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Hesselgesser chasing his MLB dream

Tyler HesselgesserTyler Hesselgesser could currently be spending his senior year at Grand Island Central Catholic.

But instead he is doing everything he can to pursue his dream — to become a major league pitcher.

Chasing that goal has led Hesselgesser to spend his senior year at the IMG Academy baseball program in Bradenton, Fla.

“I’m going to IMG because my ultimate goal after I finish this year is to get a chance to play professionally,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether I go to college after high school or forego that.

“I’d like to get drafted out of high school this year, but if that doesn’t work out. I want to play Division I college baseball.”

Hesselgesser got an opportunity to play with some of the top high school players in the nation in January. He was among 250 players who participated in the 2011 Under Armour Pre-Season All-America Tournament in Tucson, Ariz.

“I found out I was selected a month before,” Hesselgesser said. “I was very thrilled. I definitely knew this was a big deal.”

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander took part in a recognition banquet with former Kansas City Royal Brian McCray. The next two days consisted of a total of four games.

Hesselgesser pitched four innings and played all three positions in the outfield during the event.

“It went well,” he said.

Going to the IMG Academy baseball program wasn’t a spur of the moment decision for Hesselgesser, the son of Vaughn and Vicki. He had played baseball there for two summers and had actually planned to attend it starting his junior season.

But an injury had other ideas. A serious injury.

Hesselgesser was required to have Tommy John surgery. He can quickly name the exact date — Oct. 6, 2009.

Although Tommy John surgery isn’t the career ender it used to be, it is still a frightening prospect for a teenager with high aspirations.

“When I first found out I had to have it, it was pretty scary,” Hesselgesser said. “But I did a lot of research, and the more I read about the surgery, the more I found out that after players get it, pro teams feel their chances of not getting injured again are a lot better.”

But it was still tough to go through a surgery that usually takes a full year to recover. Hesselgesser went through “a lot of physical therapy” and couldn’t even play catch until seven months after the surgery.

Although delayed by a year, Hesselgesser is enjoying his experience at IMG.

“It was been a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s just an awesome place with all the athletes, games and training.”

It was an experience Hesselgesser couldn’t pass up.

“I knew if I went down here it would give me more experience and more coaching than if I had stayed in Grand Island,” he said.

Academics take priority in the mornings. Each weekday starts at 7:20 a.m. Classes are alternated on an every-other-day schedule like college. Hesselgesser has three classes on “A” days and two on “B” days.

Classes get out at 12:20 p.m., and athletes have until 1:45 p.m. to eat lunch and get ready for practices.

Baseball practice goes from 1:45-4:30 daily, and then the next two hours are spent weightlifting or conditioning.

With the spring high school season underway this month, Hesselgesser has plenty to keep him busy as the days count down to June’s MLB draft.

He remains focused on realizing his dream, one step — one pitch — at a time.

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