By JOE McFARLAND
Tanner Jesson-Dalton isn’t just a pitcher who can rake. He can also fork, shovel and prune.
It’s hard to believe that the young pitching prospect tossed out his baseball glove for some gardening gloves right out of high school, ready to transition out of the sport after bouncing around Southern Alberta plying his trade. At the age of 18, he finished playing a year of American Legion in Fort Macleod.
“For all intents and purposes, that was going to be the end of my baseball career,” Jesson-Dalton told Alberta Dugout Stories. “I was running a landscaping and snow removal business in Lethbridge and was kind of set on that it (baseball) wasn’t going to work out.”
Jesson-Dalton knew comparisons were part of the game. He looked at other teenagers getting in Major League Baseball and others around him getting calls to other levels.
“I never got invited to Team Canada and never made any prestigious teams, so to speak,” he recalled. “Just being a Canadian in baseball is typically hard enough for getting a shot at any pro or Division 1 team, so I prepared myself. I was kind of like ‘I’ve worked hard, I tried and the results aren’t just quite there.'”
He prepared himself for a life in business and was thinking about school.
“The business ran and I made some money but obviously I wasn’t running a Fortune 500 company and I most certainly wasn’t swimming in money,” Jesson-Dalton said. “It was basically just enough to afford school for the first couple of years and buy myself a PS4 I guess and that’s about all it went.”
“It put gas in the truck and food in the belly,” he laughed.
But then a chance encounter with the Prairie Baseball Academy’s Todd Hubka changed everything.
When Jesson-Dalton stepped away from the game, it wasn’t that he didn’t love the game. He just felt a dose of reality was needed.
“It didn’t really dawn on me that my expectations might have been too high for where I was at that time,” the Lethbridge native confided. “I was 18, sitting at 82 or 83 miles an hour and that’s nothing to turn your head at.”
So as nice as it might have been to keep the baseball dream alive, he wanted to prepare for the next life.
Hubka remembers meeting the “hard-throwing kid” after several failed attempts and saw something in the youngster. He wasn’t throwing from a mound, but felt the arm action was enough to work with. As for Jesson-Dalton, the meeting made him determined to, at the very least, take advantage of the opportunity and stay on the mound and be a part of a team for a little while longer.
At Prairie Baseball Academy, Jesson-Dalton’s coaches started working on his mechanics. And while he was feeling better about pitching, something still wasn’t clicking … or so he thought.
“There was an ongoing joke that my fastball was at 79 miles an hour,” he recalled with a smile. “It had actually picked up velocity. It’s quite funny, but a lot of it was just the fact they kept me relaxed.”
The right-hander credits the staff for being able to find that happy medium between business and keeping it light. The results spoke for themselves on the field, as Jesson-Dalton thrived with the CCBC champions.
With a 7-1 victory over OC the boys are heading to the final! Tanner Dalton pitches a gem for the win! 1 more to go! pic.twitter.com/qG11QWk5xG
— Prairie Baseball (@PrairieBaseball) May 15, 2016
During Canadian Collegiate Baseball Conference action in 2016, Jesson-Dalton went 3-1 with a blistering 1.83 earned run average (ERA) in nine games, including seven starts. He struck out 37 batters in a little more than 34 innings of work. He also picked up a win in his lone championship tournament game that spring, allowing just three hits in over eight innings as the PBA knocked off Okanagan College 7-1.
Jesson-Dalton followed that up with another dominant performance in 2017. He went 4-1 with a 3.63 ERA in six games, all starts, striking out 50 in 34 innings. That playoffs he went 2-0, which started with a three-hit, six-inning gem in an 11-0 win over the University of Calgary Dinos in the opener. Jesson-Dalton followed that up with a complete game, four-hit effort in the semi-finals against the University of Fraser Valley, leading to a 6-0 Dawgs victory.
— Lethbridge Bulls (@lethbridgebulls) July 2, 2016
And it wasn’t just the college circuit he was dominating in. Jesson-Dalton stayed close to home to play for the Western Major Baseball League’s Lethbridge Bulls during the summer. He posted a 4-0 record with a 2.26 ERA in nine games for the Bulls in 2016. He followed that up with three starts for the Bulls in 2017 as he got ready for his next venture in baseball.
The old sports adage is about taking it “a day at a time” and that’s how it started with Jesson-Dalton’s return to baseball. But in his two years at PBA and with the Bulls, the fire was reignited again. Then he got an offer to go to school at Sacramento State University, where the success has continued, but not where he thought it would.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to start but expected to be pushing for a position in the starting rotation,” Jesson-Dalton said. “So I trained as hard as I could, pushed for it and pushed for it, and they felt that the best fit for me was out of the bullpen.”
It would mean a change in game preparation for a pitcher who had spent his whole life starting. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound hurler didn’t complain about it, as he still feels he’s playing and having fun.
And who can blame him? Alberta Dugout Stories chatted with Jesson-Dalton just as he finished up winning his second-straight Pitcher of the Week award in the Western Athletic Conference. He picked up ten saves in his first 25 games, striking batters out at a rate of one per inning while putting together a 1.72 ERA.
— Hornet Athletics (@hornetsports) April 30, 2018
“I try to pride myself on being able to locate a fastball, in and out, then get ahead early in counts and make the hitters uncomfortable,” Jesson-Dalton said of his success from the bullpen. “This year, I’ve really been able to find my splitter as well. It’s worked really well for me both in and out of the zone in any situation.”
The junior also likes his slider, and while he hopes to develop even more, he’s taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
NOTHING FOR GRANTED
Jesson-Dalton’s former coach at Prairie Baseball Academy is impressed with what he’s seeing.
“He deserves all the success he’s achieved,” Hubka said.
But for now, Jesson-Dalton sees himself as doing a job. Yet, he’s having fun with the game again. Gone are the days where he’s thinking of life after the sport and wants to take advantage of the opportunities that have come his way.
“I want to take baseball as far as I can,” Jesson-Dalton stated. “I will keep working hard in the classroom and on the field. If I get an opportunity to play at a pro level, I’ll obviously want to weigh that option. That’s the goal right now.”
While that might be the goal, he’s also cognizant of backup plans. After all, he was thinking about them just a couple of years ago. And while he’s a long way from the days of shoveling sidewalks and cutting grass, his studies will provide that option.
“If baseball were to stop right now, I would finish my economics degree at Sacramento State and then I’d probably come back to Lethbridge and finish my last year of accounting,” Jesson-Dalton ponders. “So I would be 24 or 25 with two degrees.”
He’s more than happy to keep rolling with the Hornets though. This weekend, they visit Grand Canyon for a trio of games as they wind things down ahead of the WAC tournament during the final weekend of May.
Feature image credit: Robert Barsanti