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Big hitter returns to HKIS

 

HKIS has always worked hard to keep the Dragons baseball team out in front. Here’s one guy who has taken it a step further. T. J. Gavlik ’08 returned to HKIS to share his story and skills.

T.J. Gavlik ’08 is currently studying at University of North Florida (UNF), majoring in sports management with a minor of business. But he has only one thing on his mind at the moment and that’s baseball.

T.J. joined HKIS in grade 3 and became involved in the baseball Community League straight off. But his interest in sports was something that had been instilled in him long before then and was guided to some pretty sensible decisions, “I come from a pretty athletic family – my dad (Tim Gavlik, part of the HKIS faculty) used to run cross-country. He first put a ball and a glove in my hands and it all started from there.”

 

It sounds like he was a natural from the get go, “In some cases I was playing in the grade 4 and grade 5 teams, even though I was still in grade 3!” adds T.J. It wasn’t all set, though. He was pretty handy with a soccer ball, too, and he couldn’t dedicate his time to two sports, “I had to make a decision – I knew that I couldn’t carry on with both so dropped that [soccer] to concentrate on baseball.”

Not long after that decision it was time for the Christmas break and T.J. went to a winter baseball camp at Jacksonville University (JU) in Florida. Right there and then, JU spotted the potential and invited him back for the summer baseball camp.

He didn’t need asking twice. Then, UNF spotted the potential, too. Before you know it, T.J. was looking at two plum scholarships on the table to choose from.




"Back at HKIS it was a strange time. The seniors were all focusing on their applications for the different universities. At one point we were given a number of one-hour sessions just to focus on apps and to help get them processed... but I didn’t need it as I was already done. It was strange to see all that craziness of my classmates working through ten apps at a time and yet I was taken care of”, remembers T.J. But he had yet to choose his college.

“If I was to do it again I would probably start looking a lot earlier for a place that would take me for baseball. The aim has to be to take a school that’s right for you – and with the right majors” he added.

Due to family commitments and location, UNF was chosen. “It was tough, and I felt bad as JU had discovered what I was capable of and had really helped me, but we had to go with UNF. After that, I spent the summer with UNF and things developed further.

 

At University North Florida, baseball practice and training starts the in second week of the university term. From there on, it’s full-on training until the season starts and when it does, there are 56 games to play.


It’s a tough schedule, with all those games crammed between late February and early June. That’s four or five game a week with over half of them on the road, which brings its own fun. Most games involve a trip in the team bus covering anything between two and six hours on the road but there’s one in particular that sticks in mind T.J. wasn’t looking forward to... Tennessee is anything up to 12 hours away from UNF and being a freshman brings a share of hard work.

 

Tradition dictates that at the end of practice the freshmen stay behind and clean up the field. The very same task awaits after every bus journey, as the freshmen make sure the bus is spic and span. With around 35 guys on the team, cleaning up a two hour journey can be kinda light work.

But after a 12 hour trip to Tennessee, you can only begin to imagine what delights await the cleaning crew.

Looking back, maybe the writing was on the wall – T.J. led the HKIS baseball team to be APAC (Asia Pacific Activities Conference) champions three years straight between 2006 and 2008. In his senior year, he led the team to an 18-2 record year.

Baseball only began at HKIS in 2005 and they had done pretty well. But when the 2008 team got together, it wasn’t exactly ideal – two of the team were seniors, the rest, freshmen. The results were a surprise to everyone, but the team, “We couldn’t always depend on the many seniors to guide us to victory. We had to depend on each other and that is how we were able to be successful,” added T.J.

The 2008 Varsity Baseball team won 18 games and lost only two. Of that, seven were home wins on the new Tai Tam field and the rest were racked up on the road as they were crowned champions of all three tournaments they went to: China Cup Shanghai (three wins, one loss), Brent International (four wins, one loss) and Singapore World Series (four wins).

T.J.’s performance at HKIS - 43 runs, 35 hits, 13 home runs, 47 RBI and a whopping .583 batting average - led to him being named in the All-APAC team.

So how is T.J. doing at UNF? Competition is tough and he didn’t start every game last year – he admits that his performances weren’t as strong as they could have been.

However, an injury here and there to his teammates opened the door and he seized the opportunity to make a good impression and rack up the numbers, making a lot of starts. The starting place is his to lose, which is where he wants to be. He’s pleased that he’s improved a lot and is still looking to get better. His record at UNF has seen T.J. step up to meet the competition headon, achieving several multi-hit games in his first year, playing in 32 games and making 27 starts in 2009.

In 2010, he started at second base early in April in the second game of a doubleheader against East Tennessee State and went on to start every game for the rest of the season (29 games). A month later he enjoyed a purple patch with a chunky hitting streak, managing .400 (16-for-40) with five doubles, nine runs scored and 11 RBI. He ended up playing in 43 games and making 32 starts for the season.




The 2011 season has been pretty spectacular, too, with T.J. recording a .253 batting average, finishing the year 22-for-87 with 14 runs scored, three doubles, two triples, a home run and nine runs batted in. He went that step further and upped his average in Atlantic Sun Conference games, batting .324, going 12-for-37 with five runs scored, a double, a triple and a home run and eight RBI.

Coming back to HKIS is always a good thing for T.J. “The teachers know how to connect to the students and the school as a whole really knows what it’s doing”. It’s this connection that has T.J., and many others, coming back time and time again to be part of the HKIS community for many years after they graduate. And, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to keep coming back to Hong Kong?

One of the many things that sticks in T.J.’s mind about HKIS is the plethora of opportunities the school afforded him – whether playing trumpet as part of the band at the Hong Kong Sevens tournament or taking part in the interim trips to Japan, Thailand and New Zealand.

T.J. is quietly optimistic about the future, but clearly realistic: “I want to see how far I can make it – but that’s the same story for millions of kids playing baseball” he points out. There is talk of being drafted into the big league, but T.J. was keeping coy, trying not to get too far ahead of himself. “I’m going to take it year by year and see how it goes”.

And if it doesn’t work out? T.J. plans to make use of his university schooling, maybe looking to open up a dedicated athletics and sports project that can help raise the profile of sports talent in the Hong Kong and China areas. Majoring in Sports Management is helping him towards his goal. “It would be great to see more and more sports people from the area make it – ’round here we’re just a little bit behind places like the US; it would be great to help raise it.”

T.J. is already playing his part. Each summer, the HKIS all-weather field in Tai Tam is the venue for a dedicated baseball camp that passes on solid fundamentals. Now in its third year, the event brings major names over from the US for the three-day camp. Former Major League Baseball players Desi Relaford, Gary Bennett, Charles Gipson and Brian Tollberg come over to Hong Kong to take the lead. Right in the middle of the baseball camp is one T. J. Gavlik, passing on what he has learned, bringing his skills full-circle, straight back to the heart of the HKIS and Hong Kong community, putting a glove on the hand of local youngsters, just as Tim Gavlik did with his son back in grade 3.

Source:  DragonTales Summer Edition 2011