By STEVE KRAH
Tye Thixton figures he was born to play baseball.
He is named for his great grandfather on his mother Amy’s side — Leonus “Tye” Goheen, a standout pitcher in Kentucky in the 1920’s and 1930’s who once was matched up against a young Hall of Famer-to-be Dizzy Dean.
Goheen led the Dawson Springs Daylight Ball Club to the state championship in 1932 and an appearance in the Little World Series in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1937.
When Tye Thixton was but a tyke his father — Jeff Thixton — introduced his oldest son to the game with wiffleball and followed him all the way through youth and travel ball and college until his passing at 50 on Jan. 10, 2020 with wife Amy and sons Tye and Trey surviving.
“We bonded a lot of the time through baseball,” says Tye, who was granted an extra year of eligibility at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind,, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 season and is shining in 2021 (Trey Thixton, 20, is a sophomore on the IWU men’s tennis team). “I want to leave it all on the field for dad.”
Tye has his father’s initials — JLT — on his wrist tape and writes them in the dirt each time he comes up to bat.
Thixton’s Indiana Wesleyan team, which also features “COVID seniors” Tanner Killian, Austin Swift and Jon Young, goes into a Crossroads League series today (April 16) and Saturday (April 17) against visiting Huntington at 32-11 overall and 21-3 in conference play. The team has its sights on being the program’s first 40-game winner.
Center fielder and lead-off man Thixton is hitting .349 (60-of-172) with 11 home runs, one triple, 11 doubles, 45 runs batted in, 48 runs scored and is 15-of-15 in stolen bases. He sports an 1.039 OPS (.423 on-base percentage plus .616 slugging average) with 20 multi-hit games.
For his IWU career, Thixton is hitting .360 (151-of-419) with 21 homers, three triples, 28 doubles, 96 RBIs, 106 runs and is 29-of-32 in stolen bases. His OPS is 1.020 (.428 on-base percentage plus .592 slugging average).
Thixton’s most-recent circuit clout came Monday, April 13 in Game 1 of a CL doubleheader against Taylor. The two-run shot in the fourth inning to left field cut through a steady cross wind and landed on the football stadium next to Wildcat Field.
“Off the bat I was thinking, ‘get on 2,’” says Thixton. “The fact that it got out gave us a lot of momentum and helped us get into their pen.
“My whole game has changed. I’m a little bit of a power threat this year. I think the COIVD year helped guys develop. We got to spend more time in the weight room and more time to work on the swing.
“Across the board players progressing and numbers on the pitching and hitting side a lot better.”
A center fielder and No. 1 hitter in the batting order since his days at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Thixton relishes both roles.
“I like being able to run the outfield,” says Thixton. “It’s fun playing gap-to-gap.
“I’ve always loved being a lead-off hitter — just being able to set the tone of the game.”
Thixton, 23, is finishing up his Business Management degree. Commencement at IWU is slated for May 1.
“I’ll be done,” says Thixton of his college days which began with two years at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, including a team MVP season in 2018. “Then I get on to the real world.”
Competing against NAIA No. 1-ranked Southeastern in Florida and No. 6 Faulkner in Alabama to begin the season in February, the Wildcats got off to an 0-7 start.
“We got walked off three times in seven games,” says Thixton. “But we knew we could compete with the highest level. We could’ve easily won three of four of those games.
“Nobody’s head was down. It was time to go on a win streak.”
And that’s just what IWU did.
The Wildcats won their next 16 under the guidance of head coach Rich Benjamin.
“He loves all of his players,” says Thixton. “He’s done such a good job of bringing a team together and making guys want to play for each other and for him.
“We’ve got a good mix of all ages. Guys able to learn from each other. That’s really contributed to this year.”
Going through the uncertainty of the pandemic has also impacted the team’s outlook.
“We’ve played every game with the thought it could be our last,” says Thixton.
Born in Greenwood, Thixton started school at Clark Elementary in Whiteland and played at Whiteland Little League then moved to the Center Grove area as a third grader and he attended the former West Grove Elementary.
He played in the Center Grove Little League then travel ball with a Center Grove team coached by Mike Chitwood that morphed into Indiana Elite Baseball and Pony Express Baseball, where his coaches were Kyle Beachy, Quentin Brown and Grant Bellak.
“(Brown and Bellak) were a blast to be around,” says Thixton. “They helped me develop my game so much.
Thixton graduated from Center Grove High School in 2016. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was in his final season with the Trojans while Thixton played on the junior varsity as a freshman.
Keith Hatfield was Thixton’s varsity coach for three CG seasons.
What is Thixton’s impressions of Hatfield?
“It’s his passion for the game,” says Thixton. “We had so much fun playing with Coach Hatfield (in 2016).
“We had a talented group of seniors. We lost to (eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion) Roncalli in the (Plainfield) Semistate.”
“He’s the best baseball mind I’ve ever been around,” says Thixton of Bunton. “He took my game to a completely different level mentally.
“It was about winning every pitch and winning the little things in baseball.
“There are so many metrics now. But the game still comes down to the mental side and what to do when the ball is in play
“What you can do at-bat to help your team team?”
In two seasons at Danville Area (2017 and 2018), Thixton hit .376 (139-of-369) in 101 games (98 starts).
In the summers after his freshman and sophomore years, Thixton played for the Hicks-managed Hannibal Hoots in 2017 and the St. Louis Kats in 2018.