By Bill Sterling
Now an established major league baseball player, Tyler Webb spent five days on his native Eastern Shore over the holidays, enjoying time with family, but not any of his beloved outdoor pursuits.
Webb is the son of Kirk and Kristin Webb of Machipongo and the grandson of Ken and Fay Webb of Wilsonia Neck and Bart and Margaret Holland of Nassawadox.
“Unfortunately, there was no time for hunting or fishing on this trip because of a lot of get-togethers, but it was nice spending time with all my family. I don’t get here nearly as often as I would like,” said Webb as he and his wife Lauren began their seven-hour drive back to their home in Columbia, S.C.
There, he will resume his off-season workouts to prepare for spring training in mid-February at the St. Louis Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla. The workout regimen remains much the same as in previous off-seasons, said Webb, but he concedes he will head to spring training with more confidence than in past years after what several announcers called a “breakout” year for the 29-year-old, a 2009 graduate of Northampton High School.
“There is a larger sample size for what I’ve done after last year,” said Webb. “I still need to perform in spring training, but if I have a bad outing, they know I can get the job done.”
The 6-foot-6 southpaw certainly got the job done last year, particularly in the second half of the season when opposing batters could hit only .119 against him and he posted a sparkling 2.62 earned run average.
When he appeared in the postseason, national baseball announcers raved about the fact that Webb allowed only 33 hits in 55 innings of work last season while striking out 48 and walking 23. For the season, Webb had a 3.62 ERA and an outstanding WHIP of 1.02. WHIP translates to walks and hits per inning pitched. The average MLB pitcher’s WHIP is somewhere between 1.35 and 1.39. Of 22 pitchers who saw action for the Cardinals last season, only three had a better WHIP than Webb.
“It was a long time coming, but now I am in the majors I want to do everything possible to stay there and have a good career. If you don’t perform, you can be gone in a hurry,” said Webb.
He acknowledges that he finds himself in a great situation after making his major league debut with the Yankees in 2017 and being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. He started the 2018 season with the San Diego Padres before being claimed off waivers by the Cardinals, who have what are generally considered to be the most knowledgeable and among the best fans in baseball.
“Everything is amplified at the major league level,” said Webb. “If you do poorly, you get more criticism, but you also get more praise if you do well. You know everybody is studying you to see if you are tipping your pitches. The preparation at the majors is much greater. We study a lot of video to learn tendencies of opposing players, but you can be sure they are watching video of you, too.”
Webb, who experienced four years of traveling to games in the minor leagues mostly by bus, appreciates the charter planes or first-class airline travel at the major league level. There are also clubhouse guys handling myriad details for major leaguers.
Though Webb didn’t mention it, the money is a huge difference between the majors and minors. The minimum salary for a major league baseball player is now $555,000. Even at Triple A, the highest level of the minors, players barely earn a livable wage, usually making between $2,000 and $3,000 a month, and that is only during the season.
When playing in the minors, Webb had to share an apartment with teammates to make ends meet while his wife remained in Columbia working as a nurse. In the majors, he and his wife have an apartment in St. Louis, and she is free to travel to many of the away games.
“She might be a bit more picky this year about where she travels, but last year she saw most of the cities where we play,” said Webb of his wife Lauren, whom he met when he was a third-team All-American relief pitcher and the school career appearances leader at the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks won two national championships and played in a third with Webb making major contributions while not allowing a run in Omaha at the College World Series.
Finding Outlets Outside Baseball
Modest and unassuming, Webb has never appeared to be changed by any success he has enjoyed in baseball. A lover of the outdoors who finds little opportunity to hunt or fish anymore, Webb has taken to photography and enjoys rising early in the morning to take scenic photos that grace his Twitter page.
“Photography is a substitute for hunting to me,” Webb noted. “I do it in Columbia but often when I am on the road I get up early and get out at sunrise and then get back to the hotel and catch a few more hours of sleep. Our day doesn’t really start until 1 when we are playing night games.”
Webb so enjoyed the outdoors while growing up on the Eastern Shore that he never attended a major league baseball game, preferring to be on the water somewhere. In fact, he never attended any professional game of the MLB, NFL, NBA, or NHL. At first it was by happenstance, but then as he pursued a major league baseball career, he made up his mind that his first professional game would be one where he suited up as a participant, which is what happened when he wore Yankee pinstripes on June 22, 2017, at Yankee Stadium.
Today, Webb loves being a Cardinal, playing on a team that last year won the National League Central Division and is always in the hunt for postseason play. He plays for NL Manager of the Year Mike Shildt and pitches to likely Hall of Famer catcher Yaider Molina.
“With Yadi, all I have to do is execute my pitches,” said Webb. “He knows the hitters so well he has a good feel of how to attack them.”
Webb said Molina and veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright along with infielder Matt Carpenter are the unquestioned leaders of the team. “They are all very approachable and willing to share with teammates. That makes for a great clubhouse.”
Webb was also the beneficiary of great defense behind him. Shortstop Paul DeJong and second baseman Kolten Wong combined to form a stellar double-play combination in the field. “I believe we were the first team in baseball history to go from having the most errors in a season to having the least errors last season,” said Webb.
There were several highlights for Webb during the 2019 season. On June 22 against the Los Angeles Angels, he earned his first save, then the next night he struck out Mike Trout, considered the best player in baseball, in a tight situation with two men on base. “You try to not think about the reputation of the batter when you are pitching and concentrate on executing the pitch, but sometimes it’s hard to forget what some of these guys have done in baseball,” explained Webb.
Then on Aug. 20, Webb earned his first major league win in a 9-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Webb was a bit coy following the game when asked by teammates if this was his first win. But word got out, and the celebration was on. “They put you in the laundry cart and you go in the shower and they throw various liquids at you. It’s more fun for the people that are not in the laundry cart. It’s cool that they’re celebrating you, but they enjoyed doing that, while you’re just trying to get through it.”
But probably the biggest highlight for Webb was the four-game series the Cards swept from the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field late in the season to essentially wrap up the division title. Mostly a middle reliever all year, Webb shut down left-handed slugger Kyle Schwarber in key situations, and the Cards rallied several times in late innings to pull out the win. “It was great watching those comebacks from the dugout, knowing you had contributed when called on,” said Webb.
Webb, who had 65 appearances last year to reach his 55 innings pitched, was sometimes the left-handed specialist who in tight situations pitched to the opposing team’s most feared left-handed batter before a righty was called in to face the next hitter. This year, a new rule designed to speed up the game will require any reliever called in to the game to face at least three hitters or complete the inning.
“There’s no doubt this new rule will affect left-handed relievers more than anyone else, but I’m looking at it as turning out to be a good thing for me,” said Webb. “My numbers against right-handers are pretty good, better than some pitchers considered to be left-handed specialists.” In fact, right-handed batters hit only .189 against Webb, just slightly better than the .152 average left-handed batters fared against him.
The playoffs meant more national television exposure plus playoff checks for Webb as the Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves in a five-game division series before facing the Washington Nationals in the National League championships. “My parents were rooting for the Nationals to beat the Dodgers in the playoffs so they could watch me play in D.C. They had been to St. Louis and also watched me pitch in Philadelphia. Of course, that didn’t work out so well with the Nationals,” said Webb, referring to the fact that Washington swept the Cardinals in four games with the Cards managing only six runs in four games. The Nationals went on to win the World Series.
Those six runs in four games constituted quite a contrast to the Cardinals scoring 10 runs in the first inning of a decisive fifth game against the Braves to advance to the league championship. “The bullpen was prepared to be pitching in stressful situations that day in Atlanta. We don’t even usually leave the dugout until after the first inning, so we were all there watching our team score 10 runs before they even got to bat. It definitely took some pressure off us,” recalled Webb.
Webb said going into this season, the plan is to make each pitch in his arsenal a little bit better. Known for keeping hitters on their toes with a changeup which makes his low 90s fastball seem faster, Webb improved his curveball last year and added a two-seam fastball. “Unfortunately, at this point I am not going to get any faster, but I can be effective using all my pitches and executing them in the right situations.”
Webb realizes he has family, friends, and fans from the Shore following his career. “Sometimes I meet someone from the Shore in cities you least expect it. I know a lot of people are watching on TV back home. It means a lot to me, and I wish I could spend more time on the Shore,” said Webb, who has a younger brother, Hunter, and twin sisters, Kennedy and Taylor, who recently completed successful four-year careers in volleyball at Randolph College.
His biggest fans would be his parents. His father, who pitched at Old Dominion, was his first pitching instructor. His parents also probably saved his promising career in high school when they paid considerable out-of-pocket medical expenses to drive to Alabama to have Dr. James Andrews perform Tommy John surgery on Webb. They also made the eight-hour trip to Columbia to watch virtually every home Gamecock baseball game for four seasons when Webb was in college and spent up to two weeks in Omaha, Neb., three consecutive years to watch Webb pitch in the College World Series. There’s no telling the number of miles they put on their vehicles and the cost of hotel stays to follow their son’s career.
Now, they and the grandparents watch mostly on TV with the occasional trip to the ballparks. But Webb has never stopped being grateful for their support. “I couldn’t be where I am today without my family. It’s hard to say how much it means to me to have the support of my family, not just my parents, but grandparents, aunts and uncles.”