SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers are one day hoping to see rookie left-hander Taylor Hearn pitch in the World Series.
The Calgary Stampede or the National Finals Rodeos are probably out of the question. But there was a time when that would have been Hearn’s ultimate dream.
“When I was growing up, rodeo stars were bigger than baseball stars,” Hearn said.
That’s because two of the best rodeo cowboys Hearn ever saw were his grandfather, Cleo, and father, Robby. The love of rodeo runs deep in the Hearn family and Taylor was right there with the rest of them growing up in small towns east of Dallas.
From the time he was 4 years old until he became a star pitcher at Royse City High, Hearn competed in calf roping at major rodeos not only in Texas but also across the country.
Hearn, acquired from the Pirates last summer, is in Major League camp with the Rangers because he’s part of a talented group of young pitchers who represent the future of the franchise. He's also No. 11 on Texas' Top 30 Prospects list, per MLB Pipeline. But Hearn is a native Texan and proud part of a prominent African-American rodeo legacy as well.
“I have been riding horses since I was 4 or 5 years old,” Hearn said.
His grandfather is a legend, a native of Seminole, Okla., who was the first African American to attend college on a rodeo scholarship and the first to win a major calf roping event in 1970 at the Denver National Rodeo. His Cowboys of Color is a major event at the Fort Worth Stock Show and he has a star on the Texas Trail of Fame at the Fort Worth Stockyards.
Cleo’s four sons were all into the rodeo. That includes Robby Hearn, who works as an accountant at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas but still competes in rodeo events.
“He was really good,” Taylor Hearn said. “He and my uncle Wendell were the two best I’ve ever seen. My parents stuck me on a horse when I was 4 years old and I have been riding ever since. They didn’t force it upon me, but it was something I decided was kind of fun. Plus, it was something that took my mind away from things on the weekends.”
Standard rodeo events include calf roping, bronco busting and steer wrestling. Taylor Hearn stuck to calf roping and stayed away from the busting and wrestling.
“Calf roping was safer and something I’m good at,” he said.
Baseball and other sports kept Hearn from getting too deep into the sport, but the family did travel as far as North Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska to compete in major rodeos. They were there with the great African-American cowboys that he looked up to including Cory Solomon, Bud Ford and eight-time world champion Fred Whitfield.
“I did pretty well,” Hearn said. “I remember one rodeo I went to up in Oklahoma, I was 13 or 14, probably 150 to 200 kids there. I remember I got top 10 in the last two rounds, and I think I went home with $300-$400.”
One would think that calf roping had something to do with Hearn developing a powerful pitching arm, but …
“I throw with my left arm and rope with my right arm,” Hearn said. “The best part was just meeting people. It was just like baseball, you’d see guys you knew from TV and been doing this a long time, and I’m a young kid and I’m getting to meet them. I started roping when I was 7 and didn’t stop until I was 15 of 16.”