For two local eighth-grade boys, college may seem to be a long way off, but it's not too soon to make a prediction about which schools they might attend. According to their baseball pitching coach, Tim Wyatt, "Both of these boys are destined for Division I schools."
There is a qualification, he adds: "They've got to keep up their work ethic, make good grades - and stay away from the girls."
Zachary Reeder, 14, and Chandler Jenkins, 13, friends on and off the field, have demonstrated exceptional talent in the sport almost from the time they began playing at the T-ball level.
According to his dad, Gary, Zach didn't think much of the sport when he began playing T-ball in East Lincoln at 6. However, he moved in one year from coach pitch to kid pitch, a transition that usually takes two years. At 8, he was playing kid pitch with 9- and 10-year-old boys, pitching and catching. "I live for the sport of baseball," says Zach, who describes himself as a B average student at North Lincoln Middle School.
Chandler, 13, attends West Lincoln Middle School, where he is a straight-A student. He began playing T-ball at the ripe old age of 4 in Boger City. After a year of coach pitch, he moved to age 9-and-under travel ball with the Carolina Copperheads, playing 1st base and outfield before moving into pitching.
His dad, Keith, recalls that at his pre-school graduation, when he was 4, Chandler stood up in front of all the other kids and said, "When I grow up, I want to play baseball for the Atlanta Braves." Several years later, coming off the mound after his first time pitching, he said "Dad, I love doing this!"
The boys play two games a week, but practices are every day for an hour and a half to two hours. Weekends will find them either at the Denver Batting Center, where they have worked out for six years, or on the ball field. In the off-season, they are focused on winter workouts.
Wyatt, their coach, is an electrician and a retired pilot. He acknowledges that it may be time for Zach and Chandler to move on to another coach. "I've worked with them on balance techniques for several years," Wyatt said, "but they need to hear different things from other coaches now."
Both boys' recent pitching records are impressive. Zach, whose pitching speed is in the upper 70's, had 41 strike-outs and five walks in 19 innings over five games. He gave up only three hits, with an earned run average of 0.000.
Chandler, pitching in the low to mid 70's, had 39 strike-outs and six walks over 24 innings pitched in seven games. He gave up eight base hits, with only one earned run, for an ERA of 0.10.
Although they regularly play on the same team, they recently found themselves pitching against each other for the first time in a game at West Lincoln. Zach pitched a no-hitter through seven innings, while Chandler pitched a two-hitter. Neither one of the boys got any hits off the other during the game.
How did these two friends feel facing off against one another? "Pretty good," Chandler says, "but you don't want to know what happened the first time I batted against Zach."
Their dads, Gary Reeder and Keith Jenkins, couldn't be prouder of their sons' accomplishments on the baseball field, but they are mindful of the importance of maintaining their grades at school. After all, being an exceptional pitcher alone won't get them into a Division 1 school unless they have the grades to match. And remember to stay away from the girls.