Tribute to Tyler: GCCC's baseball coach Finnegan recalls Alitz' time as a Broncbuster.
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Tyler Alitz posted a message on Twitter expressing his gratitude for Garden City and Garden City Community College on his way home to Omaha, Neb.
Four hours later, the just graduated former shortstop of the Broncbusters baseball team was killed in a car crash in Concordia.
He was 20 years old.
On Monday, Alitz also tweeted, "Man I owe a lot to Garden City. This place has been so good to me. Never gonna forget this place."
Yet, Garden City will never forget Alitz, from his dancing in the locker room, to always asking his teammates, 'Oh yeah, dude?' any time they said something.
But he'll be most fondly remembered for the progress he made at GCCC and the lives he touched through his infectious personality.
Sitting in his office on Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after Alitz had died, head baseball coach Chris Finnegan recounted how great a person and player Alitz had become.
"Ty had a little turd to him, but he was a good kid," Finnegan said. "You're talking about a kid who left high school with, I think, like a 1.92 GPA, and graduated here with a 3.4, and signed a letter of intent to play at Morehead State (Ky.).
"But, when Ty finally came out of his shell, people really got to see who Tyler Alitz was, just the good human being that he is. Watching him grow up into the young man that he was when he left was a lot of fun."
Alitz grew up in Omaha, Neb., with his parents Joe and Kitty, and younger brother Tommy, and graduated from Roncalli Catholic High School in 2012.
He played second base for Roncalli, and that's where Finnegan recruited Alitz to play for GCCC for the 2012-13 season.
But just weeks before the fall season began, the Busters found themselves suddenly without a shortstop.
Finnegan gave Alitz a chance to move there, and he ran with it.
"He obviously took off from there," Finnegan said. "About 30 games in, you just saw him start to evolve a little bit every single day, every single game."
And that was not just anchored to the diamond, Alitz began to progress off the field, as well.
"I think probably the best memory with Ty was when he kind of came out of his shell (his freshman season), he lost his mind in the dugout one time, and we all looked around and said, "Whoa, who are you?"
From that day forward, it was clear.
"Towards the end (of his sophomore season), he just started to become that leader that we really thought he could be," Finnegan said.
Alitz was selected to the first team All-KJCCC West and the second team All-Region team at the end of the 2013-14 season, hitting .364 with eight home runs, 21 doubles and 52 RBIs, all while being a superb defender up the middle.
On May 15, he announced he had signed a letter of intent to play at Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University, expressing his gratitude to Finnegan and the coaching staff for getting him there.
Less than a week later, around 5 p.m. Wednesday, Finnegan got a call explaining that Tyler had been in a crash and had been killed.
"Throughout the evening, and into the morning, I was on the phone with half the guys (baseball team) more than once," Finnegan said. "It's a difficult time. It's going to be a difficult time for anybody."
But the hardest moment for Finnegan was when he spoke with Alitz' younger brother, Tommy.
"I think that was the hardest conversation ... was talking to Tommy," Finnegan said. "One thing Tyler always did was brag about his little brother, how good he was going to be."
So Finnegan called Tommy to tell him how proud Alitz was of him.
Alitz' teammates, who had all left town as well, showed an outpouring of support on Twitter when they learned of the crash.
Brooks Benson wrote, "Rest in Peace Tyler Alitz. You will be missed deeply. I love you brother. Watch over all of us."
The reaction poured onto social media and through emails and comments online as those who knew Alitz expressed their sadness for the loss.
"He left home as probably an 18-year-old ornery cuss," Finnegan said. "If he would have made it home (Wednesday) night, he probably would've been the most personable kid you're probably ever going to meet."
The funeral service will be 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Omaha. There will be a wake at 7 p.m. Monday at St. Elizabeth.