By Nate Temple
When searching for a place to play this summer, Tanner Levine knew right away that he wanted to stay in West Virginia to play baseball.
In his efforts to make sure he can stay around the area to play, he reached out to former Miners center fielder and teammate Dylan Harvey for help.
“I asked if he could call or text [Head Coach] Tim [Epling] for me and he said that he would,” Levine said. “He texted Tim, and he responded in seconds. It was crazy. [Tim] said that the roster was almost full, but that he could probably get a temporary spot. All I could do was hope and pray that they could get me a spot, and they did.”
Levine came on to the scene as a temporary player, and his contract was for 18 days. As a temporary player, he kept a simple focus on getting to his ultimate goal: finding a way on the team as a full-time player.
“The mindset was to play as hard as I can and try to perform and get a full-time spot,” Levine said. “I love the team so as it went on, I wanted to stay more and more. It pushed me to work harder. It eventually got me to perform really well.”
The duration of the contract lasted for 16 games. Through those 16 games, the Long Beach, CA, native posted a .350 batting average with a .418 on-base percentage.
Levine is no stranger to slugging the baseball at a high clip and finding a way on base. During his junior season at WVU Tech, he registered a .409 batting average to go along with a .502 on-base percentage.
“I try to take the same approach at [WVU] Tech as a three hitter,” Levine said. “I usually got more off speed pitches. I started off in the six hole here so I knew that I would probably get more fastballs and that I needed to be aggressive. See it and hit it, see it and drive it as best as you can. That’s all you really can do.”
His hot start helped build up his confidence to get one step closer to his goal.
“I just came in here with nothing but the mindset to work hard and perform the best that I can,” Levine said. “Obviously, it’s nerve-racking when you have a lot to think about, but as a player you have to try to block that out and play the best that you can.”
Levine eventually received the news he’d been working so hard to hear. He was told that he was going to become a full-time player from an unlikely source.
“[Account Executive and Ticket Manager] Nick [Cuozzo] came up to me and he was like ‘hey, my boy is now a full-time player!’” Levine stated. “I said ‘really?’ He said ‘yeah come sign the contract.’ I said ‘okay cool!’”
In the process of becoming a full-timer, Levine talked about how he improved as a player at the plate to become a consistent force in a talented lineup.
“I’d say Coach [Greg] Keaton has helped a lot with my approach,” Levine said. “He told me about a quarter of the way through the season that I took too many fastballs. I said ‘really? I am just trying to wait back and get my pitch.’ He said ‘if you see a first pitch fastball, swing at it. That’s probably the best pitch that you are going to get as big as you are.’”
“Ever since then, whenever I see a fastball right there, I just take a hack. Even if I don’t hit it, I just look at Keaton coaching third base or in the dugout, and he’s nodding his head saying ‘good job.’ Once it becomes two strikes, I become aggressive with anything close.”
Since top-tier talent night in and night out surrounds him, he does not have to worry about trying to do too much and get away from his approach.
“It gives you the confidence to go up and make sure that you do what you know how to do, which is to hit the ball hard and in the gaps or even over the fence,” Levine said. “If you don’t get the job done, then you know that you don’t have to worry because you have the lineup to get the job done behind you.”
After keeping his approach steady and consistent, Levine was one of five Miners named to the East Division All-Star Team. He will join outfielders Nick Delgado and Austin Norman, third baseman Dan Ward, and pitcher Jake Belinda in Columbus, OH.
In addition to being placed on the all-star team, he was listed as the team’s starting designated hitter. He’s looking forward to having a great time with his fellow comrades.
“Honestly, I’m pretty happy about it,” Levine said after he chuckled about being named the starter. “I don’t really have any words. I found out I was on the all-star team, and I think that we should’ve had a couple more guys make it. It’s a chance to go have fun. I’ve been told that it is a really fun week, and that it is like a professional all-star break. I’m hoping to go get that kind of experience and have a good time with it.”
He also can keep his skills sharp at the game, too.
“My plan if I didn’t make it was to go to a friend’s house and take a break from [baseball]. Being in it will help me stay on track. People think that in baseball you can take a week off and come back and perform the same as you did. That is completely wrong.”
In order to repeat what he did in the first half of the season, Levine said he has to do one thing that is not related to mechanics.
“I’d say have more fun,” he said. “The first half was kind of serious. With us being in the playoffs now, it takes a lot off your shoulders. You don’t have to think about too much. You can just have fun, and the game will come to you.”