By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.— Altoona Curve pitcher Taylor Hearn has a hidden secret and it’s certainly not his upper 90s fastball. At 6-feet-6 and 227 pounds, everybody knows how hard he can throw.
In fact, the big southpaw’s hidden secret has nothing to do with baseball.
Taylor Hearn can ride horses and rope calves. He’s been doing it since he was a little kid in Royse City, Texas.
“I grew up with baseball, basketball and football,” Hearn said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field, “but another part of me was rodeos. It’s a family thing on my dad’s side.
“His dad, my grandpa, was the first African-American to earn a rodeo scholarship and become a professional in calf roping.”
Rodeo scholarships are much like athletic scholarships in the South. Colleges in Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama and Louisiana are among schools who offer rodeo scholarships, Hearn said. He said his folks have pictures of him riding horses when he was only four or five years old.
“I think riding and roping plays a part in baseball,” he said, “because you have good days and bad. I went through stretches where I couldn’t rope a calf, couldn’t catch a break. Then there are days when you can do everything.
“I’m glad I did it. I think that’s where I got a lot of my athleticism.”
Hearn stopped playing basketball and football when he reached high school.
“To be honest, I enjoyed playing all of them, but if I had to rank them, it was football first,” he said. “Honestly, I thought football was my better sport above baseball.
“I don’t know why I picked baseball,” he continued. “Then I came to realize it wasn’t me who picked baseball, it was God. He picked it for me.”
Hearn’s faith has helped him through a baseball career full of ups and downs. He was drafted four different times – first by the Pirates in 2012, then the Reds in 2013, then by the Twins in 2014 and then by the Nationals in 2015.
Injuries were the main reason he didn’t sign. An injury prevented him from pitching his senior year in high school.
“Plus, I don’t think I was ready mentally,” he said. “I wasn’t mature enough.”
Hearn almost gave up baseball in junior college, but his mother convinced him to keep the faith, and he did.
He blossomed as a pitcher at NAIA Oklahoma Baptist where he transferred from San Jacinto Junior College. As a junior, he appeared in 15 games and posted a 9-0 record with a 3.50 ERA. He struck out 71 batters in 64 innings and opponents batted only .191 against him.
“Thankful I went there (Oklahoma Baptist) because that’s where I got a lot closer to God,” he said. “Plus, my coaches, teachers and teammates were amazing.”
He was selected in the fifth round of the MLB draft and signed with the Washington Nationals. He pitched for the Nats’ minor league affiliates in Auburn (low A) and Hagerstown (A) before being traded with Felipe Vasquez to the Pirates for Mark Melancon on July 30, 2016.
“It was pretty crazy,” Hearn said, “but I know everything happens for a reason. The Pirates had been watching me ever since they tried to draft me out of high school.
“For them to trade for me, I’m very thankful,” he said. “I feel like I’m home.”
Hearn went to the West Virginia Power following the trade and posted a 1-1 record in eight games. He was 4-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 18 games with Bradenton (high A) in 2017, had a good experience in the Arizona Fall League and came to the Curve in 2018.
“I’m willing to do whatever they want me to do,” he said. “I can do either – starter or reliever.”
Curve manager Michael Ryan likes what he’s seen so far from Hearn.
“He’s big and physical,” Ryan said, “and the ball is lightning out of his hand. He has good secondary stuff, too. He can get to the upper 90s and uses his size to his advantage.”
And, there’s still this riding and roping thing.
“It’s one of those hidden secrets I haven’t told many people about, especially in the baseball world,” Hearn said. “I don’t hide it, but I try not to bring it up too much and it’s funny to see people’s reactions when they hear it.”