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Eveld’s Journey Takes New Path On Mound

Tommy Eveld sits in a dugout on a May afternoon at USF Baseball Stadium before a practice. He approaches each day focused on the path ahead, but right now he’s looking back on the detour that allowed him to trade in one dream for another.

Once, Eveld pictured himself playing in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl. Now the hard-throwing South Florida closer, a year removed from leaving the Bulls’ football program, lounges on a bench wearing a green No. 28 jersey and a green baseball cap. He wants to pitch in the World Series.

“So far, it’s kind of like a fairy tale story,” says Eveld, a 22-year-old righthander. “I don’t think anybody was expecting it to go the way that it’s going.”

Eveld, a redshirt junior who can throw 95 mph, had a 3.15 ERA with 88 strikeouts and nine saves in 37 appearances (two starts) since joining USF’s baseball program last season. A former quarterback at Jesuit High in Tampa, Eveld went on to play quarterback and wide receiver on USF’s scout team. He overcame major surgery on his right knee in March 2014 after he was injured during a punt drill. The operation repaired a cartilage tear and partial LCL, MCL and meniscus tears.

Now healthy, Eveld hopes to be drafted after the season and continue his baseball career.

“I couldn’t imagine getting a knee surgery … then casually getting on a baseball field and throwing 90 mph,” teammate Phoenix Sanders says. “I think he’s an athletic freak.”

Eveld’s story in baseball began with some skepticism. In January 2015, USF pitching coach Billy Mohl met Eveld before an initial bullpen session and thought to himself, “Who is this guy?”

Eveld presented a thin frame—he’s 6-foot-5, 195 pounds—with a camouflage hat bent in half atop his head before throwing fastballs and changeups. Earlier, he had approached USF baseball coach Mark Kingston about trying out for the team. Eveld developed a renewed interest in pitching while playing slow-pitch softball the previous summer in Tampa with his brother Bobby, a righthander who signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays in April.

Eveld began pitching at 7 years old, and after rekindling his passion for the sport, a possible future in baseball intrigued him.

“As soon as he walked into the office, you said, ‘OK, he looks the part, because he’s long and lean,’” Kingston says. “And you knew he was athletic enough to play quarterback and wide receiver on a good Division I football program. So you said, ‘What the heck? Nothing to lose.’ The first time he came out, he was 86-87 (mph), from what I remember. So you saw enough.”

In time, Eveld made a permanent switch to baseball. A breakthrough moment happened in his college debut on Feb. 14, 2015, when he threw four hitless innings with five strikeouts against Louisville, a team that would spend most of that season ranked in the top 10.

That day, Kingston knew Eveld had talent worth exploring. A clear message was delivered.

“I’m not trying to make the decision for you,” Eveld recalls Kingston telling him. “But I think the decision is pretty clear about what you should do.”

Eveld made his choice. Last season, he finished 1-2, 6.11 with 25 strikeouts in 13 appearances (two starts). Last June, he had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, and doctors have told him the knee shouldn’t affect him on the mound.

“There’s just something about me where I don’t like to lose at anything, to where I’ll look at rehabbing, the day that I didn’t want to go in and necessarily do it 100 percent, I’d tell myself, ‘This is going to be the reason you’re not going to be able to come back: This one day,’” Eveld says. “Then I’d just tell myself, ‘This isn’t going to beat me.’”

Eveld glances toward the field from the dugout, considering where his life would be without baseball. It’s possible he would be trying to revive his football career or perhaps he would be passing the hours bass fishing at a lake near his home in Lutz, Fla. He has come far, but there’s more distance to travel.

“He’s got a lot of potential,” says Bobby, the brother. “And the progress that he has already shown so far is almost insane.”

There’s room for more growth. Eveld throws four pitches, but he largely relies on his 90-94 mph fastball and cutter-like slider in short stints. His changeup flashes potential but needs further development.

Eveld has shown he’s willing to grind. He has been known to run between the right- and left-field foul poles by himself past 10 p.m., pushing to stretch his limits. He was 0-2, 1.94 with 64 strikeouts and nine saves in 24 appearances this season.

“He needs to continue to learn the game, learn how to set up hitters, learn when to add and subtract on the velocity of his pitches—fastball and offspeed,” Kingston says. “From a talent standpoint, from a desire standpoint, from a work-ethic standpoint, he brings everything to the table that you need.”

Says USF football coach Willie Taggart: “He thinks different than the average person. . . . He’s such a tough kid mentally and physically.”

Back in the dugout at USF, Eveld reflects on the lessons of perseverance. He continues to remake himself, and anything seems possible.

“I’ve learned,” Eveld says, “don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything.”

— Andrew Astleford is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.

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