, then a text came saying that everything was off. We were just getting ready to get on the bus, and we never did.
“I know that COVID affected everybody, but it was depressing. But I knew one day I would have another opportunity to step on the field again.”
That opportunity came last summer, when he received an invitation to play summer collegiate baseball for a team in Texarkana, Texas. The league was one of a very few in the nation that decided to play, so Trovinger jumped at the opportunity and performed well, hitting .370 over the month-long season.
He carried that success into the 2021 college season, when he returned to the Oakland lineup and continued to hit well, posting a .340 average in about 30 games. But miserable luck was not done with Trovinger, and it struck again during a road game on April 30 against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“I was going from first to second on a single to left, and I was waiting to see the throw from the outfielder,” Trovinger said. “The throw was mishandled by the relay man and the catcher, so I broke for third. There ended up being a play and I was safe, but my hand got caught on the bag, and I ended up breaking my pinky finger.”
Trovinger had surgery a week later, and had a plate and five screws inserted into his hand. Obviously he couldn’t play for some time, and there was a good chance that his college career was over at that point, because he thought he had exhausted his NCAA eligibility.
“It was kind of like, can I catch a break and play a full season?” he said. “It was tough for sure. At the time I thought it was my last year of playing baseball, and that would be the end of my career. It was a very tough thing to wrap my head around, for sure.”
Trovinger spent the next month quietly healing while he watched his team play. His finger was still too damaged to allow him to field or bat as the season wound down, but he and his coaches formulated a plan that they hoped would allow him to get on the field one more time, in the last game of the season.
He said he wasn’t nervous when he took the mound in the seventh inning on Senior Day. As a control pitcher with limited velocity, he knew he had to just throw strikes and allow his fielders to do the rest.
“On Thursday (before the game) I got the stitches out, and I had a little range of motion, so the best option on Senior Day was to get on the mound, so there would be as little stress on the hand as possible,” said Trovinger, who had never pitched in college before this season, and had only logged about 12 innings before that final game.
“I’m not the type of pitcher to blow it by guys. I knew the hitters were going to make contact, and that’s what they did, but I got a lot of ground balls and fly outs.”
While Trovinger performed well on the mound, his teammates rose up at the plate, scoring a bunch of runs in the seventh and eighth innings to give the Grizzlies a 17-10 victory and Trovinger his first and only win as an Oakland pitcher.
His parents, Gregg and Danee Trovinger, flew up from their home in Florida to see the game, not even knowing for sure whether he would get the chance to play. So they were there, along with family and friends, to witness their son’s amazing return and memorable exit from his challenging career at Oakland U.
“It’s been a struggle for him,” Gregg Trovinger said. “The broken finger, COVID, all of it, so it was finally nice to see our kid play some ball and finish out his career at Oakland University with a memory like that game. It was exciting for us to see him finish on a positive note. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
New opportunities ahead
On April 24, Trovinger jumped in his car and returned to Texas for a brand new experience. He’s been hired as the hitting coach and director of operations for the Amarillo Sod Poodles in the same league that he played in last summer.
“I made some connections when I played in the league last summer, and one of the coaches at Oakland is part of the board for the league, and he helped me get the job,” said Trovinger, who recently graduated from Oakland with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. “I should get there just in time for the first practice.”
That doesn’t mean Trovinger has put his playing days behind him.
About a week before that final game at Oakland, Trovinger was thrilled to learn that he had been granted another year of NCAA eligibility, and might qualify for two.
That will give him the chance to make up for lost time, work on his game and see where the future takes him.
He won’t be playing at Oakland University when he suits up next year. He recently entered the NCAA transfer portal, and will be waiting to listen to offers from other schools as he ponders his next destination.
“I was just looking for a different opportunity,” Trovinger said about his decision to transfer. “I have been there for five years, played under a number of coaches, and I just feel like I need a change. I think that will be the best thing for me going forward.
“When I went into the portal, my name was sent out and I had schools reach out to me. There is a barrier for schools right now, a Division 1 dead period where they can’t recruit, so I’m kind of taking it slow, waiting for them to be done with their seasons so they can get on with the recruiting process. I plan on listening to everybody.”
Trovinger is not continuing his college career just for the love of the game. He has always dreamed of playing professional baseball, and he hopes another successful (and healthy) season or two might attract the interest of pro scouts.
He said he was already getting some interest from scouts last summer when he played so well with the Texarkana team.
“That’s another reason for playing another year, so I have another chance to put my name out there however I can,” he said.
“Pro ball has always been a dream, and I am going to pursue whatever I can, whether it’s the minor leagues, independent leagues or playing overseas. I know that if next season goes well, I could put myself in a good spot.”
Trovinger even has some hope that his name might pop up in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft in June, which would present him with a welcome choice between playing at another college or getting started at a higher level, where players are actually paid for their services.
“I’m not expecting it, but it would be nice,” he said.