Chae Butler was a key figure in changing Tyner Academy’s baseball fortunes over the last four years.
On Tuesday, Butler announced he was on board to help Kentucky State University revitalize its struggling diamond program.
Butler, the District 6-AA Co-Player of the Year with Hixson pitching ace Alex Prewitt, signed scholarship papers to play college baseball for the Rob Henry-coached Thorobreds.
“When I visited up there on our way to Detroit for Christmas,” Butler said, “coach Henry was talking about the rebuilding process. I was thinking, ‘Hey, that’s kind of how I helped Tyner do it.’ That was a huge factor in me choosing Kentucky State.”
Butler, 17, and teammates who joined him in sticking together in a venture to rejuvenate Tyner baseball, took their lumps – and plenty of them over the next three seasons
In 2014, the Rams turned the corner by finishing 19-12 overall and placed third in the regular season district standings. The foundation is now in place to continue a successful program at Tyner and coach Rob Flowers says Butler deserves a lion’s share of the credit.
“Chae is a special kid,” Flowers said. “He’s been the leader of this senior group and although he’s not a vocal guy, he’s been the consummate professional every day. He shows up, works hard and does his job.
“Those guys made a decision in middle school to do this and Chae was a ringleader behind that and it has paid off for them.”
While he struggled statistically, Butler made an impression on district coaches from the outset and that has led to four consecutive all-district honors capped by this year’s co-player of the year recognition.
Butler went 7-2 his senior year – he was 4-1 in district play – with a 1.32 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. He gave up 34 hits.
“I came here excited about being with teammates I had been with all through middle school,” Butler said. “It was a good opportunity for us and I think we’ve made a legacy here. We turned things around when a lot of people said it wouldn’t happen.
“We did what the naysayers didn’t want us to do or see us do. We made a lot of history at Tyner and it has been a great experience.”
On his visit to KSU in Frankfort, Ky., during last Christmas’ break, he met and spoke with the Thorobreds’ coach. Henry asked Butler to work out with a bullpen session and the youngster obliged, throwing to the regular KSU catcher.
“The catcher told coach Henry to go ahead and get this guy (Butler),” Butler recalled.
Butler chose the Thorobreds, who are 29-67 in Henry’s two seasons, over Alabama A&M, Lemoyne-Owen College, Tuskegee, and Alabama State.
Like any prospective recruit these days, Butler did his research to enhance his knowledge of Henry and the KSU program. In Butler’s mind, Henry had a solid background and his coaching style was what the Rams’ two-way threat – he plays a solid first base as well – was looking for.
The Thorobreds finished 15-38 this season and was eliminated from the SIAC tournament with a 14-1 loss to regular-season champion Albany State.
However, in the tournament’s opening round, KSU shocked top-seeded Albany State, 7-5, handing the Golden Rams their first league loss of the season.
“I congratulated them on that big win,” Butler said.
Butler was Tyner’s big-game pitcher, facing the tougher teams on the Rams schedule throughout the season.
Fowler said Butler suffered many losses his first two seasons at Tyner, but outsiders should look at the big picture when judging Butler’s overall work. Those numbers shifted dramatically in his junior and senior seasons.
“At Kentucky State, Chae has a chance to compete right off the bat,” Fowler said. “It’s something he’s already comfortable with. He’s put us on his shoulders so many times before. Look at this year when we played Baylor, Central, Hixson, Red Bank, Notre Dame and Signal Mountain.
“Every big game we won Chae was on the mound. I know coach Henry is excited about the fact Chae is a big-game pitcher.”
That could come in handy for Henry, who had only one pitcher – Cornell Brown (7-5) – post a winning record this season. Brown had a fat 7.14 ERA.
“It wouldn’t shock me for him to go up there (KSU) and do the exact things he done at Tyner. He might struggle the first year or two, but when coach Henry puts together other pieces of the team, Chae could wind up being all-conference multiple times and then go about doing whatever the Lord has in store for him.”
Butler is the second Tyner player in two seasons to sign a baseball scholarship. In 2013 former Tyner player Ahmad Johnson walked on at Lemoyne-Owen and eventually received a scholarship between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Fowler said two other Rams seniors – Sadik Spence and Jalen Ross – are likely to sign grants with Lemoyne-Owen in the coming weeks.
“That would give us four baseball signees in four years,” Fowler said. “That’s pretty good for this program. As for Chae, the beauty is that he’s just now starting to peak. I can’t wait to see what he’s done at Kentucky State four years from now.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)
Chae Butler, center, is joined by Tyner baseball coach Rob Flowers, school principal Carol Ross, and Keith and Cathy Butler, Chae's parents, at Tuesday's signing ceremony in the school library.