Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
The first time Tyler Locklear hit a baseball out of a park, it didn’t soar over the fence. He was just 10 years old then, and a tree line at the back of the outfield marked the automatic home run.
Nearly a decade later, Locklear is one of the top home run hitters in the country, hitting a team-high 12 long balls in his first 22 games. The Abingdon, Maryland, native said the feeling of hitting a home run hasn’t changed since he achieved his first.
“That feeling never changes,” Locklear said. “It’s just a different feeling than anything else. Seeing it go over the fence and having your team react is a surreal feeling.”
The freshman third baseman is on pace to shatter the VCU record for most home runs in a single season, which is 19, set by Jason Dubois in 2000.
Locklear is ranked second in the NCAA in home runs after hitting three long balls over two games on Friday and Saturday against William and Mary. He said he wants to stay at the top of the category, which creates competition with himself.
“I just kind of looked at it and I was just like ‘I gotta keep working, keep trying to be the best,’” Locklear said. “Having the guys around me show me it and seeing their reactions, it was pretty cool.”
The breakout start at VCU surprised Locklear, but it didn’t shock hitting coach Rich Witten.
“I was absolutely expecting it,” Witten said. “We’ve had the privilege of watching Tyler for almost two full years now. The rest of the country hasn’t seen him yet until this year.”
Locklear was the first recruit Witten signed when he started recruiting for VCU.
At Archbishop Curley High School, Locklear was a standout baseball and football player, said Joe Gaeta, who was the director of baseball operations during Locklear’s high school career and is the current head coach.
Gaeta said Locklear’s work ethic set an example for his high school athletes.
“Hardest working kid that I’ve ever seen,” Gaeta said. “We almost use him as a benchmark now, so we’ll call a kid a ‘Tyler Locklear’ type of player.”
Gaeta sometimes tells his players to “hustle like Tyler,” he said.
While playing for Archbishop Curley, Locklear was highly decorated. He was named an Under Armour All-American athlete in 2018 and earned All-Conference and All-State honors three times. In his senior year, Locklear clubbed six home runs and hit .500 at the plate.
Locklear started all 15 games for the Rams in the 2020 season, which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, logging 15 hits and a home run.
At the plate, Locklear said he’s motivated by the matchup with the pitcher.
“It’s always like a man-on-man battle, whether it’s pitcher-hitter or fielding, just trying to do what’s best to win,” Locklear said. “I’m always trying to win, just having that competitive fire.”
Witten called Locklear a “complete hitter,” and he said the success has led to more confidence in his game.
“I continue to try to remind him that he will be his best player when he does not force hitting home runs,” Witten said. “When he lets the game come to him and he focuses on the process of having an at-bat, his natural talent will translate into really good results.”
Controlling the power in his bat is one thing Locklear said he’s worked on with Witten, who said it’s the part of his game that sets him apart from other players.
“We just always try to say put the ball in play and hit it hard somewhere,” Locklear said. “If you hit it hard, good things will happen.”