Keeping score: Tucker is Pats’ franchise face
Since 1997, the Pilgrim baseball team has won 149 games. I know this, of course, because Tuck told me.
He has chronicled all of them, one pitch, one out, one inning at a time. In his oversized scorebooks, with perfect accuracy, he has scored Pilgrim baseball games for 17 years now. He has missed two – once when he had an orthodontist’s appointment, once when an afternoon game was moved to the morning and he didn’t find out in time.
The next Pilgrim win will be No. 150 with Brian Tucker in the dugout.
There will be a celebration.
“He’s the face of Pilgrim baseball,” said head coach Scott Bailey.
Tucker would be surprised to hear that. The 31-year-old Warwick baseball institution still sees every game the same way he saw the first one.
Just a chance.
“It’s an absolute joy to be able to do this and keep doing it,” he said.
He was a 14-year-old freshman at Pilgrim when his baseball journey began. He’s on the autism spectrum, and he was dealing with all the challenges that come with it. His resource teacher happened to be Gerry Habershaw, now the Warwick Vets principal who was then the Pilgrim baseball coach. Tucker had scored his brother’s Little League games in the past, and he got Habershaw’s blessing to do the same for Pilgrim.
It set the course for a baseball life.
“I’m autistic and it’s really hard for me to get to know new people and talk to new people and this was great,” Tucker said. “To me, baseball’s the ultimate ice-breaker. The kids were good to me – they’d let me take BP before games, play catch with them, get to know them. It meant the world to me.”
His younger brother Dan joined the team a few years later, so Tucker stuck around. He started scoring American Legion games, too. He kept track of all the stats, turned into a valuable resource in the dugout. And because baseball teams loves nicknames, Brian became Tucker and Tucker became Tuck.
“I was just off and running,” he said.
He never stopped. He couldn’t imagine leaving and as the years went on, players and coaches and fans couldn’t imagine Pilgrim baseball without him. He has a job now with a data collection company – where his boss graciously accommodates baseball schedules – he’s with his third head coach and some of the kids in Pilgrim uniforms now weren’t even alive when he scored his first game. But he keeps turning the pages of his scorebooks, every game, every year.
“All the guys on the team love him,” said senior Ryan Morris. “Every single guy you see who’s graduated always asks, ‘How’s Tuck doing?’”
As long as there’s baseball, it’s a safe bet he’s doing well.
It’s been a lifelong passion.
His parents, Tom and Paula, got their children – Brian, Dan and Amy – into sports at an early age. As Tuck envisioned long summers watching his brother’s baseball games, he made a choice.
“I started scoring baseball games because I knew I was going to be around my brother’s games all the time,” he said. “Instead of giving my parents guff about not wanting to go, I figured I would score the games. We solved that problem right away. As it turned out, I grew to enjoy doing it.”
He followed his brother’s teams to all-star tournaments and Babe Ruth regionals. He loved baseball, and his unique ability to focus on details – a strength amid autism’s challenges – made keeping score a perfect fit.
“Baseball, every game is a different story,” he said. “One game you can 10-run the best team in the league. Another game, you lose to an 0-18 team, like we did in 2007.”
Like they did in 2007?
Yes, he remembers things, too. Maybe in the beginning, it was just a nice thing to do, giving the kid a chance to score, but that sentiment is long gone now. He fields a litany of questions every game from coaches and players. Often he has answers only he could have. No. 14? Yeah, he went opposite field for a double in an American Legion game two summers ago.
“I get emails, we get the full spreadsheet, scouting reports,” Bailey said. “Stats from last year, legion – we know just about everything about our opponent through Tucker.”
Even with all the tiny details filling his memory banks, Tucker has a special place for the games and stories he’ll never forget. His favorite came in 2002, when his brother had the game-winning hit as Pilgrim beat Bishop Hendricken in the state semifinal series. Two future MLB draft picks, Zach Zuercher and Jay Rainville, were on the hill.
“That’s my favorite game of all time,” he said. “We played Hendricken in the state semis and won 2-1. Zuercher against Rainville. Rainville was throwing 95 as a sophomore. Zuercher was on three days rest, threw 138 pitches.”
He pauses to say that he remembers every detail.
You don’t doubt it.
“We won 2-1 and my brother had the game-winning hit, a little bloop into right field,” he said. “I remember that game as if it was yesterday. It was incredible.”
There have been other incredible games since – playoff runs, great players, fun times in the dugout. Tucker has loved every minute.
Baseball helped in difficult times, too. Tucker’s father died in 2011 after a battle with cancer. His scorebooks remain a thread to the memory.
“My dad gave me my first scoring job,” Tucker said. “Every time I score a game, I’m always thinking back to the fact that he was so willing to allow me to do it.”
On the field, Tucker’s team has seen its own challenges. Last year, longtime coach Ed Colvin resigned amid some team turmoil. Tucker stuck around, but it was a difficult season.
When Bailey – a former Colvin assistant – got the job this winter, Tucker was the first person to call.
“He was hurt the way things went down, but we talked over the winter,” Bailey said. “He was the first person that called. He couldn’t wait to get back out here.”
The Pats have been up and down this season. Hoping for the milestone win Tuesday, they lost 10-1 to North Kingstown, falling to 6-7 on the year. But Tucker – the man who’s seen every bit of Pilgrim’s success for almost two decades – sees more in the future.
“I think coach Bailey has done a great job for this team,” Tucker said. “I think he’s totally changed the culture from last year. I think he’s done an absolutely brilliant job of making this team what it was. I’m very happy with what’s happened this year.”
Tucker hopes the positive trends continue.
He’ll be scoring them.
“Tucker’s always going to have a spot with Pilgrim baseball, as far as I’m concerned,” Bailey said. “Whether I’m here or not, he’ll be here.”
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @RhodyWill.