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From baseball to classroom, Tim Byrdak a major achiever

Baranek: From baseball to classroom, Tim Byrdak a major achiever

Tony Baranek  Daily Southtown

Tim Byrdak isn't a quitter.

Twice during his Major League Baseball career, he overcame serious arm injuries to get back on the mound.

His Baltimore Orioles jersey hangs in a hallway at Oak Forest, where he was a standout pitcher in 1990 and 1991.

Earlier this month, at age 44, Byrdak finished something he started a long time ago.



He earned his college degree from Robert Morris.

"Twenty years in the making," Byrdak said with a laugh. "Now I have to find a job."

We'll get back to that part of the story in a bit, but first a mini-bio.

After graduating from Oak Forest, Byrdak spent two years at South Suburban College. He transferred to Rice University. After his junior year, Byrdak was chosen in the fifth round by the Kansas City Royals. He didn't say no.



I love how he describes his major league career, even though I think he shortchanges himself.

"I didn't have special talent," Byrdak said. "I always referred to myself as one of those motorcycle guys.

"When we were kids you'd get a packet of baseball cards and recognize two or three of the players. On the rest you'd say, 'I've never heard of these guys.' So you'd take those cards and put them on your bicycle tire so it would make a motorcycle sound."

Byrdak, a left-hander, pitched in parts of 12 seasons for five different teams from 1998 through 2013. He appeared in 479 games, going 13-13 with four saves, a 4.35 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 339.2 innings.

There were rough patches.

Byrdak suffered an arm injury in 2001 and had Tommy John surgery. He didn't return to the major leagues until 2005.

In the middle of it all he returned home. He coached with Steve Ruzich at South Suburban for one year, working three different jobs to make ends meet.

"I was working for my father-in-law doing insulation, working at Target overnight and trying to do pitching lessons on the side," Byrdak said. "It was crazy. That was when I first started thinking about going back to school."

He instead went the rehab path. Byrdak got healthy again and pitched for a pair of independent minor league teams, the Gary RailCats and the Joliet JackHammers, before returning to the bigs. He would enjoy success in Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and in New York with the Mets.

Byrdak lives in Lockport with his wife and four children. Of late, his major impact has been on the Southland community.

For the past two seasons, Byrdak has worked as a pitching coach at Providence with Mark Smith.

"The kids get excited knowing that he has been where they would love to be one day," Smith said. "He takes it to a different level, on the physical and mental side. He has the kids believing in themselves."

Byrdak also gives private lessons at the Bo Jackson Dome.

"I love giving back," Byrdak said. "It's great teaching the kids at Providence. I enjoy teaching them the simple things that they might not have considered. That's what I had to do to survive — the little things to get better. I love giving that information to the kids."

Byrdak had many an eager learner, including Providence senior pitcher Matt Ulatowski.

"To realize that we were watching him on TV just a few years ago and now he's our coach, it's difficult to wrap your mind around," Ulatowski said. "To work with him and listen to what he says is huge.

"He is very humble, and he has fun with us. He keeps everybody loose."

Byrdak took advantage of funding provided by Major League Baseball for players who want to go back to school and finish their education. In his case, the money came from his first team, the Kansas City Royals.

He received $48,000. Byrdak worked hard with every penny of it to get a degree in exercise science.

"During the course of my career I had injuries here and there and rehab processes and that type of deal trying to survive," Byrdak said. "I want to work with kids and teach them proper mechanics and teach them to the best of my ability to keep them off the operating table."

A worthy cause. The perfect man for the job.

abaranek@tribpub.com

Twitter @tbaranek

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/sports/ct-sta...

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