Photo and Article By Nicole Skow

“What a Feeling” by Collie Buddz played in the background as Nevada’s first baseman Austin Byler stepped up to the plate in the second game of the three-game series. Fresno State pitcher Jordan Brink stared him down, knowing Byler could hit another home run if he didn’t throw the ball correctly. Byler leads Nevada in hitting (.340), slugging (.648) and on-base (.426) percentages. Brink contemplated walking him, but he instead threw the ball that flew right into Byler’s sweet spot resulting in another home run.

Byler has known he wanted to make a career out of baseball since he was 9 years old. With MLB scouts from the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, among others sitting in the crowd to see him play, he was one step closer to the long-time dream.

Barry Byler introduced Byler to baseball when Byler was just 4 years old. Since then, Barry Byler has watched his son transform into the man that he is today through the sport.

“(He’s grown) in his maturity,” his father Barry Byler said. “Growing up is part of it, and getting more mature is a huge part of it. (He’s also grown in) getting stronger mentally. He reads a lot on the mental part of the game and how to be strong aside from the physical part of it.”

Despite being named Arizona player of the year, neither the pros, nor colleges were interested in him. Nevada was one of only two Division I schools to offer him a scholarship and he ultimately chose Nevada over Utah.

Byler earned playing time right form the start of his career at Nevada as a freshman, playing in 51 games with 45 starts. However, things went awry for Byler three weeks into his sophomore season. Byler started to notice lower back pain on the way back from the Sacramento State game.

“It’s nothing,” he would say to himself. “It’s probably just from squats.”

The pain worsened until he had to see a doctor. He had a nerve impingement in his lower back and would need to have an epidermal to reduce the inflammation. He missed most of May and the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Byler stood in the dugout. His six-foot-three frame blocked the afternoon sun, and he crossed his arms over his chest. He let a quick breath and before he could even say a word, the pain he went through was evident in the way he reacted.

“It was horrible,” he said. “It just happened to be right when I stopped playing we went on a big losing streak, and it was really negative around here. That didn’t help at all because I wanted to be out here so bad, and I felt that I could still help the team.”

Every time he walks onto the field he knows it could be his last. The injury he suffered could not only come back at any time, but a wrong move could send the disc back out again.

“It makes me appreciate the game a lot more,” he said. “Having that opportunity that it can be taken away at any moment with one slide, swing, getting hit by a pitch, you never know.”

Meyer and Byler have been competing and pushing each other their entire junior season. No matter what they’re doing they push each other to the max whether it’s during batting practice, strength and conditioning or the game. They can’t let the other do better than the other.

“It’s good that (we hit) back to back,” Meyer said. “Usually we push each other. If he gets a hit I’ll try extra hard to get a hit. I want to see him go as high as he can. I want to push him to do (his best).”

The competition between Meyer and Byler carries over into the weight room. Byler constantly does extra forearms, abs and quick feet drills to improve his game.

“He always gives it every ounce of effort that he has,” his roommate and Nevada’s third baseman Scott Kaplan said. “There’s no guy that works harder. We call him the ox because he carries the team, and he works his butt off to get to where he wants to go and to get this team to win.”

The MLB Draft on June 5 is right around the corner. He tries not to think about draft day, but he knows it will kick in soon. Of all the teams in the league, he hopes the Arizona Diamondbacks draft him. The Diamondbacks have grown on the Arizona native, and it would also allow him to be closer to his family.

Kaplan thinks Byler will go far in the pros whether a team drafts him or not. Byler may have the size, but he also has that special something that a stat sheet can’t record.

“He really has the physicality but he has something else that not a lot of guys have,” Kaplan said. “He really wants to win more than anything else. He’s a very selfless guy, so I think that will take him very far in the game.”

Nicole Skow can be reached at euribe@sagebrush.unr.edu.