It was just another game under the Friday night lights. Texas Rangers’ farmhand Tyler Tufts stood on the mound for the Frisco RoughRiders and looked in towards home for the sign. It’s hard to believe that just a year earlier, his life hung in the balance without anyone really knowing. It all began in late 2011.
“I started feeling sick with symptoms all the way back to the December before Spring Training (for the 2012 season),” Tufts said. “Throughout the year I would throw up and thought it was food poisoning. Once a month, I would throw up and feel pain in my stomach. It would last for a couple of days and then go away so I just kept playing.”
Tufts began the 2012 season with the Texas Rangers Triple-A affiliate, the Round Rock Express. Tufts pushed through the pain and continued to pitch.
“I had just gotten promoted to Triple-A so the last thing I wanted to do was say I was sick or say I was injured,” Tufts said. “You never think it’s a hole in your intestine or a hole in your bowel.”
Tufts had 12 relief appearances in Round Rock before being assigned to the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders where he had seven relief appearances. Eventually, Tufts reached his breaking point almost to the point of no return.
“One day it was so bad I couldn’t move, stand up, or bend down. I was just crunched over for like 48 hours,” Tufts said. “I couldn’t sleep and I was throwing up.”
Around the All-Star break, Tufts went to see a doctor who told him it was food poisoning. He went to rejoin the RoughRiders in Springfield to play the first series after the break against the Cardinals. However, he never stepped foot on the mound at Hammons Field.
“I got to my hotel in Springfield and didn’t even go to the first game. The pain was so bad I had to finally go to the hospital,” Tufts said. “They basically said ‘Thank God you came in because if you would have fallen asleep, you probably wouldn’t have woken up.’”
After running a barrage of tests, the doctors determined there was a hole in his bowel which required immediate surgery. Tufts remained in the hospital for a week and was released only to discover a fluid pocket which put him back in the hospital.
“There was a really sharp pain like someone stabbing me or a sharp cramp so I had to go back into the hospital for another week to get it drained,” Tufts said.
After going in and out of the hospital for a month, Tufts began his rehab regime which was not easy.
“It was horrible,” Tufts said. “I had to almost start from the beginning. I started with standing up which led to walking and jogging. I started eating more. It was little baby steps to start from zero and work my way back up.”
Family, friends, and members of the Texas Rangers were there to support him throughout the process.
“Actually my mom and girlfriend were on their way down to Springfield to see me pitch. It was crazy timing,” Tufts said. “The Rangers were awesome. I had strength coaches, trainers, pitching coach, and Tim (Purpura), the farm director, all calling me checking up and seeing how I was doing. Later the whole team came and visited me in the hospital with the coaches. It seemed like they really cared.”
Towards the end of the 2012 season, the Texas Rangers added Tufts to their 40-man roster and added him to the disabled list. This gave the Rangers options when adding a player to the playoff roster. Tufts said despite the circumstances, it was still cool to see his name included with the major league club.
“I’m very blessed that the Rangers picked me. They were in Cleveland, my hometown, so I got to go there with my two brothers,” Tufts said. “They got to meet some of the Rangers’ players and go into the clubhouse. I got to sign a big league contract. It was a great time for me and my family.”
Tufts was on the Rangers’ roster for 34 days. He received the major league minimum salary and meal money for each day the club was on the road. In addition, he qualified for a small pension and low-cost health care through the Major League Baseball Players Association for the rest of his life. Tufts jokingly said he definitely used the money to catch up on medical bills.
Coming into the 2013 season Tufts knew it was going to be an uphill battle but worked to get back into shape. Now one year later, Tufts is back on the mound wheeling and dealing for Double-A Frisco and he said he’s happy to be back.
“I know how hard it was going through all of that. It was a lot of work to get myself back in shape and get back to the ability to pitch like I used to,” Tufts said. “Pitching in my first few games, I kept taking deep breaths to adjust and get back in the flow of things but it’s definitely rewarding. It’s just like any other season.”