McAlester's Tyler Phillips playing with love of family and baseball

Mar. 18—Tyler Phillips has special connections in baseball.

The McAlester senior said he started playing the game at a very young age, and played for his own father on teams up until high school.

Phillips recalled an early career moment where he and his team were close to advancing in the country's major Little League tournament.

"We played in Paris, Texas...and I'm pretty sure if we won that tournament, we would have got sent to another bracket, and then could've went to Williamsport," he said.

Phillips said playing on teams for his dad was fun, but admitted the car rides home after a loss where a little tough.

"Especially when you're dad's coaching," he laughed. "Makes it even worse."

Phillips returns to the diamond following successful repair and rehabilitation from an ACL injury, which sidelined him for the 2022 spring season. He likened his journey to that of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who became an inspiration to Phillips.

"He got back in seven months, and I got back six. So I got back before he did," he said.

Phillips said being in the dugout for all last season helped give him a new perspective on the game — both literally and metaphorically. He said he saw things on the field that he wouldn't have seen if not being sidelined, and that last year's senior class helped show him how to be a leader.

"I feel like I took a lot of that in and watched the senior class ahead of us show us how to be a leader," he said.

And for his senior season, Phillips will be playing for more than himself.

A tattoo on his left forearm features Roman numerals in honor of his late grandmother, Loretta. Phillips said she was hospitalized with COVID and double pneumonia, and he got an urgent call one day at practice.

"(My mom) called me and was like 'hey, you need to come see your grandma,'" he said.

Phillips quickly hastened to the hospital, where he was able to say his final goodbyes.

"Last thing I remember...she pretty much just left me with 'take care of everybody, and make sure you go see everybody all the time — because you don't know when they'll be gone,'" he said.

She died shortly after their interaction. Phillips said his grandmother was a major part of his life and inspiration to him, and was thankful he got to spend a final moment with her.

"Honestly, my mom thinks and my nana thinks that she was just waiting for me to get there," Phillips said. "I think she just wanted to see me one more time."

So when Phillips takes to the field this season, he's doing things for the name on the front of his jersey, and the name firmly etched on his heart.

And he's excited to get another season to play the game he loves, and can't wait to see where his journey this season takes him.

"Go Buffs," he said.