BY JIM PETERS
One was playing for the Duneland Flyers, the other for the Indiana Bulldogs, when they first discovered an interesting coincidence.
“It was kind of funny that there was another Tyler Nelson on a team,” Tyler Nelson of the Bulldogs said.
It was just the beginning for the 10-year olds, Tyler J. Nelson of Chesterton and Andrean’s Tyler D. Nelson of Crown Point. Their baseball paths have continued to cross in the years since, the boys with the same name and talent for the same game building a friendship as they began to climb the ranks in local and state baseball.
“It just really developed the more we played together,” Tyler J. said. “We’d be with each other all the time over the summer.”
At the age of 11, the Nelsons found themselves on the same roster as members of Team Indiana, the first of several seasons they would occupy a dugout together.
“We hit first and second,” said Tyler J., an outfielder most of his career. “I never played shortstop in my life, I look at the card before the game and I was playing shortstop. I was like, OK, whatever. So then the first inning, I get a ball, I make a play, I didn’t say anything. (Tyler D.’s) dad (Bill) was the coach, he made out the lineup, and he’s like, that’s not (my) Tyler. They flipped us.”
Meanwhile, Tyler D., a shortstop, was standing in the outfield, also wondering what was going on.
“I remember thinking, why am I out here?” Tyler D. said. “I just went out there and didn’t think about it. I might’ve had one play or two.”
The confusion has only accelerated over the years, becoming a source of humor for the boys.
“It keeps happening,” Tyler J. said. “We had shirts for all-state, someone went up to someone and said your shirts have a mistake, there’s the same name twice. The coach will say Tyler, we’ll both look and the coach will be looking at one of us, so you’ll just turn away. We just kind of figured it out eventually.”
It didn’t help matters that the boys had similar offensive skill sets, top-of-the-order-type hitters with plus speed, meaning they often batted in succession. Tyler J. has long worn No. 1 and for years, Tyler D. sported No. 2. Heck, they even have an identical nickname, T-Nelly, on their high school teams.
“Sometimes, I batted last and he batted first,” Tyler D. said. “When I’d come up, they’d say, ‘oh, the leadoff guy’s up now.’ We were on a team one time, we had another Tyler. They’d say Tyler and we’d all look.”
In addition to three seasons with Team Indiana, the Nelsons were also teammates on the Indiana Bulldogs as 14-year olds, Elite Baseball as 15s and on a Futures squad before their junior years.
“People get these guys confused all the time,” Shane Nelson, Tyler J.’s dad, said. “I’d have adults text me, they’d see something in the paper and say, ‘hey, did Tyler switch schools? Is he going to Andrean now?’ I’d say, ‘no, no, that’s the other one.’ One time, we had the lineup card before the game, someone said, ‘you’ve got Tyler Nelson on here twice.’ We said, ‘well, there’s two of ‘em.’”
Tyler D.’s mom Kristina recalled over 10 times that parents from other teams asked if they were brothers.
“Because we would name two children the same,” she said. “Then opposing coaches thinking the line-up was wrong, (Prep Baseball Report) and Perfect Game trying to figure out which one since they played on the same team.”
As the boys’ careers continued to intersect, their growing circles of friends also began to overlap more and more, creating some even more humorous moments.
“One time, a girl meant to (direct message) him something on Twitter and sent it to me,” Tyler J. said. “He texted me, like, I think she meant to send that to me.”
“I’ve had other friends text me and say, ‘oh, sorry, I meant that to go to the other Tyler,’” Tyler D. said.
Tyler D. ascended to the Andrean lineup as a freshman after a brief stint on the JV, starting at shortstop on the 59ers’ Class 3A state championship teams the last two seasons. Tyler J. came up to Chesterton’s varsity as a sophomore, becoming an outfield mainstay.
They have never squared off in high school though their teams did meet in a memorable Class 4A Chesterton Sectional final in 2017, a game Andrean won 4-3 with three runs in the top of the seventh inning after the Trojans broke a 1-1, scoring twice in the bottom of the sixth. Tyler J. was on the Chesterton roster but didn’t play, while Tyler D. left the game following an early injury.
The rivalry intensified with the transfer of Tommy Benson from Andrean to Chesterton, reaching the point that the schools stopped playing during the regular season.
“(Benson) was actually my neighbor growing up for 10 years,” Tyler D. said.
With the 59ers back in 4A this season as a result of the success factor, the teams were slated to be in the same sectional again until the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring sports and prematurely ended the Nelsons’ prep careers.
Fortunately for both, the cancelled senior season won’t hamper their college plans. Tyler D. drew an early offer from Indiana University and committed to the Hoosiers going into his junior year.
“I liked IU, being the home state, it’s not real far,” he said. “They’re doing a lot of positive things, they have a new coaching staff. They’re really good at developing players. They had like 10 guys drafted last year.”
Tyler J. will play about 60 miles up State Road 46 at Indiana State.
“The recruiting process, I over-stressed it, getting it done,” Tyler J. said. “I felt like it was a good fit, all the coaches are super cool. The biggest thing for me, my goal is to play professionally, and they’re really good at developing guys for pro ball, turning three-star guys into four and five-star guys for the next level.”
In the interim, both are doing what they can to stay on top of their games, given the social constraints.
“I’ve got a batting cage in my basement,” Tyler D. said. “We’ve got a small weight room next to it. My friends text me, can I come over and hit?”
Shane Nelson is the strength and conditioning coach at Chesterton, so Tyler J. has always gone there to work out. Now he’s got to improvise at home.
“I’ll go to the local parks to run and throw,” Tyler J. said. “I have a friend who has a hangar at the Porter County Airport with a batting cage in it.”
Tyler D. was slated to start summer school June 22 and Tyler J. was scheduled to head to Terre Haute on July 5, but neither expects to be heading to campus before August.
“We don’t know anything for sure yet except that all classes are online for the summer,” Tyler J. said.
Before taking the next step in their baseball careers, the two hope to play together one more time this summer with the Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“I am very excited to be playing with the other Tyler again this summer,” Tyler J. said. “It will be a fun end to our high school baseball careers.”
Tyler J. latched on with the Midwest Collegiate League team in March, while Tyler D. joined the roster recently.
“I think it’s icing on the cake because I was never supposed to be playing summer ball this year and I was supposed to be at Indiana,” Tyler D. said. “I never thought I would have played with Tyler (J.) again after the fall and it is just crazy how we ended up back on the same team again. I think it is very funny that we will have to hear our name called from the dugout and we both look at the same time or teams thinking what’s going on with the lineup. This just gives Tyler (J.) and me another laugh at the fact we have two Tyler Nelsons on the same team.”
Follow Jim Peters on Twitter — @JP8185
Tyler D. Nelson (left) and Tyler J. Nelson have been linked by more than a name for years. They are both standout baseball players in northwest Indiana — Tyler D. at Andrean High School and Tyler J, at Chesterton High School. Tyler D. is bound for Indiana University and Tyler J for Indiana State University. (Jim Peters Photo)