Favorite athlete: Mike Trout
Favorite team: New York Yankees
Favorite memory competing in sports: Hitting a home run at Citizens Bank Park
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Face planting while rounding third base
Music on iPod: Country and rap
Future plans: Playing baseball at the University of Virginia
Words to live by: “We are defined by what we do when no one is watching.”
One goal before turning 30: To be playing in the MLB
One thing people don’t know about me: I love to fish
By GORDON GLANTZ
“I want to grow up to be a baseball player.”
It has been the battle cry of young American boys since Abner Doubleday allegedly “invented” the game back in 1839 on Elihu Phinney’s pasture in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In about 9,999 of 10,000 cases, these dreams die a slow and painful death against a backdrop of pitches too fast to hit and balls hit too hard to field all across the land.
Then you get Case No. 10,000.
The guy with a realistic shot.
Meet Alex Tappen, the Wissahickon senior and Univest Featured Male Athlete of the Week who is next bound for the University of Virginia, which he chose over several other prominent Division I programs, to pursue his dream.
To say Tappen was born with pine tar in his veins would be putting it mildly.
His grandfather, Harry Tappen, was offered a contract by the Detroit Tigers but, in what was then another time and place – it was 1959, six years before baseball even had a draft -- he decided to not GO down the baseball route and “get on with life.”
This despite a scholastic career that concluded with him being an all-state pitcher at Verona High in Verona, N.J.
For Harry Tappen, who passed away in 2003, getting on with life only meant turning down an offer from Florida State to play both baseball and football at Thiel College in Western Pennsylvania.
He ended up punting for the football team, pitching a no-hitter and setting a single-season strikeout record in baseball.
“My father always asked him how in the world he could turn down an offer to play professional baseball,” said Tappen. “He would always respond with, ‘You wouldn't be here today if I did.’”
And because Roger Tappen was here, Alex Tappen was able to continue the family’s baseball legacy.
Tappen could barely walk when he was already swatting whiffle balls tossed by his dad, an all-round athlete who has now mastered golf. Tappen then began his own adventure in the well-oiled machine that is the Lower Gwynedd Little League system.
A high-end student with a weighted GPA of 4.61, Tappen is going to Virginia to major in baseball but to minor in a viable Plan B. He will go in as an undecided major but plans to focus on business and economics.
“It’s one of the best academic schools in the country,” said Tappen, who chose Virginia over schools such as Virginia Tech, Penn State, Pitt and Maryland. “If baseball doesn’t work out, I’ll still have a degree from the University of Virginia.”
And if a major league team calls his name early enough in next month’s draft to make it enticing?
“My goal since I was 10 is to play professional baseball,” he said. “I've been fortunate to talk with numerous MLB teams over the past six months, but I have an amazing opportunity in front of me in Virginia. Something crazy would have to happen in June for that to change.”
Among the Elite
Tappen, who has been playing elite summer baseball throughout his high school years, fell in love with the notion of playing for Virginia a while back.
“About four years ago, we went down and I watched them play in a Fall Ball game,” he said. “Everything I saw interested me. It’s a beautiful campus. It was a no-brainer from there.”
Tappen went on to add that the Virginia coaching staff -- namely Brian O’Connor and associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Kevin McMullan -- “likes me for my versatility.”
At 6-2 and 210 pounds, Tappen can play the corners in the infield (third or first) or outfield (left or right).
“In reality, I’ll do whatever it takes to make an immediate impact,” said Tappen, who described his strengths as being able to do a little bit of everything, ranging from “gap to gap power, and hitting for average and power.”
He added: “I’m the kind of a guy who wants to be a five-tool player.”
Spoken like a true baseball warrior, who has been doing whatever it takes by virtually giving up his summers the last several years to play in showcases.
The harsh reality, especially for players from the Northeast or Upper Midwest, is that you could hit .800 with power numbers off the charts and not be on the recruiting radar, other than from Division II and III schools, without joining forces with other standouts on regional all-star teams and playing under the eye of scouts.
“My dad and I were just talking about that,” said Tapen. “It’s pretty funny. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. For me, it started in the summer going into my sophomore year, playing in competitive tournaments down in Georgia and Florida. The place is jam-packed with college scouts.
“It’s been kind of an interesting process, and kind of a fascinating process.”
Tappen said he received guidance from former Wissahickon coach Shannon Gumby, who now runs the Ambler Sports Academy where Tappen works out.
“When I figured out that baseball was really what I wanted to do, back when I was 13 or 14, my dad I talked to him about it,” said Tappen. “He mentioned travel teams in the Mid-Atlantic, so that’s when I started with it.”
Even though Tappen is theoretically playing a team sport and has teammates at these showcases, the guys in the same uniforms are vying for the same spotlight.
He says he thrives on the competition while suiting up in the summer for the Mid-Atlantic Canes (2013), Chandler Baseball (2014), US Elite (2015) and Tri-State Arsenal.
“Oh yeah, that’s what brings out the best in me,” said Tappen, who credited his long-time summer coach Mike Capaldi, for being in his corner all the way through. “You’ve got to show everybody what you are made of.”
Life Beyond Baseball
Tappen also showed what he is made of by being a three-sport athlete at Wissahickon, playing on both the soccer and basketball teams.
“It was something that was welcomed at the next level,” said Tappen, who saw the value of “shutting it down,” baseball-wise. “They are looking for kids with athleticism, and who have been in situations where they have had to make that big penalty kick or free throw with five seconds left.”
While he gave up soccer after his sophomore year, Tappen stayed with basketball all the way through, accepting a reserve role as a senior after starting as a junior.
“I couldn’t say enough good things about Alex,” said Wissahickon basketball coach Kyle Wilson. “You couldn’t ask for a better teammate.
“He was a starter as a junior, but we decided to go with a smaller and quicker lineup and changed it up a bit, so he came off the bench this year. And he never fussed, moaned or complained. That means he is a kid who is dedicated to winning. He was the ultimate competitor. When you think of everything that is good about sports, you think about Alex and what he is all about. He just goes out and competes on the athletic field.”
Wilson had Tappen in his English class back in seventh grade at Wissahickon Middle School.
“Every teacher sang his praises,” said Wilson. “He was just one of those kids who said the right things and did the right things.”
Tappen is also active in the Wissahickon school community. In addition to the National Honor Society, He has been involved in the Ambassador’s Club, the primary task of which is to ease the transition of new students, and was most recently the vice president of the FANS Club, which provides support to not only sports teams but at school plays and concerts.
Tappen said his family – including older sister, Taylor-Morgan, and younger brother, Jackson – have “made me the man I am today.”
That might be why, despite the grind needed to chase down that 1 in 10,000 dream, he has always had his cleats on the ground.
“I balance my time well,” said Tappen, who singled out his mother, Kathy, for her love and support over the years. “Socially, I have a great group of friends, and I have been able to have hang out with my family, too.
“That’s the beauty of it. I have had the full high school experience.”
This past baseball season, Tappen said the Trojans started off slow, at 1-3, before finishing 8-6 and earning a spot in the District One playoffs. The season – and his scholastic athlete career -- ended Tuesday with a 5-1 loss to Holy Ghost Prep.
“As I look back, it's pretty emotional,” he said. “I've been blessed with some of the best teammates that I've ever had, and I've gotten so close with them, partially because I see them every day. It's knowing that I'll never be able to step on the field or court with those guys that's the emotional part. I wouldn't have wanted my high school career to change in any way. But, I'm also looking forward to wearing a new school across my chest.
“It's been a great four years here.”