By Mo Nuwwarah, Opinion Editor
One of Tyler Davies’ teammates once asked him, “What was the Great Depression like?”
Davies laughs off such questions on a regular basis. The UNO baseball player may be old by his teammates’ standards, but he isn’t quite elderly enough to remember the 1930s. The 30-year-old is completing his final year of athletic eligibility before he graduates in May with a general studies degree.
“It’s been an absolute blast,” he said.
That’s a stark contrast to Davies’ last college baseball season with Creighton in 2002. The junior quit school and baseball that summer. He had decided to pursue a career as a firefighter.
“I kind of lost the love for the game when I was there,” he said.
His journey, which included two tours of duty with the Army, finally led him back to a college baseball field. This time, in addition to batted balls, he has to field questions like, “Was Abe Lincoln really honest?”
“They call me all kinds of stuff,” Davies said. “But ‘Dad’ is definitely the nickname of choice.”
Older players competing in college athletics have made a few headlines in recent years, including a 61-year-old who booted an extra point in 2009 for Austin College in Texas. One thing that makes Davies’ story unique is he actually coached some of his teammates, when they were playing select baseball and he was looking for a firefighting job.
“I was umpiring games,” he said. “I ran into Dave Nelson, who was running the Gladiators. He introduced me to a coach, one thing led to another and I helped coach the team.”
There, he coached current UNO catcher Colby McCord, who said he doesn’t remember any specifics of their time with the Gladiators.
Davies joined the Army in October 2003. He served two tours of duty in Iraq, from 2004-05 and 2008-09. He called his service a “great experience.”
“I met a bunch of great people, friends I’ll have forever,” he said. “It’s just not a career for me.”
Meanwhile, McCord went on to a standout high school career at Papillion La-Vista. He sometimes saw Davies, a fellow Monarch, visiting a friend on the coaching staff during leaves. The two crossed paths again in Spring 2010.
“I was walking to class one day, and I saw him sitting outside a class, and he was telling me how he had Coach [Bob] Herold’s baseball coaching theory class,” McCord said. “Coach asked him to come out and give it one last little twirl.”
Herold had recruited Davies out of high school.
“I just remembered how good of a player he was,” Herold said. “I kind of joked around a bit in class about him coming back.”
Davies had just bought a house, was working full-time and going to school to finish his Bachelor’s Degree. He didn’t think he could add baseball to his responsibilities, but said Herold was persistent. Finally, Davies told Herold to find out from the athletic department if he really did have a year of eligibility left. When Davies was told he could play, he decided to leave with no regrets.
“I said, ‘why the heck not?'” he said. “Right when school got out, I called Coach Herold and said, ‘I’ll lace ‘em up.'”
Davies spent the summer working his body into baseball shape, which he said is “not fun when you’re 30 years old.” His arm was taking longer to recuperate, and skills don’t just magically come back, he said.
“I go out there and I see four guys that I coached when they were 12 years old,” Davies said. “I was like, ‘What am I doing? These guys are so young.'”
Still, McCord said Davies held his own in fall practices, which slowed down some of the friendly ribbing he got.
“He was right there with all of us,” McCord said. “He came out there and led the team in hitting, so not too many people said anything after that.”
Davies found the path to his natural position, catcher, blocked by his old student. McCord, a switch-hitting junior, was coming off of a year in which he hit .321 and started 23 of 38 games.
Herold decided to use the 5-foot-9, 200-pound Davies as a utility man. Davies has embraced the role, starting 30 of 35 games at various positions.
“I didn’t think that my body could handle the beating and every day struggle of being a catcher,” he said of the position widely considered the most grueling in baseball. “Coach Herold continues to throw me in there to fill voids when guys get injured or aren’t doing well.”
Though Davies has struggled with the bat, hitting just .257 with four home runs, the Mavs (27-14, 23-13 MIAA) have put together a solid season. They’re ranked sixth in region, and they’ll likely need to sweep their last four games to secure a postseason berth.
“If we don’t, we have to win the conference tournament, which we’re very capable of doing,” said McCord, who’s hitting .340 with four home runs.”
Davies said he doesn’t think the team’s hit its stride, as injuries and inconsistency have been issues.
“We’ve played good baseball, and we’ve played absolutely terrible baseball,” he said. “We have to put it all together and be consistent with it.”
Herold expects Davies’ versatility, maturity and leadership to play a role in the stretch run. Still, don’t expect the coaches to start calling him “Dad.”
“He’s not as old as us,” Herold said with a laugh.