Just like almost every young ballplayer, Tristan Graham envisioned playing the game he loves on a major league diamond. After only his first year of junior college baseball at Northeast Texas Community College, his dream finally came true.
Graham is now looking to further his talents and career after signing a contract with the Baltimore Orioles program. “It is almost hard to describe- numb, surreal,” he said about his upcoming adventure with the professional program, “but then you realize that all of the hard work and perseverance and all the people who supported me along the way has led to this opportunity. It is the realization of my lifelong dream to play professional baseball, but I know this is also just another beginning.”
Graham started playing baseball at the age of four in his hometown of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Influenced by his father, Graham continued to play the sport throughout his childhood and high school years. Last year, he was recruited to play for the Eagles by Assistant Baseball Coach Austin Knight. Graham played right fielder for the Eagles, a team who fought their way deep into the playoffs this year. Along with the team’s post-season success, Graham was named All-Conference Freshmen of the Year, and ended the season with a total of 13 homeruns and 47 RBIs.
Graham said in many ways his time at Northeast served as a stepping-stone toward playing baseball professionally. “The mindset of the players and coaching staff was the perfect training ground for me and my goal to get drafted,” he said. “I am so thankful for being coached by Josh Stewart, Austin Knight, and Aaron Gilbreath. Their knowledge and passion for the game was something that I greatly value and feel is rare.”
The Canadian ballplayer said despite his goal of being professionally drafted in mind, his priority was to help the Eagles win and make it to the playoffs. “I tried to focus on the daily tasks at hand and also to live in the moment to learn from Stewart and Knight as much as I could,” he said. “Getting drafted was a fortunate result from that approach.”
Head Baseball Coach Josh Stewart had only one word to describe Graham. “Tristan is unbelievable,” Stewart said. “I definitely believe his best days are still ahead of him. He helped us achieve goals that we had, and he had a great season. I think he was one of our best players. He is a professional caliber player.”
The ballplayer will not be continuing his studies at Northeast this fall. “It is important for me to learn from the Orioles as much as I can through their program, which takes a full time commitment,” Graham said. “When I finally finish my career, I can always pursue and resume my academic interest for the next phase of my life.”
One thing is certain, Graham’s absence on the team will be felt. “I’m going to miss him, and I wish he would stay another year, but this new opportunity that he has is great,” Stewart said. “It’s another good story about a kid coming into the program and finding success. He loves Northeast, the faculty, his teachers and the community. Tristan and I are the same way in that he loves Northeast as much as I do.”
Knight praised Graham not only for his ball playing talents, but the personal integrity that he brought to the team. “A huge part of being successful as a program is maintaining a culture that is consistent with what you believe in. So having guys who act right and are truly talented players is just going to help the class that comes in next year and so on and so forth,” he said. “Tristan kind of set the stage for guys coming in next year, to not only try to reach the same success that he had, but know that it is possible. I think the season that he had has done a lot more than he knows. We are super appreciative that we had a chance to coach him.”
Knight said helping players reach their goals as athletes and move forward in their careers highlights a sure strength in the baseball program. Since Stewart’s arrival at Northeast, the program has been a viable competitor within the conference with multiple trips to the playoffs. “I think [Graham’s opportunity] says a lot about the work that Coach Stewart has done since he got here,” Knight said. “I think the program has improved ever since he came, and I think it shows people in this town that we are really serious about our baseball program.” The assistant coach said having players like Graham come throughthrough the program helps the coaching staff recruit talent and represent the college well.
It is apparent to his former coaches that Graham’s fortune will not only affect his life greatly, but the Northeast baseball program that gave him a chance. “Coming to NTCC was a great fit for me. My teammates shared a similar experience being away from home, focused on baseball, working on our skills and taking advantage of everything the program offers us as players and people,” Graham said. “I will be forever grateful to the NTCC coaching staff and community.”