CORVALLIS, Ore. — When Oregon State won its first College World Series title in 2006, it was a fleet-footed kid from Great Falls named Tyler Graham who caught the final out in centerfield.
Fast forward to 2018, Graham was again in Omaha, Nebraska, as the Beavers claimed a national championship with a 5-0 win over Arkansas, but this time he was in the dugout as a member of the OSU coaching staff. Same setting, way different feeling.
“You just have a lot of happiness come over you for all the kids getting to experience something that cool,” he said. “As a coach it was more of a relief this year. Obviously when I was playing, it was extreme excitement and this year it was kind of just more of a relief of them accomplishing a goal that we had set out from Day 1. I don’t think any kid on the team lost faith in that belief that they could be a national champion, and that was our mission from Day 1. So for me, knowing the type of team we had and the type of kids we had, I wouldn’t have been too excited about anything less than that.”
Graham had the best seat in the house for one of the wildest College World Series in recent memory. After going undefeated at the Corvallis super regional, the Beavers lost their first game of the CWS 8-6 to North Carolina. The team reeled off four consecutive wins to advance to the CWS finals against Arkansas where they ran into more trouble. After losing Game 1 of the best-of-three series 4-1, the Beavers found themselves trailing 3-2 and down to their final out in Game 2.
A fly ball to foul territory was mishandled by Arkansas giving the Beavers life. An RBI single and a two-run home run later, and Oregon State hung on for an improbable 5-3 win in Game 2.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 28, 2018
“The kids work on the mental game all year, and I think our kids are as competitive as anybody for moments like that when you’re up or down,” Graham said. “It’s just trying to keep the same mindset regardless of what’s going on. They never get discouraged and they never get too up when things are going good, and I think it’s just keeping that consistent mindset when things aren’t going right, always believing until the last out.”
Graham played professionally from 2006-2014 but answered the coaching call as an undergrad assistant when he retired following knee surgery in 2015. You see, coaching runs in the Graham family. His dad, Terry, was a highly successful softball and baseball coach in Great Falls and his sister, Lindsey Gustafson, has led the Great Falls CMR softball team to three Class AA state championships over the past six years. Both were in attendance in Omaha last week.
Tyler is now the Director of Player Development for the OSU baseball program, and if you look at the most recent MLB draft it’s clear he’s been a smashing success. Six Beaver players were drafted in last month’s draft, with all of them selected in the first six rounds.
“You approach it each day just trying to get each kid as good as they can get,” Graham said. “When you can build trust and relationships with these kids, it’s amazing how much they gravitate to you. So I think the most important thing is getting our information into their heads and our experiences into their heads is important — building the relationships first and trust with the kid and they’ll pretty much follow you and do whatever you want.”
Graham was a hard worker as a player and he enjoys the success stories when his charges reach their goals. He points to the example of outfielder Trevor Larnach, who hit the game-winning home run in Game 2, as a player he’s incredibly proud of. Larnach was unheralded coming out of high school and had uneven freshman and sophomore seasons. But after breaking out with an incredible 2018 that saw him bat .348, with 19 home runs and 77 RBI, he was selected 20th overall by the Minnesota Twins in June.
“Just having talent is good, but it’s not everything,” Graham said. “And I think when you can match mega talent with big-time work ethic, I think you can get some really special kids, and that’s what you saw come to fruition with Trevor. He’s 20th overall, and he has a long ways to go, but he and I knew that he was capable of that before the season started.”
There is no offseason for Graham. He manages the Medford Rouges of the Great West collegiate wood bat league, who are about halfway through their season.