Almost perfect: MPHS pitcher comes within one walk of striking out every batter in game |

Almost perfect: MPHS pitcher comes within one walk of striking out every batter in game

Tonya Bina

Middle Park pitcher Tyler Franek Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News

Maybe it was playing under the stadium lights for the first time, the desire to squelch the other team’s enthusiasm, a craving to one-up his older brother, or just the Subway sandwich he ate earlier that day.

Whatever it was, Middle Park Panthers baseball player Tyler Franek nearly pitched the best game possible last Friday, May 4.

The high school junior pitched a near-perfect game, striking out 21 out of 22 batters in seven innings and walking only one, resulting in a no-hitter in a celebrated game ending 11-0.

The Baseball Almanac calls a perfect game – which Tyler was so close to achieving – as “one of the most difficult feats to achieve in the entire game of baseball.” Just 21 professional pitchers since 1880 have joined the “perfect game club.”

And few were by pure strike-outs.

Middle Park’s final regular-season game was against Arrupe Jesuit High School at the Long Lake Ranch Park in Arvada.

“The first few innings, it felt like a regular game,” said Tyler. “But after the fifth inning or so, it started to feel a little bit special I guess. And I started to focus a little more.”

“He was just firing BBs all night,” said junior Panthers catcher Connor Jennings. “He threw all fast balls, no curve balls or change-ups. By about the time he hit the third inning and struck out nine kids in a row, that’s when I knew he had something special that night.”

The whole team picked up on it, Jennings said.

“After about the third inning, everyone stopped talking to him so he could be relaxed and focused.”

“He was hitting just on the outside corner over and over,” said Tyler’s dad Bob Franek, Middle Park’s assistant baseball coach. “It was incredible.”

By about the third inning, Coach Franek said he quit calling the pitches. It never crossed his mind that his son might throw a perfect game – until by the 7th inning, he said.

In head Coach James Newberry’s mind, Tyler did throw a perfect game in spite of walking the first batter of the seventh inning.

“It was a disappointment because he had thrown two pitches where the catcher and everyone else believed should have been called a strike before the umpire walked him. They were two beautiful pitches the umpire did not call.”

“It was frustrating,” Tyler said, “all that hard work.”

In the first five innings, the score hung at 2-0. Then the Panthers scored five runs in the top of the sixth inning, after which team players were relieved to not get on base to avoid the 10-run rule, Jennings said, which would have ended the game after the fifth inning and thwarted Franek’s chances for a perfect game.

Upon the last pitch of the game, “the kid swung high and outside. He foul-tipped the ball into my glove and the umpire called ‘strike three,’ and I jumped up in the air and hugged Ty; I was screaming and yelling. It was crazy,” the catcher said. “The whole bus ride home we talked about it and couldn’t believe how amazing it was.”

“It didn’t feel like I did anything too special,” Tyler said, “until that night when I was laying in bed just thinking.

“It wasn’t the same as having a perfect game – as opposed to a no-hitter – but it still felt great.”

Pitching ability runs in the Franek family, of the Grand Lake area. Bob Franek pitched for Thompson Valley High School near Loveland and some in college; and Tyler’s older brother Mitch, who now plays for Garden City Community College in Kansas, once achieved 18 strike-outs against Clear Creek High School while playing for Middle Park.

Although Tyler denied any sort of desire to beat his brother’s record, “I think the little brother gets a lot of motivation from the older brother’s accomplishments,” dad Franek said. “There’s a little bit of competitiveness there.”

“It was hard to put into words,” Coach Newberry said of the remarkable 21 strikeouts in seven innings. “It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Athletes will get into a zone, but I’ve never witnessed anyone completely taking over the game and dominating it.”

The Middle Park Panthers baseball team now enters district and regional play, with two games scheduled this weekend at a location yet-to-be-determined as of press time.

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603