#TGW: Brothers in Arms
Georgia Tech baseball's Jonathan King prepared to watch, maybe pitch against younger brother, Dylan, on Saturday
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
It’s easy to lose track of games during a baseball season.
After all, you play some 60 regular-season games, four in a week -- Georgia Tech actually would have played five this week if not for bad weather on Wednesday.
Yet, with all those games you never know when the game of a lifetime is going to take place.
Yellow Jackets lefty Jonathan King knows that Saturday afternoon’s game at Russ Chandler Stadium between Georgia Tech and Belmont University of the Ohio Valley Conference will be one of those games, for him and his entire household from Murfreesboro, Tenn.
In fact, the entire household is expected to be at the Rusty C to witness the first and most likely only time Jonathan and his younger brother, Dylan, will be on the same field at the same time as competitors. Dylan will be starting for the Bruins.
It’s a game in which Tech’s redshirt senior lefty knows he may not even appear as after four years of starting in which he’s 13-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 30 starts and making it back from shoulder issues that kept him out after only one start last season, as this year he’s coming out of the bullpen (he’s allowed two runs in 1.2 innings over two appearances).
Regardless, it’s a game that has put him in the position of having to choose between nuclear family and baseball family -- at least for nine innings.
It’s an issue both sons of Tracy and Kellee King have had time to think about and both view similarly.
“It’s exciting. It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to since we found out it was on the schedule,” said Jonathan. “I’m excited to watch him pitch and to watch him go up against the challenge of our offense because I know our offense is one of the best in the country. So he’s got his hands full but it will be fun to watch.”
“We've talked about it a little bit, it’s really cool. We're really excited about it,” agreed Dylan. “It's really cool that it lined up like this, especially it being his last year.”
Exciting? Sure. Fun? Maybe. Cool? We’ll see.
There’s no doubt about how Jonathan wants the game to play out. It’s a scenario that’s about as close to win-win as he can hope for.
“I hope we win and I hope we play well. I hope he makes good pitches but I hope we hit those good pitches. I hope he does everything right and I hope that we do everything better,” he said. “I think it will be a good challenge for him and a good challenge for us because he’s thrown the ball well so far this year and we’ve swung the bats really well so far this year.”
Dylan is 1-1 on the season with a 0.75 ERA, having allowed one run on 11 hits in two starts covering 12 innings. He’s overpowered opposing hitters, striking out 19 while walking two and opponents are hitting .244 against him. In his last start on Feb. 25 against Northwestern, he struck out a career-high 11, throwing 106 pitches, 72 for strikes, over six four-hit, shutout-innings in a 6-1 win.
Separated by three years, Jonathan admits he’s eager to watch his brother pitch, something he hasn’t done since seeing him in a summer game three years ago. He expects there will be a big difference between the little brother he saw then and the big man in the Ohio Valley Conference, where he’s second in strikeouts, tied for third in ERA, tied for the lead in fewest runs allowed and tied for fourth in called strikeouts (5).
“He’s definitely matured as a person and as a player,” Jonathan said. “So I’m excited to watch him pitch and to watch him go up against the challenge of our offense because I know our offense is one of the best in the country. So he’s got his hands full but it will be fun to watch.”
The Yellow Jackets should present a formidable challenge, as they’re wearing out opposing pitchers. GT enters the weekend batting .337 (fourth in the ACC), slugging .588 (second), scoring 9.8 runs per game (tied for third), knocking 12.4 hits (third), with 17 homers (second), 2.13 per game (second) and 173 total bases (second). The Jackets don’t walk much, as their 3.88 walks per game is fewest in the conference, nor do they strike out, as they’re 5.5 are third-fewest. They’ve even mixed in a speed component this year, as they are 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts -- the most of any ACC team without a CS on its ledger.
Saturday will be only the second time the King brothers have had the opportunity to compete on the same field. The only meeting was during the summer of 2012. Jonathan had just graduated from Riverdale High School, having been named Gatorade State Baseball Player of the Year, after going 11-1 with a 0.65 ERA, with 91 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 65 innings, and leading Riverdale to the Class AAA state semifinals. He also hit .398 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs with a .759 slugging percentage and a .535 on-base percentage -- all this while holding a 3.98 GPA.
All that meant little to sophomore Dylan.
So how did the mano-a-mano go?
“He broke my bat on a ground out,” Jonathan recalled. “He got the best of me that time.”
Dylan continues to hold that over big brother in a sibling rivalry that has always been very competitive.
“Absolutely, he does,” Jonathan said. “He’s always been very competitive with me.
“I think I was in middle school, I had thrown a pretty good game and one of my grandparents asked him, ‘How do you think your brother threw?’ He said, ‘Not bad, but I’m still better,’” he added, with a laugh. “There’s always been that little rivalry there but it’s helped out for the both of us.”
The rivalry has evened up over time as Jonathan’s three years in age have been overcome by the five inches (6-4 vs. 5-11) and nearly 15 pounds (215 vs. 202) he now spots Dylan.
“I can’t really beat him in basketball anymore,” Jonathan said. “Whenever I would come home for break we’d always play basketball. Every year he would have grown three inches. So eventually I just quit playing him. It quit being fun.”
Other than size, the other major difference between the two brothers is Dylan is their pitching styles. Dylan is the hulking, right-handed power pitcher, while Jonathan is the smaller crafty lefty.
“I tell everybody, ‘He got all the good genes except the left hand,” Jonathan said. “He’s the big, 6-4 righty that throws the ball pretty hard and I’ve got the left hand.’ That’s the one thing I have on him. I don’t know how it happened. He got the size. He’s the biggest person in our family, no doubt.
“I might have gotten the looks. I won’t tell him that, though,” he added, with a laugh. “It’s pretty cool to see how he’s matured and grown as a pitcher and a player over the past few years.”
Jonathan admits he had little to offer Tech’s coaching staff as far as how to hit his matured and grown up brother, but he had confidence the coaches would figure it out.
“Coach Howell asked me how he’s been throwing. It’s not like I’ve seen him throw a whole lot the past few years.” he said. “They’re doing their homework so watching film they’ll probably get more. He’s definitely not going to tell me what he’s going to do. I guess I’ll have to learn it for myself by watching him.”
There should be a pretty good group making the trip to Atlanta from Murfreesboro watching as well.
“It's neat that he'll get to see me pitch and I'll hopefully get to see him pitch too,” Dylan said. “A lot of our family is going to come down and watch. We'll get to see each other some after the games as well, which will be fun.”
There is the chance Tracy and Kellee could get to cheer on both sons, although it’s an option Jonathan hasn’t thought about.
“Hopefully our starter (Jonathan Hughes) goes out and throws the ball really well,” he said. “But if the opportunity comes I’d love to. I’d rather get the win first.”