Like all good opportunities, it took an immense amount of hard work, dedication, and just a bit of nagging.
During his first two years playing summer ball in the friendly confines of Shirley Povich Field in North Bethesda, Tulane starting pitcher Tim Yandel admits he, “bugged [manager] Sal [Colangelo] to death,” to let him hit on days he wasn’t on the mound.
After primarily focusing on pitching in 2014 – logging a solid 16 innings of work with a 2.81 earned run average in his second Cal Ripken season – a pre-summer meeting with Colangelo rewarded his continual persistence and enthusiasm; Skip granted him roughly 50 at-bats to prove his worth both in the batting order and defensively at first base.
Eleven games into the season, Yandel had hit just .214 through his first 14 at-bats. On June 14 with a double already under his belt, he stepped to the plate with runners on second and third, trailing the Herndon Braves 7-6 and clinging to Bethesda’s final out. He promptly launched a double to right center field easily scoring both runners, carrying his team to an 8-7 victory to the tune four runs batted in on two doubles and a walk.
“Sal was kind of giving me a hard time and he put my name on the line-up card the next day as ‘Walk-Off,’” Yandel recalls, ”everyone started joking around asking if I would do it again, I said I’ve never seen it done before.”
That evening – Pajama Night at the park – Yandel once again provided more heroics than Big Train fans could have conjured in the wildest dreams. For the second time in as many nights, the rising senior put an aggressive swing on a 1-1 pitch in the game’s final frame, knocking home the winning run with identical walk-off doubles in the gap.
“Sure enough, same exact thing,” said Yandel, “I told my parents it’s one of the coolest baseball moments I’ve ever had.”
Registering the first two Big Train walk-offs of the summer on consecutive nights, Yandel believes that’s precisely where his bat began to heat up. While his average flutters around the .270-mark, Yandel drives in runs in proportions unseen throughout the Cal Ripken League. He currently sits tied for fourth in the league with 22 runs batted in.
To put things into perspective, let’s compare Yandel to Big Train teammate and league-best RBI machine, Chris Lewis (Sacramento State), heading into the season’s final week. The senior outfielder, at the time, had notched 33 runs batted in and was tied for the league lead in home runs – he now leads the league with seven four-baggers.
Yandel had brought home 22 base runners in 74 at-bats, averaging about 0.3 RBI per at-bat. That’s tops in the league for any hitter with double-digit runs batted in. Lewis, the man now holding a commanding 10 RBI lead over the entirety of the league at the time only averaged about 0.22 RBI per at-bat.
Projected to a full season’s worth of at-bats, Yandel’s run production numbers put him on pace for a 43 RBI season. Currently third in the league, he has recorded fewer at-bats than each of the league’s top 33 run producers.
Combined with his .988 fielding percentage on the season – he’s committed just two errors in 29 games for Cal Ripken league’s-leading defense – the Tulane standout would be more than serviceable in an everyday capacity.
But, not to be out-shined by his bat, the Cal Ripken League’s brightest two-way star has brought an aggressive methodology to the mound, flooding the zone with strikes from the get-go.
Throwing 69.8 percent of his pitches for strikes, he cranks that number up to 72.3 percent on first pitches. While Bethesda’s ace credits a portion of his success – and his 1.32 earned run average – to the development of his sharp slider, he remains focused on giving batters nothing for free.
“The biggest thing I stress most in my game is minimizing walks,” said Yandel, “just basically make them earn whatever they get.”
In his first 35 1/3 innings on the season he allowed just four walks. Working down in the zone, away from opponents’ barrels has made him even more effective, thanks in part to the significant development of his slider.
His four- and two-seam fastballs, which he uses early in the count to get ahead, are complimented by a devastating changeup to lefties and his sharp slider, veering away from right-hander’s bats.
“I try to get my slider to have the same spin as my fastball,” he said, explaining how his fastball compliments his newly polished breaking ball. “When you can throw the fastball low in there, and you can throw the slider that starts in and drops and bounces at the plate, you get a lot of swings and misses.”
In addition, a growing comfort for throwing inside to right-handers has opened up the outer half for his new strike out pitch. He often relies on his changeup to punch out lefties.
Despite allowing six walks in two starts after the all-star break – both in winning efforts – Yandel (4-1) still averages 3.8 strike outs per walk. He sits tied for third in the league with four wins, and fourth in both strikeouts (38) and ERA (1.32).
Like any pitcher worth his marbles, the humble Yandel spoke on the team-wide effort that has allowed him to progress both offensively and on the mound, not forgetting to mention the work of his less recognized battery mates.
An elder statesman in the organization, he played the 2014 summer with Tony DiLeo (Eastern Michigan). After playing the majority of that summer with the BCC-affiliate Big Train Stars, Nick Feight (UNC Wilmington), joined the Bethesda Big Train for the season’s final three games. Slotted in the same NCAA Regional this year, Yandel’s Tulane Green Wave were swept – and eliminated – by Feight’s UNC Wilmington Seahawks.
“I had chemistry with [DiLeo] after throwing to him last summer,” said Yandel, “and me and [Feight] really established some chemistry really quick.”
“The first time [Feight] caught me was one of my best outings all summer,” Yandel remembers, “I felt like every time I wanted to throw a pitch he called it. Showing up to the field every day knowing that whoever is going to catch me I’ll be fine throwing to is a good feeling.”
With the calendar winding down on his third Big Train season, the senior has gained valuable insight on the benefits of staying focused and constantly pushing himself during the long hot summer months.
“Sometimes summer ball can make you complacent,” he said, “and you have to keep guys in the zone and locked in, always working on the right stuff. I definitely have a lot more confidence coming in having been her for a few years.”
Despite the season-to-season roster turnover in summer league ball, Yandel, one of two Big Train players playing in their third consecutive season in Bethesda, credits his teammates enormously.
“I couldn’t do any of this without all the guys on my team,” he said, “I’ve had two huge walk-off hits this year and I think both times the inning before I looked at the guy before me and said ‘me and you,’ and if that guy didn’t get on who knows what would’ve happened.”
After clinching the number one overall seed and a fourth consecutive Cal Ripken League regular season title, Yandel aims to keep his bat hot and his arm hotter, looking to return Bethesda to championship glory after three straight runner-up finishes.
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