QUINCY -- Anxiety gripped Tyler Clark-Chiapparelli as he made the 13-hour drive north.
Last spring was the first time he had left Round Rock, Texas, on his own, and the trip to McCook Community College in McCook, Neb., was the beginning of a tense time learning to be by himself.
"It was hard," said Clark-Chiapparelli, the infielder and pitcher who is away from home this summer playing for the Quincy Gems. "I'm not going to lie. The first month I had so many thoughts going through my mind wondering if I could do it."
The tattoos that form a sleeve around his right arm and stretch across reminded him he could. They made him think of his mother, Charlotte, and the inspiration she has become.
Miles may separate them, but the truth is she is never very far away.
A close bond
In 2005, Charlotte Clark-Chiapparelli broke her neck in a roll-over car crash. She sustained life-threatening injuries and had to be revived in the emergency helicopter when her heart and breathing stopped.
It created medical complications that still exist today. She receives daily doses of medicine from a pain pump connected to her spinal cord.
"It basically saves her life every day," Clark-Chiapparelli said.
Three years ago, Charlotte was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease where the body's immune system attacks healthy tissue. She is required to visit doctors once per week.
"It is what it is," Clark-Chiapparelli said. "She's a trooper, though. I can tell you that much."
Amazed by her perseverance and wanting to show undying support, Clark-Chiapparelli found a way to connect with his mom in a way that can't be forgotten. He decorated himself with reminders of their bond.
On his 18th birthday, Clark-Chiapparelli received his first tattoo, the one on the inside of his right wrist. It's a snapshot of his mom's heartbeat as it appeared on the monitor while she was in the hospital. Charlotte has a matching tattoo in the same spot to represent her son's heartbeat.
He has her birth date in Roman numerals, a rose -- Charlotte's favorite flower -- and a compass pointing north.
"We always say we can only go up," Clark-Chiapparelli said.
There are two eagles representing he and his mom.
"They're like her looking over me while I'm still trying to find my way," Clark-Chiapparelli said.
He's on the right path.
Despite having three years of eligibility remaining, McCook is the fourth school Clark-Chiapparelli has been accepted to or attended.
He originally earned a scholarship to play baseball at Boston College, but backed out and spent a semester at Texas State University. He transferred when the coaching staff wanted to develop him solely as a pitcher.
"I wasn't ready to give up the bat yet," Clark-Chiapparelli said. "I didn't want that."
He transferred to San Jacinto College last fall, but found it wasn't the right fit and left. That's when he crossed paths through a mutual friend with McCook pitching coach and Quincy Gems manager Pat Robles for the first time.
Robles knew he wanted to Clark-Chiapparelli on roster.
"He's a big-time gamer, and you can't teach what he has inside of him," Robles said "He's got a high motor for the game."
Robles lured Clark-Chiapparelli to McCook, but he also had to reassure the parents their son was in good hands.
That's when Robles learned of the relationship between Clark-Chiapparelli and his mother.
"He plays with that chip on the shoulder for his mom," Robles said. "She raised him right, and you can tell she's a good mother."
Finding his groove
Clark-Chiapparelli thrived this spring with the Indians.
He hit .385 in 52 at-bats while three home runs, seven doubles and 15 RBIs. On the mound, he had a 3.86 earned run average in 9 1/3 innings. That's helped him receive an offer to play at Washburn University next spring. He hopes it is his final college stop.
This time, there won't be as much anxiety when he heads to the Topeka, Kan., campus.
His family has adjusted to that, too.
"(Mom) was at first shocked her youngest was going away for school when I had offers to stay in-state," Clark-Chiapparelli said. "But I needed a new start. I needed to get away and meet new people. I needed new everything."?Such experiences are taking place this summer with the Gems.
Clark-Chiapparelli's .382 batting average is highest among Gems with more than 30 at-bats. He's hit five home runs while driving in 15 and scoring 19 runs.
His pitching stats aren't quite what he desires -- he has a 7.61 ERA in 13 innings with 10 strikeouts and 11 walks -- but he feels he is becoming more powerful on the mound. His fastball is now topping out at 92 mph.
The more progress he makes, the better his chances of playing professional baseball become.
That's the goal, and his mother is the inspiration.
"I made a promise to her I'm going to make it," Clark-Chiapparelli said. "I'm going to take care of her, no matter what."