Matt Tyner was in the Towson University cafeteria this past fall when head football coach Rob Ambrose said he may have a surprise for the head baseball coach.
Tom Flacco, the Tigers’ starting quarterback, was thinking about playing baseball. Playing two sports had tempted the 2018 Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year since his days taking snaps at Western Michigan and Rutgers. But competing on the football field, not the baseball diamond, took precedence when Flacco brought up the conversation.
This time, though, Flacco had Ambrose’s approval, and Tyner was intrigued.
“[Ambrose] said, ‘Let us win eight games, and I’ll send him your way,'” Tyner said.
It only took seven wins for Tyner to get Flacco’s phone call. As it turned out, Tyner had an open roster spot. The only issue was that Flacco had not played on a baseball team in nearly five years. So, the second-year coach offered one piece of advice: get in as much batting practice as possible between November and the end of winter break.
Tyner and the rest of the team had to wait until January to see Flacco hit in batting practice. It only took one round of hitting for them to see what the former outfielder had to offer.
“I was shocked,” Tyner said of Flacco’s hitting ability. “Obviously, there’s something to be said for the strength that a football player possesses. I think that was the thing that put him over the top for me.”
Since then, Flacco has been balancing two roles: outfielder for the baseball team and quarterback for the football team, which began spring practice in February. Playing two sports isn’t always easy. There are occasions when it takes a physical toll, and sometimes circumstances call for extra measures to make sure Flacco can balance both.
The additional workload hasn’t stopped Flacco from getting the most out of his situation.
“I think baseball is really going to help me with football,” Flacco said. “A lot of what I’m doing for baseball correlates with football, so it’s not too different. When baseball season is over, I’ll be in great throwing shape. I run a lot in the outfield, so I’m in good shape.”
Flacco has a background in baseball that few can rival. He finished his final season at Eastern High School (N.J.) batting .506 and led the Vikings to a New Jersey state playoff appearance before he was drafted by Philadelphia Phillies in 2014.
The same talent that allowed Flacco to post eight doubles, six triples and 30 RBIs during his senior year, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, has shown itself again for the Tigers. After appearing in the starting lineup in seven games, Flacco is batting .400 with five runs scored and three RBIs, as of March 13.
“It’s a testament to his ability that he can do it,” Ambrose said. “Everybody here who plays sports is … pretty good at multiple sports. But to be exceptional as a Division I athlete in multiple sports says a lot about him.”
Flacco played football, baseball and basketball in high school, so he’s familiar with managing the workload.
“Mentally, I’m just competing all the time,” Flacco said. “I’m always in a competitive atmosphere where we’re always grinding.”
Tyner and Ambrose worked together to figure out how to best handle Flacco’s schedule. Because of the student-athlete guidelines that Flacco must follow, he is allowed a four-hour daily workload. If he practices with the football team for three hours, then he can practice with the baseball team for one hour.
Although Flacco has become an asset for Towson baseball, Tyner admits Flacco is a football player first.
“If we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the football side of things,” Tyner said.
But those plans changed slightly when injuries forced Flacco into the starting lineup early in the season. Flacco was supposed to miss most of a series at Kennesaw State (Ga.) in late February so he could attend a Saturday football practice.
Since Tyner needed him, the two coaches worked out a deal: Flacco would fly to Georgia by himself on Friday, which forced Flacco to miss football practice on Saturday but still allowed him to suit up for Thursday’s practice.
“It’s a balancing act,” Ambrose said. “But right now, all the parties are involved, and everybody is moving in the right direction to give him this opportunity. And it’s playing dividends for everyone.”
Flacco describes himself as “a football guy who is playing baseball,” but he doesn’t like to choose between the two sports.
“I always say that baseball is my favorite when it’s in season and when football is in season, football is my favorite,” Flacco said. “I like going out there and being in season all the time.”
Flacco said Ambrose wasn’t too surprised when he approached him about playing baseball, and so far, Ambrose’s openness to letting Flacco pursue that desire has paid off for both teams.
“This is a highly skilled game at a highly skilled level,” Tyner said. “I keep reminding him not to think like a baseball player. Just come out and be an athlete. Just be an athlete, and we’ll be fine. And my goodness, here he is.”
Photo Credits: ENP Photography and Dave Vatz/Towson Athletics
Issue 252: March 2019