Sacred Heart senior Tanner Bevard recently had one of the biggest breakout baseball seasons in the state of Mississippi that most high school sports fans were unaware of.
The senior helped propel Sacred Heart on the mound, in the field, and in the batter’s box and was key in helping the Crusaders reach the second round of the 1A playoffs. Benard’s effort earned a spot on Capital Sport’s All-State First Team for Class 1A.
Yes, his accolades are good, but what made his senior season so great? For Bevard, this past year was just his second season of playing high school baseball, and really his first full year since COVID-19 ended his debut with Sacred Heart.
From the seventh grade until his senior year at Sacred Heart, Bevard was a member of the school’s tennis team and hadn’t played baseball since he was 12 years old.
Bevard’s story actually begins in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Like most kids, Bevard got into baseball by simply playing catch with his dad, which transpired into him playing the game itself. But Bevard didn’t just play for a regular recreation league. He began playing baseball at the Albuquerque Baseball Academy, which is the same place that LSU standout and Astros All-Star Alex Bregman played.
However, when Bevard turned 12, his family moved to Mississippi, and according to him, burned him out of the game.
“My mom is still in Albuquerque, and my dad and stepmom were out here,” Bevard said. “That whole move and separation and then trying to fit in and find new friends and all of that played into me being burned out on baseball. I didn’t really fit in with the teams. I wasn’t really enjoying baseball anymore.”
Bevard quit baseball, but he quickly found his new love, which was tennis. Bevard’s dad was a nationally ranked college tennis player at Cal State LA, a Division II school, which set Bevard’s goal of being a college athlete.
“He introduced me to (tennis and) I fell in love with that because of the constant movement,” Bevard said. “The goal for me is to play in college because my dad experienced it. I think it would be cool to keep that legacy going.”
Just like his dad, Bevard was also pretty good at tennis. In 2019, he helped Sacred Heart to a team championship as a sophomore. That same season, Bevard also won the individual state championship in the mixed doubles. In the United States Tennis Association (USTA) rankings, Bevard was ranked as high as No. 5 in the state amongst 16-year-olds.
But life threw a weird curveball (pun intended) at the blossoming tennis player. Bevard had a partial meniscus tear in his knee in the seventh grade, which was the first of three knee injuries he suffered.
In his junior year, Bevard had a partial patellar tendon tear in his right knee. The tendon in his knee was pulling away from his kneecap but was still attached. Luckily for Bevard, the tear was vertical and not horizontal, which meant he didn’t completely tear the tendon and could still play through the injury.
At the same time, in Bevard’s junior year, he decided to try out for the school baseball team after several of his friends convinced him to pick the sport up again.
“A bunch of my friends from school were on the baseball team,” Bevard said. “I didn’t want to because I was so wrapped up in tennis, but with the knee surgery I wasn’t going to play tennis so I just joined the baseball team for fun, not thinking of getting to college. It was something to do and it wouldn’t mess my knees up that bad.”
Bevard impressed right away in the brief season, as he started in the outfield and hit .438 in his first seven games with the team.
“In my younger days, I used to play tennis,” Sacred Heart baseball coach Larry Watkins said. “I think it has a lot to do with your hand-eye coordination and getting a good base under you when you hit. It’s the same thing with baseball.
“You have to use your lower half a lot of times. I think that probably helped him, and the work ethic that he got from playing tennis carried over to baseball.”
Bevard agreed that tennis played a major role in helping pick up a baseball game and believes that it made him a better player.
“I swing left-handed, and that happens to be my backhand, so it’s the same grip on a tennis racket, just like a baseball bat,” Bevard said. “You still see high velocities from a long distance, and the hand-eye coordination is great from tennis, so that’s not a big deal.”
At the start of his senior year, Bevard had planned to play both sports, but this past November, he had a second partial patellar tendon tear, this time in his left knee. Instead of opting to get surgery, Bevard had a Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injection, which uses a patient’s own platelets to accelerate the healing of injured tendons.
“There is no numbing medicine,” Bevard said. “It’s just a needle going right into the torn tendon. It was the worst pain I have ever felt. I only did that to try and come back to playing tennis again.”
Unfortunately, the therapy did not work, so Bevard faced the harsh decision of giving up tennis. At that point, Bevard was planning to sign and play with Jones College.
“I could have had another surgery which would have allowed me to play tennis, but I chose baseball instead because I wouldn’t have to go through the process of surgery and rehab,” Bevard said. “It’s shooting pain, so every step it shoots up and reminds you it’s there. Even when you are sitting down, it’ll hurt. I can go out and hit today, but tomorrow I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I’d have to take three or four days off to be able to do it again. It’s not worth it because it’s not the number of reps you need to get to the next level. It’s no fun walking around and hurting every step.”
Bevard’s commitment to baseball paid off as the senior batted .348 this past year; while on the mound, he posted a 3.57 ERA while striking out 46 batters and walking 17.
“He is still catching up,” Watkins said. “He’s a tough kid. He works really hard. He’s just real driven. He plays in pain at times, but he never complains.”
With a solid but brief career and a 28 on his ACT, Bevard picked up interest from several junior colleges but currently plans to play baseball at William Carey. Despite his journey, Bevard gave the bulk of his baseball success to Watkins for simply installing a belief in himself.
“Without coach Watkins, none of this would have happened,” Bevard said. “Coach Watkins has been a huge figure in motivating me and instilling a belief in myself. He has been working with me to get better.”
Watkins credits Bevard’s tennis background for developing his mental toughness and has no doubt that his player will earn the opportunity to play college ball.
“He is really competitive, and I think that is probably one of the strongest parts of his game, and I like that,” Watkins said. “We want our kids to be like that. It’s a life lesson you have to learn because you will always be competing for a job or whatever.
“I think his projection is really high and has a high ceiling because of the way he works. He is a diamond in the rough.”