Tyler McSwain looked forward to this morning's services at Hope Baptist Church in Sophia, N.C. His hometown friends, favorite hymns and father's sermon.
The four-hour, middle-of-the-night drive? The subsequent sleep deprivation?
No worries. With Monday and Tuesday off, the Peninsula Pilots' best starting pitcher has plenty of time to recover.
Or so he thought.
Rather than snoozing and playing golf, McSwain will travel from home to the Coastal Plain League All-Star Game — a Monday fan fest precedes Tuesday's competition in Wilmington, N.C.
The honor is deserved, despite an original snub.
"We weren't sure we had an ace," Pilots coach Hank Morgan said of his pitching staff. "But Tyler has (emerged)."
Indeed, McSwain's talent and humility combined to cloud Morgan's judgment Thursday as the right-hander struggled through his worst outing of the season.
"I thought about taking him out in the third inning and again in the fourth," Morgan said, "and someone else I probably would have. But I wanted to give him a chance at the win. He'd earned that right."
So Morgan stuck with McSwain through the fifth inning, the minimum required for a starter to receive a victory. The Fayetteville SwampDogs took advantage, roughing up McSwain for 10 hits and five runs, two coming on Tanner Biagini's line-drive home run with two out in the fifth.
McSwain, a rising sophomore at UNC Wilmington, did not figure in the decision as the Pilots rallied to win 8-7. It was the first time he'd needed a bailout from the offense.
Entering Thursday's start, McSwain had pitched 23 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, a streak that included the game of his life: a one-hitter July 9 against the Wilmington Sharks.
McSwain struck out 10, walked one, threw a robotic 84 pitches and faced the minimum 27 batters in the 2-0 road victory. And who foiled his perfect game with a single leading off the seventh inning? College teammate Mike Rooney.
"He hit a pretty good pitch, a curve ball down but over the plate," McSwain said. "I couldn't get too mad at him."
McSwain's scoreless stretch ended quickly Thursday as the SwampDogs opened the game with three consecutive opposite-field singles to take a 1-0 lead. His best stuff clearly AWOL, McSwain made no attempt to mask his frustration on the mound, kicking and pawing at the dirt.
Ironically, he'd learned a few hours earlier of his all-star selection — he was chosen not originally but to replace a late scratch caused by injury.
Picking at a postgame stadium meal of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and mac-and-cheese, McSwain lamented his poor control and the grooved 3-0 fastball that Biagini, a rising VMI senior, crushed.
But what of his all-star honor?
"I don't really need that," McSwain said. "I was just looking forward to going home."
And what of the streak ending?
"I knew I'd been throwing well lately," he said, "but I try not to look at stats."
Were he so inclined, McSwain would see that he's 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA — the latter figure was a microscopic 1.59 before Thursday.
How does he do it? Standing 6-foot on his tall days, McSwain doesn't overpower hitters. He works the edges with a fastball, breaking pitch and change-up, keeps the ball down and, as the gem at Wilmington showed, is capable of pinpoint accuracy.
"His velocity's enough and he's got a little deception in his delivery," UNCW coach Mark Scalf said. "He's got a feeling and understanding of pitching. … He's a legitimate three-pitch guy. He has the ability to go deep in games and to minimize damage.
"He has tremendous composure and eliminates quickly a bad pitch or defensive mistake and goes back to attack the next hitter."
Scalf witnessed McSwain's one-hitter, as did McSwain's parents, Steve and Penny, who made the three-hour trek from Sophia, a central North Carolina farming town with, in Steve's words, "a whole lot more cows than people."
Steve is the founding pastor at Hope Baptist, a congregation that's grown from 13 to more than 200 in less than nine years. A former sandlot player, he introduced his two sons to baseball, whiffleball actually, shortly after they left the crib.
Tyler and Matt, 4 1/2 years older, took to it immediately. Matt played college ball at Elon, where as a sophomore in 2005 he blew out his pitching elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery — tendons are transplanted, usually from the forearm, to repair the elbow.
While rehabbing, Matt leaned on his little brother like never before. Tyler served as chauffeur (driving with an arm in a sling is not encouraged), bullpen catcher and sounding board.
The result was Matt signing a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's 8-4 this season with a 3.45 ERA for the Lynchburg Hillcats, Pittsburgh's Class A Carolina League affiliate.
"He's places I'm not yet," Tyler said, conceding best-pitcher-in-the-family status. "He helps me a lot, especially with the mental aspects."
"I would say more polished," Matt said of his edge. "I'm older and have learned some things. He was a better overall player than I was in high school. He could hit to all fields."
As a freshman at UNC Wilmington last spring, Tyler was 2-1 with four saves and a 3.80 ERA in 27 appearances, 26 of which came in relief. He prefers the starting role he's embraced with the Pilots but appreciates the opportunity Scalf afforded him as a college rookie.
The brothers' baseball travels keep their parents hopping, yet for all their success, neither Tyler nor Matt is a match for dad on the golf course.
"I'm glad (Tyler) owned up to that," Steve McSwain said with a laugh. "They both outdrive me by about 30 yards, but I think they get a little nervous playing with me. And I don't mind trash-talking a little if it gets tight."
Steve sends his sons audio of church services, but for Tyler, nothing compares with being in the sanctuary. That's why he hit the road — Route 58 between Emporia and South Hill gets mighty desolate — after Saturday night's game against the Outer Banks Daredevils and headed for Sophia. And that's why one of the first questions he asked his host Peninsula family, Pam and Ralph Wood, was about Sunday services here.
"It's just how I was raised," Tyler said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for God, church and my family."
Coastal Plain League All-Star Game WHEN: 7:05 p.m. Tuesday.WHERE: Buck Hardee Field, Wilmington, N.C.PILOTS ALL-STARS: OF Will Lamb, OF Billy Barber, SS Jake McAloose, P Tony Chisman, P Tyler McSwain.David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime. Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times