Wichita State assistant baseball coach Jim Thomas was Tyler Grimes before Grimes was born. Maybe that's why they are so tight.
"We're exactly alike," Grimes said. "We get into it. We have our fights. But... I'd probably say that guy is the closest to me. We talk about everything, not just errors or offense."
Thomas and Grimes, WSU's junior shortstop, talk plenty this season. Grimes committed two errors in the first inning of Wednesday's game against Kansas, bringing his season total to 25. Poor decisions threaten to overshadow his other attributes, which include quickness, a strong arm and a tenacious approach at the plate.
WSU coach Gene Stephenson went through a polishing process with Thomas, who made the 1982 All-Tournament team at the College World Series and reached Triple-A. Both are City League products, infielders and known as players with passion and temper.
"They both want to be really good players," Stephenson said. "And sometimes they're their own worst enemy because of that."
The Shockers (28-21, 7-5 Missouri Valley Conference) are at a point where they can't afford many mistakes and stay in the race. First-place Creighton (31-10, 9-3) visits Eck Stadium for a series beginning tonight. WSU must get its habit of making physical and mental errors under control. The Bluejays, who lead the MVC in fielding, could execute them right out of the race.
"We know they're going to come in here and be fundamentally sound defensively and offensively," Grimes said. "We're going to have to be locked in."
It's been a frustrating season for Grimes, who committed 11 errors as a freshman and 14 as a sophomore. The fielding problems don't affect his offense — he is hitting .311 and leads WSU with a .479 on-base percentage and 43 walks.
"It sucks that it's happened this year," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and have people feel bad for me because I don' t need that. I know it's on me."
Grimes is blessed with so many skills he may use them too often.
When you see him dive for a ball, bounce up and throw out a runner in a blink, you know you're seeing a play numerous shortstops can't attempt. When you see him zing a ball into foul territory, it often means he is trying to make a play other shortstops know they shouldn't attempt. On Wednesday, he tried to make a running one-handed catch-and-throw behind the mound in the first inning. When he couldn't grab the ball, it bounced away and a runner scored from third base.
"I'm just trying to do too much," he said. "I need to go back to the fundamentals of catching the ball and throwing the ball. Sometimes I get away from that because I want to do the great things."
That is a conversation Thomas and Grimes regularly go through. Sometimes it's an animated conversation in the dugout. Most times, Thomas wants to wait and let Grimes cool off.
"If you get to him right after, it's counter-productive," Thomas said. "A lot of times, I'll wait until the next day."
After Wednesday's game, they talked about positioning on a cutoff throw from center field that skipped through the infield and cost WSU a run. Grimes wasn't in the right place.
"We have our scuffles, which is good because after that it's all hugging and shaking hands and making one another smile," Grimes said.
Grimes appreciates that intensity from Thomas, who he calls the most positive person in the Shocker locker room.
"He's got to stand there at first base, and he wants it more than any of us," Grimes said. "He's what gets me going. Me seeing him and him letting me know he's positive — I'm positive because I know I'm on the right path with him."
Thomas reminds Grimes that the players most valued in pro ball are the ones who can make the routine plays. Spectacular plays make highlight shows. Routine plays need to be part of the routine.
"As a ballplayer, you have an internal clock," Thomas said. "I know he has that clock, and I know there are times when there are balls that are hit and he senses that he may be running short on time. He tries to speed up to make up some of that time, instead of just taking what the play will give you."
Thomas is happy that Grimes doesn't let his defensive struggles affect his offense. He also knows people can't question Grimes' desire to win and improve. His concentration at the plate showed up in an 11-pitch at-bat last weekend at Southern Illinois. He fouled off six pitches before getting hit and keeping a big inning rolling.
"I know that I go out there and play hard every game," he said. "I hope I'm a sparkplug for our offense to get us going. I want us to get on a roll."