Editor’s note: Tyler Gaffney, a two-sport standout in football and baseball, took a year off from Stanford to pursue a professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A powerful running back, he has returned to the Farm to finish his degree in sociology and has one season of eligibility remaining in football. Gaffney will participate in the final two weeks of spring practice and hopes to play in the Cardinal & White Spring Game on April 13. In this exclusive guest blog for the Buck/Cardinal Clubhouse, he discusses his reasons for leaving school, his decision to return, and his excitement about helping Stanford defend its Pac-12 title.
By Tyler Gaffney
Although leaving Stanford last year was a huge decision in my life, the chance to play professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, and it has helped shape me into the man I am today. Once you leave the “Stanford Bubble,” you are thrown into the real world of responsibilities. I met many times with those that have the most influence in my life, especially my immediate family, and they were instrumental in helping me make the right decision.
My dad asked me questions about the physical side of leaving school, mainly, “How will your body hold up after three years of no breaks playing football and baseball?” In the past, I took two weeks off following baseball season before I started training for football. Signing with the Pirates allowed me to have that same two-week break, then prove myself by playing 50 games in 55 days. I really wanted to show them I wasn’t just a football player.
My first experience with the travels of minor league baseball didn’t exactly go smoothly. My flight to Pittsburgh took 11 hours. A driver picked me up at the airport and drove me to a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, right next to PNC Stadium. I was told to be up at 6:00 a.m. the next day for my physical—mind you that’s 3:00 a.m. West Coast time—and went to bed at 9:00 p.m. Unfortunately, I woke up at midnight and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I read until 5:30 a.m. After passing the physical, it was off to meet some of the people in the organization and take care of paperwork. That night, I went to my first Pirates game and they won.
I left Pittsburgh the next day around noon for a three-hour drive to State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State and my new team: the State College Spikes. I arrived just in time to drop off my gear in the locker room, change into my No. 48 uniform with “Gaffney” on the back, and walk into the dugout to see the first pitch of the game. I met a few players, but didn’t want to be a distraction and figured I would have plenty of time to introduce myself on the eight-hour bus ride after the game. This is how most of the season went, rinse and repeat. The bus rides weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. The longest trip was 10 hours.
The actual playing season was a lot of fun. I think I learned a lot and became a much better baseball player. However, some things never change. I walked a good amount and led our division in being hit by pitches. I had the opportunity to play center field and right field for the Spikes, and I hit in most spots in the lineup.
The State College area is beautiful and very homey. I lived with a host family—the Oylers—and they took me in as one of their own. I keep in touch with them and look forward to meeting up again.
The end of my baseball season brought around the beginning of college football. Needless to say, I was excited. Besides the fact that Stanford was 2-0 by the time I left, I got to experience the first two weeks of college football with the Penn State family. Everybody in the town absolutely loved Penn State football and tailgates were great. It was fun to see another college campus and how they bled their school colors. It got me excited to go be a fan at Stanford for the first time since I had played.
My decision to return to school was a long, drawn-out process. Ultimately, it came down to what was best for me. I came back to finish my degree in sociology and minor in psychology. I also have one year of eligibility left for football and want to help contribute as much as possible towards a Stanford Cardinal championship season. Once again, my parents were a huge help in this process and I can’t thank them enough.
After I made my decision, I approached Stanford and the Pirates at about the same time and let them know of my plans. Stanford welcomed me back, and the Pirates have been great to me. The organization helps build character and manhood while simultaneously making you a better ballplayer. I had learned a ton from the team and hope to use that knowledge somewhere down the road.
Completing my degree at Stanford is very important to me. It was constantly in the back of my mind while I was playing for the Pirates. I recognize its importance in today’s world, and I know it will make my family proud.
After the baseball season, I took two weeks off, then hit the weight room hard. I started shifting my lifts so that they were tailored a little more for football. I'm excited about starting spring ball on April 1, especially since it will be my first-ever spring practice, and I look forward to participating in the Cardinal & White (Spring) Game.
I missed football very much. The game has an unreal atmosphere everywhere you go, and the energy of the crowd runs through your blood, whether you’re getting applause or being booed. Nobody goes through workouts like football teams do. You find yourself around your teammates 24/7 because of all you go through together—practice, off-season workouts, and games. You grow close at Stanford and become a Nerd Nation family. I needed to be a part of that family again, and I will do my best to help Stanford make another championship run.