Bombers player carries family nameJuly 14, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG - There sat Ryan Wheeler Tuesday night at League Stadium as he watched his son, Tyler, compete for the Dubois County Bombers at League Stadium. The Bombers lost, 5-2, but Tyler went 2-for-3 with a run scored and a walk.
Ryan himself is no stranger to League Stadium. The 1992 Brownstown graduate played collegiately at Indiana University Southeast, where he was converted from a catcher to a pitcher.
The New York Yankees drafted him in the 32nd round in 1996, though his time in the system didn’t last long.
So, Ryan played with the Dubois County Dragons in 1996 and 1997 — more than 20 years before Tyler is now doing the same with the Bombers.
“He always talked about how awesome the atmosphere was,” Tyler said. “Every night, they would load this place up, and he said, ‘Our 4th of July night, we had a lot of people here,’ and he said that’s how it was pretty often with the Dragons and everything. So, that’s really cool to think about.”
Ryan credits his roots in Brownstown for being able to fit in while playing Independent ball in Dubois County.
“I was able to relate very quickly to the community, to the smiles, to how everyone would go out of their way to be friendly,” Ryan said. “I got really lucky to have the host mother that I did with Bridget Seaton. She was amazing, took me in as her own. It was funny because Tyler’s getting the same experience here with his host family (Gary and Shelly Bell).”
Ryan didn’t have a high strike-to-walk ratio during the time he pitched for the Dragons, but he did lead the team with a 3.02 ERA. He played on the same team as Jim Rushford, who played in the Major Leagues in September 2002 for the Milwaukee Brewers.
He hailed Rushford as a “great dude, loved that he got to move up.”
Yet, Ryan told The Herald that the Dragons had a lot of talented players on the team back then.
“It’s every kid’s dream to be able to keep on playing,” he said. “But life and student loans and family and just stuff like that kind of catches up to you where you kind of just have to slow down and do what you can.”
When it comes to opportunities, a freak accident interfered with potentially bigger ones while he was pitching for the Dragons in 1997.
“We were on the road in Winchester, Tennessee, and I was pitching — and sixth inning, everything going great, two-hitter, 2-1 game,” Ryan said. “Line drive, back at me, I don’t see it, hits me in the (groin) and I lose a part of my body from the injury.”
He underwent multiple surgeries, his chance to have kids at the time was in doubt. His daughter was going to be born that year. So, decisions had to be made.
But while he was out, he wanted to come back and finish the season to finish his career on his own terms.
“I was able to do that,” he said. “I felt good with the way I finished the season, and I had many opportunities to come up with coaching in Southern Indiana. So, that’s the direction I decided to go.”
Ryan coached Tyler while the latter was in travel ball and played at Silver Creek. The father-son duo finished as the Class 3A state runner-up with the Dragons in 2018.
“Every now and then at games while I’m still throwing, I’ll hear him in the stands just say a key word and that will kind of get me to focus back on my mechanics without really thinking mechanically,” Tyler said.
Ryan envisions Tyler having opportunities in baseball beyond college that include, but aren’t limited to playing, citing his love and respect for the game. He cited his son as a better player than he was — partly due to coaching and the things Tyler has had instilled in him. Tyler has worked with ESPN analyst Chris Burke as his hitting instructor for years.
Tyler was supposed to play for the Bombers before the COVID-19 pandemic shut sports down. He exchanged emails with Shelly, who inquired if his dad happened to play for the Dragons, which brought it all back for Tyler.
The University of Southern Indiana product loves being a Bomber, praising the place his dad once played at as an “awesome atmosphere.”
“This place is awesome with the new Upper Deck and everything that they’ve added — just really bringing fans out and having teams every night,” he said. “It’s really, really cool to play here.”
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