Tyler Thorn did it all over the course of four seasons with the Cranbrook Bandits.
He won an American Legion Montana State ‘B’ championship in 2015.
He threw a no-hitter during the 2015 season.
Now, he is the first ever Bandit to commit to the University of Calgary Dinos program.
“I’m pretty pumped to go, I think I’m the first [Bandit] to go to U of C,” Thorn said Thursday morning. “All the other guys go to Lethbridge [and the Prairie Baseball Academy]. I’m pretty excited to represent my hometown in Calgary.”
After four seasons with Paul Mrazek and the Bandits’ American Legion Baseball program in Cranbrook, the crafty Thorn is set to attend the University of Calgary this fall, pursuing general studies with a focus on math, in hopes of continuing on into education, science or engineering.
On the baseball side of the equation, the savvy southpaw is already looking forward to his first season of Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) play with the Dinos, which will get underway in spring 2017.
“Every year, he has contributed more,” said Mrazek, head coach of the Bandits, Thursday afternoon. “It’s been good seeing him develop, especially the last two years, developing into a starting pitcher and one of our top pitchers… He’s had a real good career with the Bandits and we’ve really seen him grow.
“It’s exciting. He’s a great kid, he’s worked hard all four years and he’s ready to move on. It’s great to see a Cranbrook Bandit moving along and playing at the next level. He’s ready for it.”
The Bandits program has continued to develop and excel as time wears on and Thorn’s graduation from the American Legion ranks to the Canadian Collegiate level is further proof of that.
Outside of winning the 2015 state title, Thorn highlighted his no-no against Priest River as one of the more memorable moments in his stellar Bandits career.
It was Friday, July 10, 2015, in Kalispell. Through four innings, Thorn had zero blemishes to his name, while the Bandits bats bashed their way to a 9-0 lead after only two innings.
The icy ace didn’t realize what he was approaching until there was only one out left in the final inning.
“I was just focused on keeping the shutout the entire game and making my teammates jobs easy,” Thorn said in June 2015. “I owe a lot to my teammates as well. It’s not like I struck out all 15 guys I faced. There were several great plays that were made to keep the no-hitter alive, so I’m very grateful for that.”
In all, Thorn struck out five batters and only walked two, needing 75 pitches to lead the Bandits to a resounding 11-0 triumph over Priest River.
Over the course of four seasons, the 5-foot-11, 140-pound pitcher provided a reliable presence on the mound, at first base and in the outfield. During the 2016 campaign, he put in good work at the dish, greatly improving his offensive numbers.
“It’s what baseball is completely centred around — fundamentals, good mechanics,” Thorn said. “Our coach [Mrazek] drilled that into our heads — having good mechanics, saving energy, using energy the best way you can by having good mechanics — and lots of repetition, too. That’s what develops you as a baseball player. Coach can tell you whatever he wants, but only you can put it into action.
“If not for [the Bandits] program, I would not be where I am today and have this opportunity.”
This past year, Thorn improved his batting average by more than 70 points from the 2015 season. Hitting .232 in 2015, the lanky lefty hit opposing pitchers much more regularly in 2016, registering a .303 average at the plate.
He dropped his strikeout count (19 to 15) and got on base in efficient fashion, improving upon his on-base percentage vastly from .382 in 2015 to .461 in 2016.
Once on, Thorn thieved bases at a career rate in 2016, swiping 22 bags.
Four campaigns with the Bandits saw Thorn go 13-14 on the bump, with three saves over the course of more than 144 innings. He struck out 132 batters during his Bandits career, while walking 91. He leaves with a 4.11 career earned-run average and 1.59 WHIP.
At the plate, Thorn hit for .264 over his four years, collecting 71 RBI and 36 stolen bases, while slugging .317 in 143 career games.
Now, he will be challenged by older, stronger and more experienced sluggers.
“Making fewer mistakes — at [the college] level, I’ll get punished a lot more and in greater magnitude if I miss my spots, if I leave pitches up,” Thorn said of what it’s going to take for him to have success playing CCBC ball. “If I be careful with my pitch selection and work around guys, stay down at the knees, that way I won’t get hit hard. I’ve just got to make sure I’m not giving anybody something too easy to hit.”
As with any club, Thorn still needs to earn his playing time with the Dinos, so he isn’t certain where exactly he will fit within the pitching staff. But he’s happy to fill whatever role he is called upon to fill in his rookie season, be that as a middle reliever, closer or starter.
“What’s going to make him a success is physically he can do what he needs to do — he can throw strikes,” Mrazek said. “Mentally, he knows that. He knows the importance of getting ahead. He understands having to change speeds, being around the plate and keeping the ball down.
“He knows that he is going to be going up against better hitters… But I don’t think he’s got anything to worry about. He will stay competitive and have the fight that he has… If he doesn’t get overwhelmed, goes in and pitches his game, he’ll do just fine.”
The Dinos play out of the five-team CCBC, which also includes the Okanagan College Coyotes (Kelowna), Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs (Lethbridge), Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack (Kamloops) and Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners (Nanaimo).
The last player Mrazek and the Bandits sent to play CCBC baseball was infielder Devon Marra, who suited up for the Prairie Baseball Academy.
While Thorn is moving on to the big city and a big university, he remains proud to have come from Cranbrook and the Bandits program. The experience is something he won’t soon forget.
“We were all so tight-knit,” Thorn said. “We meshed really well that first year we all played together. The guys made it memorable for me. Those guys will be my great friends until… who knows how long. I’ll remember it by the people that I played with, the people that I met through the game that I love.”