By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – Highs and lows. Athletes experience them all of the time. Curve infielder Mitchell Tolman has had more than his share.
After graduating from El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., Tolman committed to Cal State Fullerton where he planned to play college baseball.
“(But), the (Fullerton) coaches moved to Tennessee,” Tolman recalled recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “They offered me (a scholarship), but, at the time, it was just too far from home.”
Later, Tolman went to watch a UCLA-Oregon game and spoke to an Oregon coach he had met during the recruiting season. He was told Oregon had no scholarships but he was welcome to walk on.
“I walked on my freshman year and things worked out really well for me,” he said. “I wasn’t a big prospect, had no guarantees and had to work hard to earn my opportunities.
“It was a humbling experience for me and I got on scholarship my sophomore and junior years.”
Tolman went on to become Oregon’s all-time leader in doubles, RBIs, OBP, and multiple-RBI games.
“The PAC-12 had sound players and it was a good experience for me,” noted Tolman, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2015 MLB draft by the Pirates.
“I was drafted after my junior year and signed quickly because I felt it was the right time for me to pursue baseball,” he said.
Tolman spent the 2015 season with the short-season West Virginia Black Bears and helped them win the New York-Penn League championship with a .304 average in 63 games. He moved on to the West Virginia Power (low A) in 2016 and batted .265 in 119 games.
He started 2017 in Bradenton (advanced A), batted .267 in 115 games and was promoted to Altoona for the last series of the regular season.
“Pablo Reyes pulled a hamstring the first day I was here,” Tolman said. “It’s crazy how sports works—someone gets hurt and it’s next man up. Then, in the first game of the playoffs, Cole Tucker broke his hand diving into a base.”
Tolman started all six games of the Eastern League playoffs and batted .333 as the Curve won the EL championship.
“It was crazy, a fast couple of weeks for me,” Tolman noted.
However, after violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, he had to serve a 50-game suspension to begin the 2018 season.
“To be blunt honest, I made bad decisions,” Tolman said. “I got in trouble and was mentally down on myself because of the pressure.
“In life, you learn from the decisions you make – good or bad,” he said.
Tolman played the final 68 games at Bradenton in 2018 and batted .250.
“I didn’t meet my goals,” he said. “I wish I had prepared myself and gone into it better mentally.”
Tolman is back with the Curve this season, playing second base and doing well in all aspects.
“I have a good support from my wife and family and I’m confident in myself,” he said. “The first couple weeks I wanted to show everyone what I could do. I wanted to prove them wrong.
“I could feel myself pressing pretty hard,” he continued, “but lately, I feel like I’m doing better and a lot of it is trying to take a step back and realize it’s just me on the field. I’m not up there hitting every single at-bat; I don’t need to be the guy who comes through every time.
“I want to help the team win– that’s my goal,” he said. “I think that’s a big part of it –mentally not trying to press and overdo, just be myself because that’s what got me here in the first place.”
Tolman is happy for his second chance.
“Like I said, you make mistakes and I’ve learned from my mistakes,” he said. “I’m not going to keep dwelling on things that I did because it is what it is.
“I was down on myself for a while, but I feel good now and am in a good place mentally,” said. “My family is awesome so I’m excited that I’m on a good path and can keep going and do the things I want to do.”