Travis Wyman roams Yellowstone Park after pitching to Tony Gwynn

Seymour grad played Division I baseball at San Diego State before wildlife service career

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Former San Diego State pitcher Travis Wyman suited up for duty at Yellowstone National Park.

In the movie Major League, Tom Berenger’s character tells Charlie Sheen, “That ball wouldn’t have gone out of a lot of parks.”

The wild Cleveland Indians pitcher replies, “Name one.”

After a pause, Berenger answers, “Yellowstone.”

For Seymour graduate Travis Wyman, art imitates life. After playing baseball for the San Diego State Aztecs, Wyman now tranquilizes bears that wander onto his children’s high school football field.

As a wildlife biologist in Yellowstone National Park, Wyman can tell a tourist exactly why there are signs reading ‘Don’t feed the bears.’ He specializes in grizzly and black bears. Among other species he works with are wolves, bison and elk.

“Bears are my day job,” Wyman said. “Two-thirds of my work is conflict resolution, trapping and trans-relocating bears to other parts, but it’s mostly prevention, keeping humans and bears away from each other so they don’t hurt each other.”

Education is the most effective deterrent. Rangers have also installed bear-proof campground boxes for people to properly dispose of food without wildlife getting a taste.

Right now, Wyman is performing research, tranquilizing and capturing black bears and attaching satellite radio collars for population estimates.

“We do a lot of monitoring,” he said. “I fly in fixed-wing Piper Super Cubs—we call it bear hunting—flying around and trying to find bears from the air. The Super Cub is the catchall for wildlife service, because they go really low and really slow—which my mom hates.”

Wyman also flies in a few other styles of aircraft, including helicopters. He listens to radio signals from the sky to attempt to locate animals with tags.

Wyman was one of 24 graduates in the 1990 class of Seymour Community High School. Born and raised for the first 12 years of his life in San Diego, he went from attending one of the biggest districts in California to one of the smallest in Iowa.

Human error

The former pitcher has been working fulltime with grizzlies since 2001, but he started at Yellowstone in 1991 during summers away from San Diego State.

He deals with aggressive bull elk in the fall during the mating rut. The elk charge vehicles, and it is Wyman’s job to get in the middle.

Most of it is prevention. Wyman has shot many a bear with rubber bullets and bean bags.

“I do a lot of wildlife mobilization and handling—bears, elk and bison are the ones I handle the most.

“I spent 15 years doing a study with wolves, bison and grizzly bears. It was all winter camping, skiing in and living remotely in snow caves doing observational studies.

“I’ve had to deal with human fatalities and bears. It’s something that sticks in my mind.

“It’s a human error issue. Once bears eat the food, someone can get hurt.”

One of Wyman’s proudest moments was seeing the grizzly bear delisted last year as an endangered species for the first time since 1973.

Wyman lives just outside of Emigrant, Montana, about a half an hour away from where he works in Mammoth Hot Springs, the headquarters of Yellowstone.

Wyman and wife Becky have three children. She works for the National Park Service in concession management.

Their oldest son Chase attends Montana State University. The family once lived in Gardiner, right on the border with Wyoming and Yellowstone, and that’s where their younger children, 11-year-old Parker and nine-year-old daughter Marley, attend school. Wyman is an enthusiastic fan of musician Bob Marley.

His children attend a school smaller than Seymour’s. They have been skiing since they were three years old.

“They can do things I can’t,” Wyman said, laughing. “I’ll say, ‘Don’t do that while I’m watching, please.’ If you don’t embrace winter in Montana, it’ll catch up to you.”

The family lives halfway between the equator and the North Pole at around 7,000 feet above sea level. Wyman skis over 500 miles every winter. If there is a mountain near him—and there are several—he must ski up it. In the summer, he walks over 500 miles while hiking.

“The school actually has ground on Yellowstone Parkland. They get to experience buffalo and elk grazing on their football field. I’ve had to go down and deal with bears at the school.”

Wyman also coached Gardiner’s basketball team for four years, leading his athletes to the Montana State Tournament twice. It reminded him of small school competition in Iowa; however, the distances between towns in Montana is greater. Bus rides could last four hours one way, and he would get home from games at four in the morning.

“I always say, if you come to Montana, be prepared to drive.”

Four sports

Yellowstone has been a family affair for several generations. Wyman’s grandparents on both his mother’s and father’s side worked there and at Grand Teton National Park. It was a Naval family as well, dating back to World War II, which centered them in San Diego.

Wyman came to Iowa when his mother Evelyn married his stepfather Robert Jackson, who now owns the bison herd north of Promise City. Evelyn became the nurse for the Wayne Community School District.

After retiring as the flight director at Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines, his mother has lived in France for several years.

Before moving to Iowa, Wyman attended a large school in San Diego.

“I didn’t like it at first, but to be honest, it was the best thing I ever did,” Wyman said of attending Seymour. “It gave me another perspective to go to a small school. You get a lot of opportunity.”

The only sport Wyman played in California was baseball. A student must make the cut. At Seymour, he was a four-sport athlete.

“I probably wouldn’t have made a team in anything when I was younger. I’d never picked up a basketball until I moved to Iowa. Especially in my high school years at Seymour, I had some really good coaches. Rich Choponis was my baseball coach since I was 12-years old. The best thing Choponis made me do was go out for track. Not that I was any good at it, but track and running creates strength and endurance—it’s the best thing any kid could do. You don’t have to be good, you just have to show up. It made me a lot better basketball player, for sure.”

“Wyman was the best pitcher to ever wear a Warrior uniform,” said Seymour Mayor Caleb Housh. “He struck out 21 in a seven inning game. He is a great guy as well.”

In Babe Ruth League, Wyman played with Chris Street when the future Iowa Hawkeye basketball star was still attending Mormon Trail.

A key factor in Wyman’s early life was Francisco Pepin, who was his basketball coach at Seymour his senior year. Pepin played on the Puerto Rican Olympic team and suited up for a few semiprofessional clubs.

Recruiters

“I got really good at basketball,” said Wyman. “One of my friends, Tyson Pershy, was one of the most talented guys I’d been around. Individuals like that pushed me to be better. I actually could’ve played basketball and baseball at Briar Cliff University.”

Pepin had arranged a scholarship deal for Wyman, as Pepin was moving on to coach there. As well, Graceland University wanted Wyman to play football.

When Iowa State still had a baseball team, coached by Bobby Randall, an unknown assistant recruited Wyman out of high school.

“I had my eyes set on it,” Wyman said. “They sent me stuff starting my junior year, probably from one of their recruiting guys, and I decided to visit. I went and talked to Randall—he was a real cuckoo. He said because of the smaller type of school I was coming from I’d never make that team.

“I said, ‘Okay, then why did you recruit me?’ He had no idea. He’d never even heard of me.

“If not for Randall, I would have played for the Cyclones.

“Years later after I’d done my thing, I was at Iowa State and I was playing pickup basketball. I ran into Coach Randall, and I let him know what I’d been doing the past four years.”

Wyman could brag, because he had walked on for the powerhouse San Diego State Aztecs in his hometown. After his pitching career was over in 1994, Wyman transferred and became a wildlife biology major at Iowa State University.

“I wanted to play Division I,” said Wyman. “I made the team immediately at San Diego State. I was a starting pitcher in college.

“When I told my teammates I graduated from a class of 24 students, it blew their minds. They thought it was hysterical. Most of those kids were from big schools—a lot them were from Oregon and the San Francisco Bay area.

“I didn’t finish my senior year because I blew up my arm. I have never quit anything in my life, but at that point I had so many other interests. It was a fulltime job and I felt like I was missing out on things. My only break was going to Yellowstone Park in the summer, which was a risk, because every other ballplayer at San Diego State went into a summer league.”

Ironically, many of the athletes traveled to Clarinda to play in the offseason.

“The coach said he could redshirt me. I think he liked me. I gave myself a B average in college baseball. I hustled. That was the ethic I got coming from high school. I worked hard.”

Wyman also got the opportunity to pitch to the late Tony Gwynn, a San Diego State alumnus, San Diego Padre for his entire pro career, and a Hall of Famer who was the last player to almost bat .400 for a season. Gwynn was too much for Wyman as a pitcher.

“I was very humbled when I threw batting practice to Mr. Gwynn. It let me know I’d never play in the Major Leagues. That guy, I’d never seen anything like it. I even tried to put a little sugar on it, and he could still hit in anytime, anywhere he wanted.

“He’d come give us pep talks and hang out and work out with us. He was born and raised in San Diego and played his entire career there. I shook his hand and got to throw the ball to him.”

After retiring from baseball, Gwynn became head coach for the Aztecs.

San Diego alums Mark Grace and Craig Nettles also returned for Spring Training workouts, as did Roberto Alomar, who played for the Padres before winning two World Series titles with the Toronto Blue Jays.

“Looking back on it, college athletics was a great experience, but I don’t know if I’d do it again,” said Wyman. “I say that now because I’m older and wiser. I actually talked my oldest boy Chase out of playing college sports. It’s totally time consuming. Academically, I was only a sophomore after four years. I didn’t complete most of my courses because I was playing ball.

“In college, baseball wasn’t like it used to be.”

Since graduating from high school, Wyman has not been back to Seymour. He has not yet visited his mother in France, either. Time gets away, and Wyman has always been a busy man, whether it’s getting lit up by Tony Gwynn or shooting bears with beanbags while listening to Bob Marley.