Staff Photo: John Bohn Peachtree Ridge pitcher Tyler Haswell posses for a portrait at his home field. Haswell will play baseball at the University of South Carolina.
There are plenty of factors that go into the making of a successful high school athlete, but never underestimate how important the presence of an older peer to serve a role model can be.
Tyler Haswell definitely understands. After all, he had a really good one to look up to during his early days in Peachtree Ridge's baseball program in the form of two-time former Daily Post All-County selection Jared Walsh.
"Jared was one of those guys everyone wanted to be like," said Haswell, now a senior, of Walsh, the former Lions star now in his sophomore season at the University of Georgia. "He'd help the team in several different ways. I always wanted to be a multi-purpose guy. I really wanted to model myself after him."
Haswell has done quite a good job of following the Walsh's footsteps -- so much so that the 6-foot, 180-pound shortstop and right-handed pitcher has become a role model in his own right for his Lions teammates young and old.
Sure, there are differences between the two -- Walsh is slightly larger and left-handed.
However, like Walsh did during his high school career, Haswell has become one of Gwinnett's top two-way threats.
Offensively, he currently leads the county with 14 RBIs through the Lions' first 11 games to go along with a .500 batting average, a stolen base and a 1.264 OPS.
On the mound, Haswell also holds a share the county lead in one category with 35 strikeouts in 24 innings -- tying him with Mountain View's A.J. Moore -- and is 2-1 with a 1.17 earned run average.
And like Walsh, Haswell's college future lies with a powerful Southeastern Conference program after he signed with South Carolina last fall.
But their career paths do have one big difference.
Haswell's emergence as a two-way contributor has come at a less gradual pace.
"The one thing different, I think, is that during his sophomore year, Jared threw about 40 innings (on the mound), while Tyler only threw about four (his sophomore season). He played a lot in the infield, but he didn't pitch that much," Peachtree Ridge coach Ryan Hanik said. "Coming into last year, we really didn't know how (Haswell) would react to pitching more innings. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see how well he did.
"He understood his role in his sophomore year. He beat a senior out at shortstop, so we didn't expect him to start there, either."
Haswell proved to be a force in all areas as a junior last season, earning second-team All-County by going 5-2 with a save, a 2.35 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 53 innings on the mound and hitting .341, with three homers, 15 RBIs and a .964 OPS in helping the Lions to the Class AAAAA state playoffs last year.
And according to Haswell, the seeds to the rapid improvement of his multi-purpose tools -- particularly his pitching -- were sown during the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons.
"I guess I made kind of a big jump playing (travel ball) that summer," Haswell said. "I always had a pretty good arm and a plus-fastball, but I wanted to work in a good change-up and curveball. Going into my junior year, I worked a lot on my change-up and started developing my curveball, but (the latter) is still kind of a work in progress."
Haswell's willingness to put in the extra work to develop his skills -- be they pitching, hitting or in the field -- is one of the qualities Hanik values most about him.
And Hanik believes it is part of what has made Haswell a valued role model to his younger teammates, even more than the skills themselves.
"He's very talented, but he's the ultimate team guy," Hanik said. "He wants to do whatever he can to help the team. ... He handled (leadership responsibilities) very well. He demands the rest of the guys work hard in practice, and I think the one thing that helped him was seeing how hard Jared worked during his senior year."
Indeed, Haswell says the example Walsh set had a major influence on how he shaped himself as a leader.
"He was the whole package," Haswell said. "He talked a lot (two years ago), but he didn't really lead as much with his mouth as he did with his glove and his bat."
And both Haswell and Hanik are hoping his career continues to parallel that of Walsh's, though exactly what that means in the future remains to be seen.
Though Georgia is struggling this spring, Walsh is among the Bulldogs' leaders in both hitting (.324, 1 HR, 11 RBIs) and pitching (1-2, 2 saves, 1.46 ERA, 14 K, 12 IP).
South Carolina coaches have recruited Haswell more as a pitcher, though he says he is even trying to expand his skills to give another option to be a position player, as well.
"(South Carolina coaches) have said my main role would be as a pitcher, but in the fall, they'll give me an opportunity to hit and play in the field," Haswell said. "And I'm also trying to play outfield, but that's still a work in progress, too."
And as Haswell continues to work to progress his skills, his future may not necessarily lead him to South Carolina, as an increasing number of professional scouts have begun to give him a look.
But whether he winds up in college or minor league ball, his focus for now remains at Peachtree Ridge, which has made its first two postseason appearances the last two seasons, but has yet to advance past the first round.
"That's something he wants more than anything else -- to help us get over the hump," Hanik said. "I know he won't be satisfied just making the playoffs against this year. He wants (the Lions) to take the next step."