Thousands grow up dreaming of turning their childhood games into big-timecareers.
Jayce Tingler, former Missouri Tiger and Smithville native, isn’t there yet, but he’s on his way.
The task is daunting, considering the obstacles playing a game for a living presents. Competition is fierce, and an injury can sideline a player at any moment.
For Tingler, who spent this summer in the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league system, the road to professional baseball featured many skeptics who believed he wasn’t even Division I material.
“The only two D1 schools that showed interest in me were Missouri and New Mexico,” Tingler said. “My main goal was to just get a scholarship playing baseball.”
From that point, the 5-foot-7-inch Tingler proved his height wouldn’t stand in the way of success. He walked away from MU in 2003 as the school leader with 274 hits, 168 walks and 226 runs scored.
“Looking back at it now, I am really proud of what I have accomplished there,” Tingler said.
As Tingler’s teammates were drafted his freshman and sophomore years, he realized his play could earn him a professional career. After being named an All-Big 12 first-team selection his senior season, Tingler was chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 10th round of the 2003 draft.
He had proved he belonged at the next level after the summer of his junior year in the Cape Cod League, where many professional prospects showcase their skills against top competition.
“The Cape Cod League was crucial because it proved to scouts that I would be able to hit with a wooden bat at the next level as opposed to the aluminum bats used in college,” Tingler said.
Not only did he prove that his hitting wasn’t merely a product of aluminum bats, he showed his eye for drawing walks was sharp against top-flight pitchers. He led the Cape Cod League in on-base percentage at a .456 clip.
Kevin Goldstein, who writes the weekly prospect hot sheet covering minor leaguers for Baseball America, said the Cape Cod League was instrumental in showing major-league executives that Tingler had potential.
“The one thing that Jayce had going for him that has always worked for years is an impressive Cape Cod League, which scouts weigh heavily because of the level of competition and wooden bats,” Goldstein said.
Although Tingler’s accomplishments were as good as if not better than most entering the draft, he was uncertain about the major league executives and scouts seeing past his stature.
“I always thought I would be able to play at the next level. It was whether or not I would get the opportunity,” he said.
A new trend in scouting has helped Tingler.
Some baseball executives are focusing more on drafting proven college players as opposed to high school players, who are harder to sign because of their option to play at the college level.
Chris Buckley, a scout who tracked Tingler in college for the Blue Jays, said Tingler’s talents might not have been appreciated as much in a different era.
“The older, more traditional scouts probably would have overlooked Tingler because when they look at a guy with his size, they either want somebody who is really fast or someone that is a dazzling middle infielder, and Jayce is neither,” Buckley said.
The shift has been spearheaded by Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane and brought to the forefront by Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball.” The book showed how a new wave of talent evaluators are looking toward college players with performance, rather than the old way of looking at a player’s physique.
Tingler said the new wave of thinking that focuses more on college players and on-base percentages among major league executives helped.
“The Blue Jays were one of those teams, along with the A’s and the Red Sox, that have adopted that mentality,” Tingler said.
Although there were signs before the draft that teams were starting to look more toward performance than physique, Tingler was still uncertain his 150-pound frame would withstand the executives’ scrutiny.
Dick Scott, the Blue Jays’ director of player development, said the organization saw Tingler in college as a type of player valued in the Blue Jays’ system.
“We saw an on-base type guy, and that is a skill that we emphasize as an organization,” Scott said. “He is a very smart player with good instincts that always makes the correct plays on the field.”
There is a baseball adage that applies to Tingler, Scott said: “He who plays the best plays the most.”
So far, that has held true for Tingler in the minors; he has played in 118 of 133 games for the High-A affiliate in Dunedin, Fla. It is the second-highest total on the team. Tingler has continued to display the skills at getting on base he featured in college, with a .373 on-base percentage.
The next possible stops for Tingler in the organization are the Double A affiliate in New Hampshire and the Triple A affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y.
“Jayce will go as far as his talent will take him. Whether that is at Triple A or on a major-league roster is yet to be seen,” Buckley said.
Although there is a lot of outfield talent in the organization, a player good enough for the majors will make it at some point, somewhere, he said.
Tingler knows that as fun as playing baseball for a living can be, nothing is guaranteed.
“My goal is to survive and stay,” Tingler said. “I am having a blast playing ball, and I just want to try to remain consistent.”