The Red Sox prospect who went from spring training star to t-shirt hero

Rob Bradford
May 19, 2020 - 12:05 pm
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It was just one catch in one spring training game. But all things considered, Tyler Esplin's game-ending grab on Feb. 22 might have been atop a very abbreviated Red Sox Grapefruit League highlight reel.

It was just Esplin's second chance to play with the major leaguers in a spring training game. It saved a game that was unraveling for the Red Sox. And it was the first image of a standout play in what was supposed to be the 2020 baseball season. Social media loved it, as did those watching on NESN and listening the Red Sox Radio Network.

"The ball was crushed off the bat and the wind that day, I was getting all turned around on my route. I’m just glad I turned around and found it at the last second. The only thing going through my head was to catch the ball. Whatever you do, catch the ball," Epslin told WEEI.com.

"It was pretty cool. There was one younger kid after the game who was still waiting in the parking lot. He was one of the last ones there. Everybody else was gone, I was walking out there and he was the only left. He said, ‘Nice catch’ and asked me to sign a ball. I thought that was pretty cool."

Three months later, Esplin went from putting the smile on that one fan to bringing a smile to 30 baseball-playing youngsters.

The 20-year-old outfielder was like so many other Red Sox minor leaguers, seeing their existence at JetBlue Park come to an abrupt halt on March 13 thanks the COVID-19 outbreak. When that Friday started the message was that a Monday meeting would clarify most questions. Then came the text from the team telling all the players they had to be out by Sunday. Esplin and his buddies sprung into action.

The former seventh-round pick's buddy from home, Kiefer Surkamer, flew down to Fort Myers and joined Esplin in making it back to Lake Bluff, Illinois in just 21 hours.

"I thought it was going to be two weeks and then we would go back," he explained. "I didn’t think it was going to be this long. I’m glad I didn’t leave everything at the ballpark."

Soon after returning home, he got word from his brother Tommy that the 12-year-old's buddies weren't going to make their much-anticipated trip to Cooperstown with the Lake Bluff U-12 team. As someone who grew up playing in that very same program he knew how devastating that news would be.

So, an idea was born from a simple t-shirt.

The "I miss baseball" shirts being made by Esplin's minor-league team the Salem Red Sox had been found online. The message was simple yet so perfect for those kids not making their be-all, end-all trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. So a sizable order was made and a day of deliveries was put in motion.

"That’s the big trip. You go to Cooperstown. You stay in the barracks with your entire team. Not being able to do that is a big let down. I was upset I had to come home from camp, but these are kids having their trip get canceled," Esplin explained. 

"My Mom saw them and sent them to me and said, ‘These are kind of cool. We should get a couple.’ And then we started talking some more and we ended up buy around 30 shirts. My brother and I drove around to everyone's house and dropped them off. It was pretty cool. It was a fun experience."

Thanks to alum Tyler Esplin for dropping off 20+ @salemredsox “I miss Baseball” t-shirts to encourage the 12u Cooperstown team whose trip was cancelled due to Covid-19.

A post shared by Lake Bluff Baseball (@lakebluffbaseball) on

Like the youth baseball players who now have a new t-shirt, Esplin feels left behind. He isn't allowed yet to workout at his neighborhood park, instead having to rely on a backyard batting tee and a newly-purchased virtual reality that simulates hitting against major league pitching.

"I’m just trying to stay ready because we really have no idea. Nobody knows anything," Esplin said. "I’m just waiting for the message, ‘You’ve got a flight next week,’ to come down. I’m just trying to stay as ready as I can. It’s hard to train without knowing when you’re going to get back onto the field. As of right now, you’re just training like it’s offseason. It’s hard to continue to stay ready."

In the meantime, Esplin has brought some much-needed smiles to some starry-eyed faces. These days, that sort of delivery goes a long way.