When he was 4, Joe Lytle vowed to return to Series

Son of OCU assistant coach first came to Lewiston in ’02 – now he’s back as one of Stars’ slugger

  • By THEO LAWSON of the Tribune
  • Joe Lytle had baseball aspirations as a child, but not the kind you might imagine.

    He didn’t take practice swings in his bedroom with the imaginary roar of a Yankee Stadium crowd behind him. He didn’t picture himself launching homers over the Green Monster at Fenway, or tangling with the green ivy at Wrigley.

    Lytle’s baseball fantasies were more unconventional.

    His field of dreams? That would be Harris Field. Lytle’s New York Yankees? Those would be the Oklahoma City University Stars.

    “He made that very clear when he was 4 years old,” said Keith Lytle, Joe’s father, and a longtime assistant at Oklahoma City.

    And while children forge dreams of someday playing in the MLB World Series, it wasn’t the Fall Classic that Lytle had in mind. It was the NAIA World Series.

    So call it a dream fulfilled.

    Joe Lytle is one of the 25 players on the roster for top-seeded Oklahoma City this week at the Avista NAIA World Series. The junior catcher/first baseman has been one of the brightest Stars through three games at the national tournament. He’s hitting 8-for-15 (.571) – the best average by any player in the Series with at least 10 at-bats – and has driven in five runs. OCU, with a 16-5 win over The Master’s on Tuesday, will continue its hunt for a second national title when the Stars play Faulkner today.

    “It’s something special. I can’t even put it into words,” Joe Lytle said of the experience. “Just growing up and going to the field all the time, just hanging with all the players. And finally getting to be one of the players, wearing this jersey, being with (my dad), it’s so special and it means so much to me.”

    This isn’t Lytle’s first trek to Lewiston, though. His father has been a top assistant to head coach Denney Crabaugh for 20 years and a 4-year-old Joe Lytle accompanied the Stars when they qualified for the Series in 2002.

    Joe doesn’t have many recollections of the experience, but his father can help fill in the missing pieces.

    “I actually get a little emotional because (a PA announcer) handed me a booklet that they had put together in 2002 when we were here,” Keith Lytle said. “And it kind of revisited all the games, all the articles, he put them together for me and in the back of that book, there was a picture of Joe when he was about 4 years old and we had won a ballgame and he came up and jumped in my arms.”

    Joe Lytle’s baseball career began shortly thereafter and a heavy slate of spring and summer games prevented him from returning to Lewiston with OCU. That included in 2005, when the Stars went 4-1 at Harris Field and won the program’s first NAIA crown.

    “He kept wanting to come back I told him, ‘Joe, you’ve got to stay at Oklahoma City, you’re playing for your team and I’m not going to let you miss games,’ ” Keith Lytle said. “And then when we won the national championship in 2005 and he wasn’t here I regret that to this day.”

    But Joe Lytle made good on a lifelong goal to play for Oklahoma City, essentially scrapping every other recruiting letter that landed in his mailbox.

    “He’s getting recruiting letters to go other places and I told him to fill that stuff out, send it back, go on your visits,” Keith Lytle said. “He goes, ‘I told you when I was 4, I was going to play for you. And I’m going to play for you.’ ”

     Seventeen years later, Lytle is a three-time All-Sooner Athletic Conference selection who entered the Series with a .391 batting average and a team-high 25 doubles.

    He’s played in 163 games for the Stars, but still has fond memories of the first time he donned the OCU jersey.

    “I had the chills the entire time,” Joe said. “It was awesome.”

    And the OCU coaches have finally made good on a lifelong promise to get Joe back to Lewiston.

    ” I made a promise to his mom years ago, said, ‘Hey, we’re going to make sure your son plays in Lewiston, gets to play on the field,'” said Crabaugh, whose son Cody played on OCU’s World Series-qualifying teams in 2010, ’11 and ’12. “That’s one of the things, after we won the Opening Round, she made a point to let me know that hey I kept my promise.”

    Added Keith Lytle: “If we hadn’t got him here – Denney and I – I think we would’ve felt like we failed him.”

    Lawson may be contacted at tlawson@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2260. Follow him on Twitter @TheoLawson_Trib.