Every time he steps onto a baseball field, Tai Tiedemann hears that same old question.
“Hey, you’re the quarterback, right?”
It’s not a common question for a starting center fielder. But then again, the road Tiedemann took to that spot on the diamond was anything but conventional.
The answer to the question is yes, he is the quarterback—the one who helped lead Poly’s football team to the 2012 CIF Pac-5 championship during his junior season. But that part of Tiedemann’s athletic career is finished, and he has officially traded in the pigskin for pine tar—establishing himself as the most dangerous bat in the Jackrabbits’ lineup and one of the most impressive comeback stories in recent memory.
As a freshman at Lakewood High, Tiedemann was able to juggle both sports, playing football in the fall and baseball in the spring. But after injuring his arm during that freshman season, he was forced to reassess his athletic plans when he arrived at Poly as a sophomore.
With all of the pressure that comes with being the Jackrabbits’ starting quarterback, including offseason passing league responsibilities and the urges of football coach Raul Lara, Tiedemann decided to focus on being a quarterback, leaving baseball behind.
When his football days were over following a playoff loss last November, the door opened for the senior to return to the baseball diamond. Unfortunately, he wasn’t afforded much time to get ready for his comeback.
“I talked to (former Poly head coach Toby) Hess on a Tuesday and he said you need to try out on Thursday,” Tiedemann recalled with a laugh. “So I went to my little brother’s practice to hit balls and in the tryout the next day I was hitting balls off the fence, I was really surprised. Then in the third game of winter ball it clicked, and I was raking.
“I remember thinking, I love this game more than I thought.”
Now two-and-a-half years after his last competitive baseball action, he’s hitting a team-best .449 this season, with a sterling .571 average in Moore League games. He also leads the team in RBI (16) and runs scored (12), while hitting primarily in the two-spot in the order and starting in center field. His play has shown just how naturally the game comes to Tiedemann, and it begs another question: Should this have been his sport all along?
“My mom never lets me live the day down that I didn’t stick with baseball,” admitted Tiedemann. “I’m glad I came back (to baseball), I’m having fun, and at the same time, I wish I had never taken the two years off. All the scouts are asking me ‘where have you been?’ But I’ve shown that I haven’t missed a step and that I can hang with anybody.”
His performance has been a pleasant surprise for everyone, including Tiedemann. He admitted that he didn’t have major expectations for his return considering how much time he spent away from the sport.
“I told my dad before I tried out that I felt like being a pitcher only,” remembered Tiedemann. “If they ask me to play outfield I will, but I didn’t think I wanted to hit because it would be so much work getting the timing back. But now I’m the full-time center fielder hitting all the time. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”
His addition to the Poly lineup has been a vital shot in the arm to a program that just lost a loaded senior class and was looking to rebuild.
“We were thinking he was going to be another arm for us and give us some innings,” said Poly’s first-year head coach Erick Bryant of his expectations for Tiedemann this season. “We didn’t even know his bat was gonna be that good and defensively he was going to be able to run down balls. I truly believe he’s a five-tool player. He has the size, the prototype look that scouts look for at 6’4”, and he’s got a strong arm and is consistent at the plate.”
Tiedemann has already attracted the attention of college coaches and scouts, even though he’s played just over 20 varsity games. His immediate success makes Bryant wonder what could have happened if Tiedemann had never taken his hiatus from the sport. “If he would’ve been here two years ago and worked those extra two years playing baseball, who knows where he’d be right now.”
He is the most unlikely offensive star in the Moore League, helping Poly into third place at the midway point of the league schedule. And while his time on the football field may have taken away from his baseball development, he brings a unique dynamic to the sport thanks his time as a signal-caller.
“He’s bringing that leadership from the football field to the baseball field,” said Bryant. “Our team did not really have a leader, but with him coming in as a quarterback from the football team, he’s the general out there in center field.”
So with success in two marquee sports at two marquee positions, how will Tiedemann remember his sports career at Poly? Is he simply “the quarterback” out in center field?
“People see me as the football player, but I see myself as a Poly athlete,” Tiedemann said. “If we get into the playoffs this year and get that first playoff win in a while, that will go a long way in making people see me as a two-sport athlete.”
Maybe then the question will be, “Hey you’re the center fielder, right?”