Tommy Eveld was one injury — one dislodged helmet — from taking over at quarterback for the University of South Florida.
The year was 2012.
Eveld was a redshirt freshman and seventh on the USF depth chart. But injuries to the top five quarterbacks on the list put Eveld on emergency standby.
“I was on the sideline for the UConn game, just in shorts and a jersey, and our starter, B.J. Daniels, broke his ankle,” Eveld recalled. “They took his shoulder pads off, pulled my jersey off, put his sweaty shoulder pads on me. And they said if the helmet comes off [backup] Matt Floyd, you’re in the game.
“I’m standing there going, ‘What in the world is going on?’ I just went from not sitting in an offensive meeting all week to backup.”
That was as close as Eveld ever came to playing football at USF.
And, perhaps, that’s a good thing for the Marlins.
After injuries of his own derailed his college football aspirations, Eveld grabbed a baseball, became a pitcher and today sits in Marlins spring training camp as a late-blooming bullpen prospect who took a roundabout path to become a potential big-league reliever.
Eveld, 25, whom the Marlins acquired at last year’s July 31 trade deadline from Arizona for reliever Brad Ziegler, will likely start the season at Triple A New Orleans.
“And once you get to the upper levels, you never know,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “You could be here before you know it.”
As recently as six years ago, Eveld, who was born in Coral Springs, could have never imagined the position he finds himself in now. He had already chosen football over baseball while in high school in Tampa when the only opportunity he received was to pitch for the junior varsity team.
“And I really didn’t want to do that,” Eveld said of pitching. “I just wanted to run around, take batting practice and stuff.”
So Eveld stopped playing baseball and turned his attention to football.
Eventually, he signed at USF, where his older brother, Bobby, was also a quarterback. Eveld never played a game for the Bulls even though he tried playing wide receiver and free safety.
But after a major knee injury dealt a setback to his football dreams, Eveld formed a slow-pitch softball team with friends and family. His powerful outfield arm attracted notice.
“I was playing the outfield, throwing the ball in to home plate all the way from the warning track, and some of the guys said ‘why don’t you try baseball again?’” Eveld said.
From there, Eveld joined a wood bat league as a pitcher.
And not long after that, he showed up in USF’s baseball offices.
“I went and knocked on the coach’s door at USF and was like, ‘Hey, I want to try out for your baseball team. Can I borrow your radar gun?,’” Eveld recalled. “And he was like, ‘Who are you?”
Eveld managed to convince the coach into letting him borrow the radar gun, took it home with him, and standing on his parent’s front lawn, threw a pitch that was clocked at 89 mph.
“I just wanted to see how hard I could throw,” Eveld said. “I was just curious. I wanted to see if I could throw 90 mph or not because I heard that’s what would get you on a college team.”
Eveld eventually pitched for USF.
“Our second game we played the University of Louisville,” Eveld said. “They were ranked No. 2 in the country. I threw four innings against them, [gave up] no hits, a handful of walks, no runs. I think I had five strikeouts.”
In 2016, Eveld was taken by the Diamondbacks in the ninth round of the amateur draft and one year later posted a ridiculously low 0.33 ERA against Low A competition. When the Marlins looked to trade Ziegler last July, they asked the Diamondbacks for Eveld.
“When we were going through the process of trading Ziegler, you just want to get the highest top-end piece you think will be the most impactful,” Hill said. “We were excited to acquire him for a rental [Ziegler].”
The Marlins assigned Eveld to Double A Jacksonville, where he was used in high-leverage, late-inning situations and struck out 14 batters in 9 2/3 total relief innings.
Now he’s hoping to draw notice in Marlins spring training camp.
“He hasn’t been pitching that long, so it’s kind of a fresh arm,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He has had a lot of success. The reports we get from the competitor’s side are all good.”
Eveld doesn’t know how his story will turn out.
“It’s definitely unique, that’s for sure,” Eveld said of his path to baseball. “There’s no telling. It’s a new organization and, based on what I’ve been hearing, they want to see us all compete.”