A new purpose: Injured Tipton redefines leadership role with Wolverines

Alex Tipton’s struggles with injuries during his baseball career nearly brought his coach to tears.

Penciled in as Polk County’s starting catcher, Tipton is out with a wrist injury, just the latest in a series of struggles that has turned what was a promising four-year career into a year and a half.

How he’s handling it, though, is what moved his coach.

Billy Alm watched Tipton in the batting cages. It stopped him in his tracks, and sparked him to post on Facebook about Tipton’s leadership and determination.

“Watching him in the cage the other day, when he sat down it brought tears to my eyes,” Alm said. “Obviously, I posted about it. In four years, he’s spent a season and a half with us. He’s taken it with a grain of salt, and he goes in there and starts coaching. He’s coaching the younger players. He’s helping out the older guys.

“We’re down a catcher right now, and he’s staying with the catchers after and doing extra work. It’s amazing how he’s handled all this.”

Tipton started in centerfield and batted leadoff for the Wolverines as a freshman in his only complete season.

“After that year, I was pretty hopeful for the rest of my high school career to be pretty successful,” Tipton said. “The ultimate goal was to play college baseball.”

What followed, though, was a series of setbacks.

“My sophomore year, I had surgery on my labrum, and didn’t get to play that year,” Tipton said. “Last year, my junior year, I only got to play half the season before my shoulder gave away again. And then as soon as I got back healthy from that, I took a fall and fractured my wrist. Now I’ve got to have surgery on that.”

That surgery is expected to end Tipton’s high school career.

“There’s no timetable where I could get back that I know of,” he said. “I believe in God, and I think the only situation where I could get back is if God puts a miracle out there. Then maybe. But I don’t think I’ll be back.”

Instead of focusing on that, though, Tipton has embraced his role as a team leader even more.

“It’s pretty tough, but there’s no reason to cry about it,” Tipton said. “I have to do what I can to help my best friends out and help them get to work. And I want to share with them not to take it for granted, because it can end pretty quick.”

Alm said that mindset is something that he hopes the Wolverines will take to heart.

“It can all end in seconds,” he said. That’s something we talk to the boys about a lot. Your life can change in seconds. He was upset the first day, he swallowed it, and the next day he comes back and he’s a coach. It’s been an eye-opening experience not just for me, but for the other coaches, too. We talk about it all the time.”

Tipton didn’t bounce back from his first injury quite as quickly, something he said he’s tried to learn from.

“It’s kind of funny, because my injuries in the past, it was pretty hard,” he said. “My sophomore year, the seniors that year were really important to me. I knew it had to be something, so I thought it was really setting me up for something in the future.

“It took me about a week this time, but now I’ve been through this before. I’ve just got to handle it a little differently. The last time I got injured I was pretty sad about it. I was upset for a while. And this time, I wasn’t upset for as long. I kind of just took it as a good thing. My goal is to become a coach. It’s kind of setting me up for the future almost, and helping me realize what path I’m really supposed to go down.”

That path includes talking with friends and teammates, and telling them things they might hear in a different way.

“It’s a little bit more real to them, I guess,” he said. “Coaches can say it, but it’s a little more real seeing their friend not be able to play.”

His coach agrees.

“It’s hearing it from a different source,” Alm said. “We tell them they’re young men. But the peer-to-peer criticism and cheering each other on means more to them than a coach can say. The group that’s down there now, they’re very supportive of one another. And it starts with Alex. He’s our captain. If I could give away an MVP trophy at the start of the season, it’s Alex for what he’s done for our camaraderie and for everything else.”

That’s at least in part because of a realization that Tipton has had himself.

“I believe that God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers,” he said. “And maybe I’m more valuable to these guys as a coach and a mentor than as a player. That’s kind of the way I’m taking it. I help this team more as a mentor and a coach.”

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