It’s the kind of news no parent can comprehend yet every parent dreads. It almost always announces itself wickedly in the hours of early morning, especially, it seems, when the mom and dad are parents of teenagers and young adults.
It was that sort of unforgiving, indiscriminant and incredibly cruel news that arrived at the Tampa, Fla., home of Ken and Karen Neuhaus hours before sunrise the morning of Nov. 30: their oldest son, Tyler “Ty” Neuhaus, had been involved in a tragic single-car accident that claimed his young life at age 19.
“What we’re going through is what people would probably describe as a father and mother and brother’s worst nightmare,” Ken Neuhaus said softly but evenly in a lengthy telephone conversation with Perfect Game about eight days after his son’s death. “Our son Ty was taken at 19.”
Ty Neuhaus was a highly regarded catching prospect at Tampa Wharton High School in the class of 2011 who played in 14 Perfect Game tournaments between 2008 and 2010, almost always for powerful FTB Mizuno and head coach Jered Goodwin.
He went on to play one season at Yavapai Community College in Arizona and had transferred to Hillsborough Community College in Tampa just this year. He was set to take a medical redshirt this spring while rehabbing a shoulder injury.
“I remember Ty as an outstanding kid and catcher in high school,” Perfect Game President Jerry Ford offered. “He and his younger brother Tucker, a top prospect in 2013 class, have attended many PG events. The Neuhaus family is very close, and I can only imagine how devastating this is to them.”
Ty was a young man secure in his Christian faith and passionate about baseball. He leaves behind two loving parents in Ken and Karen, and his biggest fan, younger brother Tucker.
“Our feelings are that of anybody that can put themselves in our shoes,” Ken Neuhaus said. “But I also want to make it real clear that we are followers of Christ and that we have a strong foundation in our faith that is sustaining us right now during this difficult time.”
Ken Neuhaus is a native of Dubuque, Iowa, and grew up playing baseball in the old town-team leagues that are prevalent in northeast Iowa. Neuhaus played for the team from Balltown (yes, that is the name of the town), and played against other young men from small communities that surround Dyersville, the home of the famous Field of Dreams from the movie of the same name.
“Our love of baseball is what surrounds our family for sure,” Ken said.
The Neuhauses still have family in the Dubuque area, and on Saturday (Dec. 8) while family and friends were observing a memorial service at LifePoint Church in New Tampa, Fla., others were observing a service simultaneously at the Field of Dreams. FTB’s Goodwin was asked by the family to speak at the service in New Tampa.
“It’s a tremendously sad thing,” Goodwin said last week. “Ty played for me for two summers … and we got very close. He was with that special group with (Tyler) Marlette and (Daniel) Vogelbach and (Dante) Bichette and all those guys, and it was a group that got so, so close. The one thing Ty always had that was just so unbelievable was his energy.
“He just seemed to love everything, he just seemed to love being at the park and being part of a team. He was so passionate about his family and his little brother; he just had a passion for life.”
Ken Neuhaus, 56, has served as an assistant coach at the University of Iowa and Southern Illinois University and was the head coach at Bethel College in Minnesota for 14 years. As his boys got older he wanted to have time to watch them play, but he did take the head coaching job at Tampa Freedom High School for a three-year stint.
He got out of coaching just as Ty entered high school to become an associate scout for the Cincinnati Reds covering the Tampa area, which enabled him to watch Ty, and eventually Tucker, play. When John Colacci from the Florida Hardballers recruited Tucker to play with his organization right as Tucker was about to enter high school, Ken jumped onboard as an associate coach.
Both Tucker and Ken have been with the Hardballers the last three years, ending their travel team careers at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October.
The Hardballers and FTB often find themselves at the same Perfect Game tournaments, and that provided an opportunity for the Neuhaus brothers to be at many of the same events in 2010. Colacci said Ty always exhibited unique leadership skills on the field.
“He had the maturity and the personality where he wasn’t scared to be a leader,” Colacci recalled. “You put a kid on a team with kids from all over the place, and some of them can kind of go out there and play and some kids kind of take the bull by the horns and get the other guys up. It was clear as day by watching (Ty) on the field that he was a leader.”
Tucker Neuhaus, a middle-infielder, is a highly ranked prospect in the class of 2013. He participated in 18 Perfect Game events between 2010 and 2012, including the 2012 PG National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June and most recently for the Hardballers at the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October.
Tucker has signed a letter of intent to play with the University of Louisville. His draft stock has risen in the last year, however, and there is now talk that he could be an early round selection in June’s 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
But Tucker has now lost his brother, his mentor and his hero, and will need to call on his faith to persevere.
“Tucker lost his best friend,” Ken Neuhaus said, “but he’s a really neat kid who also has a firm faith.”
When Ty played at Wharton High School, he wore the No. 19 on his uniform. Tucker wore No. 14 his last several seasons at Wharton, but asked a teammate who was wearing No. 19 if he could wear his brother’s old number this spring season. The teammate readily obliged and Tucker will be wearing the No. 19 in Ty’s honor.
It is Ken’s understanding the school will retire the No. 19 at the end of the 2013 season and Tucker has made it clear to his family and coaches he plans to hold nothing back during his final high school season this spring. Ken Neuhaus said Tucker sent one close family friend a simple but direct message declaring his intentions.
“He said, ‘You know what, I’m going to go out and I’m going to play that much harder for Ty,’” Ken related. “He said, ‘I’m going to make the big leagues because I figure this: if I’ve got the power of two Neuhaus boys in one, nobody’s going to stop me.’ So that’s how Tucker is processing it. He’s taking it like, ‘Ty would want me to press on and work that much harder’ and Tuck said he wants to play out his baseball career to honor his brother.”
The Hardballers’ Colacci noticed the same burning desire in Tucker in the short time since Ty’s death.
“It seems like he’s on a mission,” Colacci said. “He’s really taken the route to kind of live for Ty and carry his memory on. You worry about it because you see these young guys and you don’t know how they’re going to react. But I think with Tucker it’s already lit a fire even more to carry on his brother’s legacy through baseball.”
The national baseball community has rallied around the Neuhaus family, with total strangers offering financial and emotional support.
“It’s tough, but we have an extended baseball family and that game just brings people together. We feel supported at every turn, and 99 percent of the people (reaching out) are baseball people,” Ken said.
“It’s unfortunate when something like this happens, but it shows you what type of family this baseball thing is; it’s just a real weird thing,” FTB’s Goodwin said. “All sports do that, but especially baseball. It’s just something that been around so long, there’s just that sense of family and camaraderie.”
Ken and Karen Neuhaus have established a memorial fund for Ty, and people wishing to donate can access it at tyneuhausmemorialfund.com.