Feb. 16, 2016
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- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2015-16 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — College baseball would be hard-pressed to find a player more valuable to their team than University of Iowa senior Tyler Peyton.
Sure, there are other two-way players across the nation, but not many can stake claim to being the Friday night starting pitcher and the team’s top hitter in the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
Peyton, a returning All-American, is all-everything for the Hawkeyes. When he’s not on the mound, he is in the starting lineup at first base.
“He’s a special athlete and competitor,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “He’s one of the top three or four players in the Big Ten Conference and one of the better players in the country.
“Tyler’s a good enough athlete that he could play centerfield, but we put him at first base because it is easier on his arm. He’s a special player that comes from a baseball family. His dad, Byron, was his high school coach and a former minor league player. He instilled a lot of good traits in Tyler.”
Byron Peyton played in the minor leagues for the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, so naturally baseball was part of Tyler’s life from the onset.
“I am having fun, doing whatever I can to help us win. Stats don’t matter; the big stage doesn’t matter; I am doing whatever I can to help us win. At the end of the day, I want to know that I gave it my all and did what I can. I don’t think about what position I am in, it’s more, did I do something today to help the team get better and hopefully get a win.”
Returning All-American Tyler Peyton
“I have been playing for as long as I can remember,” said Peyton. “I started when I was 3 or 4 years old and I was always at the ballpark growing up. I loved the lights.
“I would run on the field and be part of it in any way I could. I would kind of be annoying because I would try to run the bases all the time.”
While baseball was engrained at an early age, Peyton was an all-around athlete at Dallas Center-Grimes (Iowa) High School.
Peyton was a two-time all-district wide receiver in football and a two-time all-conference basketball player, holding the school record for points in a single season. But it was on the baseball diamond where Peyton really stood out.
He was a three-time all-state selection, helping lead the Mustangs to three conference titles and a 2012 state championship — the first in school history.
“I got noticed more in baseball than the other two sports,” said Peyton. “I developed more in baseball. In my early stages of high school, I never thought I’d be (playing at Iowa). It was the work I put in and my dad being there.
“It was the connection we had and him pushing me, knowing what I needed to be great. He’s a big reason why I am here today.”
Peyton’s collegiate career began at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa. He earned first-team all-region honors as a freshman, posting a 6-3 record with a 1.69 ERA and hitting .358 with 62 hits and 38 RBIs.
Peyton was set to return to Iowa Central for his sophomore season when he saw a missed call and voicemail on his cell phone. It was a number he didn’t recognize and it turned out to be Heller — the recently hired head coach at the University of Iowa.
“(The voicemail) sparked me,” said Peyton. “I read that he had taken the job, and I was excited to see a new era in Iowa baseball. He gave me a call a couple of days after he accepted the job.
“I’d always been a Hawkeye, so to get a call that early, it was `Wow.’ He snagged me and I was grateful for him to know who I was and to get me after one year. It is what I always wanted.”
Peyton was a big piece in Iowa’s turnaround in Heller’s first season. He stepped into the lineup as an everyday player, starting 37 games at first base, where he hit .331 to rank second on the team. Peyton was also Iowa’s Sunday starting pitcher, going 5-1 with a 4.86 ERA over 14 starts. Iowa won 30 games, including a postseason win in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hawkeyes made a big move in 2015, winning 41 games and qualifying for their first NCAA Regional since 1990. Peyton was at the forefront of Iowa’s success, earning third-team All-America honors from D1Baseball.com and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association as a utility player. He was a semifinalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award.
Peyton finished with a team-leading .337 batting average with 31 runs and 31 RBIs and ranked in the top 11 in the Big Ten in hitting and on-base percentage. On the mound, he took the ball as Iowa’s ace, going 7-4 with a 3.03 ERA over 95 innings, which included a win in the NCAA Regionals — Iowa’s first since 1972.
“Any time a player makes a transition from junior college to Division I, there’s a learning curve,” said Heller. “Tyler matured after his sophomore year, physically. He has made another jump this year, is throwing harder with better control, especially with his off-speed pitches.
“He was a much more polished product last year, but he was also more confident from going through the battles the year before.”
Peyton had a choice following his junior season when scouts from Major League Baseball organizations began calling. There was seventh round chatter, but Peyton made it known he was committed to returning for his senior season. The Reds selected Peyton in the 33rd round, but he stayed true to his word.
“It says a lot about his character and it was big for our program,” said Heller. “It makes us proud to know our culture is so good that a guy would turn down a sizeable amount of money to come back to school and be a part of trying to take it to the next step. It was great he wanted to come back and earn his degree.”
Peyton doesn’t regret his decision, although it crossed his mind while sitting in classes during the fall semester. Then he would recall the magical run of 2015.
“(Last year) was so fun,” he said. “The season we had played a big role in me coming back and wanting to be part of this program for one more year. I want to see what we can accomplish with the talent we have returning. It’s going to be a fun experience.”
Peyton’s all in to win; it’s the mentality he takes every day to the field.
“I am having fun, doing whatever I can to help us win,” he said. “Stats don’t matter; the big stage doesn’t matter; I am doing whatever I can to help us win. At the end of the day, I want to know that I gave it my all and did what I can.
“I don’t think about what position I am in, it’s more, did I do something today to help the team get better and hopefully get a win.”
It’s a team-first attitude by one of collegiate baseball’s most valuable two-way players.