Originally Published: Feb 19, 2010 2:41 PM CDT
STILLWATER, Oklahoma -- There are days when Tyler Lyons allows himself to think how different life could be if he hadn't decided to pass on a six-figure contract offer from the New York Yankees.
Instead of being the leader of Oklahoma State's rotation heading into his senior season, he'd be collecting a paycheck and working his way toward the majors with the organization that won the World Series last year.
"It was a lot of money for a 21-year-old without a degree or anything else, and there's times this year when I don't have any money and I would have liked to sign," Lyons said. "I'd go buy whatever I wanted.
"It was tough then but for the most part, I think when I get through this year, I think I definitely am going to benefit from it. That's kind of what I try to focus on. There's times I wish I had some money."
Lyons' return keeps the Cowboys from losing all three pitchers from last year's starting rotation. Andrew Oliver and Tyler Blandford signed pro contracts after being drafted in the first five rounds, but Lyons couldn't come to terms with the Yankees and he decided to come back for one more season at OSU.
The left-hander, who was 12-2 as a sophomore, went 7-6 with a 4.07 ERA last season while dealing with elbow problems. He was the winning pitcher in OSU's opening victory against Alabama in the NCAA tournament and came back on two days' rest to start again as the Cowboys were eliminated by Clemson in the regional final.
His Cowboys, who were 34-24 last year, open this season Saturday against Oklahoma Christian.
"I'd say I'm stronger right now, before even our first game, than I was for 75 percent of last season at least," Lyons said. "That's where I am now, so hopefully I can build off of that and come Big 12 play and late in the season, I'll be at my peak performance."
Had Lyons turned pro, Oklahoma State would have been without a trio of pitchers who started 44 of the team's 58 games last season. Instead, he'll provide an experienced arm at the front of coach Frank Anderson's rotation.
"Anybody you can get somebody like Tyler Lyons back, it's only going to boost your team that much because he's a serious competitor and he's going to go out there every Friday or Saturday -- whichever day he pitches -- and you know you're going to get his best," shortstop Tom Belza said.
Belza, who hit a team-high .346 with six home runs and 52 RBIs, said he tried not to influence Lyons as the two played together in the Cape Cod League after Lyons was drafted in the 10th round.
"In the back of my mind, I was like, `Just say no. Just say no,' and I think that's how everybody was here," Belza said. "I'm sure Frank was doing the same thing. It's great to have him back."
Lyons said he didn't have a good feel for how the back-and-forth negotiations would end and it wasn't until a week before school started that he considered himself 90 percent sure he'd be coming back.
Now that he's healthy again, Lyons said he's determined to improve his draft position.
"I'm not worried so much about money but getting drafted higher and in a position to set myself up for the future," he said.
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