Thistle, Braman will go from high school baseball rivals to college teammates
For Hoosac Valley's Matt Braman and Mount Greylock's Jack Thistle, a friendship that developed during weekend doubleheaders playing travel baseball is set to continue for four more years.
The speedy outfielders have decided to play together at Elmira College, in Elmira, N.Y. They also plan to be roommates.
Braman said his eventual decision to attend Elmira began last year after hearing about the school from a co-worker of his father. After researching the school and visiting it, Braman decided Elmira was where he wanted to be.
"Once I got accepted, I enrolled right away. I knew I was going, no matter what," he said. "Knowing someone going in, one of my best friends, it will be good to be a part of that and have him with [me]."
Next season will be Elmira's first fielding a baseball team. The Soaring Eagles will compete in the Empire 8 Conference. Both players said they fell in love with the campus, but that the possibility of early playing time was also enticing.
Head coach Corey Paluga said he wants to create a competitive culture for his first-year team.
"It's going to be an open competition for playing time right away," he said. "We want to create healthy competition within the team, to have individuals push for playing time as early as their freshman year."
"I spoke to Coach Paluga [during the visit] and found that connection," Thistle said. "Their field seats about 4,500. That excited us, too. It's a great opportunity to maybe play right off the bat, learn and get better."
Braman and Thistle won't be the only pair of recruits joining the Elmira team next season with experience playing together. Paluga said he's bringing in recruits from New Jersey and Washington that also played together in high school and on travel teams.
Paluga said recruiting players that are familiar with each other is not, however, a main focus.
"It was a coincidence, but it's a positive when it presents itself to recruit teammates," he said. "It helps with continuity and the comfort factor, especially when kids are going further from home. When they already know some of their teammates, it helps from a personal and athletic standpoint."
Thistle and Braman's time playing AAU baseball together for the Berkshire Americans opened their eyes to playing in the same outfield. Both are center fielders for their high school teams, but they believe they have the chemistry to play well together at the next level.
"We know how fast we are, who is going to get to what ball and when to back each other up," Braman said. "We have the trust and chemistry to make the plays that need to be made."
Greylock baseball coach Steve Messina, who was also an outfielder in college, said good chemistry between outfielders is crucial.
"Chemistry is huge in any sport," he said. "There is some level of chemistry the outfielders need to have, but it develops on a personal level. Once they understand and get to know each other, they can know what the other person is doing."
Messina added that he became great friends with his left fielder in college, and they remain friends to this day.
The bond between Braman and Thistle was strengthened last summer by the four-hour drive they made together to Elmira. Braman said they had a lot of time to talk baseball.
Although the drive and living together are different situations, they said being roommates should only increase their friendship. However, Thistle said the idea of rooming together wasn't part of a master plan.
"We came up with it on the spot," he said. "I'd rather live with a friend than a stranger. It's reassuring to know I'll be living with a friend."
This spring, however, they are rivals. Thistle's Mounties beat Braman's Hurricanes 1-0 early this season. Both hope to lead their teams to a Western Mass. berth. Once their high school careers are over, they know college baseball will represent an exciting new chapter in their friendship.
"We'll become much closer in college," Thistle said. "Coll ege is when you really reach the transformation from a boy to a man. It'll be cool to live that with Matt."
When they do become teammates, there will likely be some smack talk about their time spent playing against each other in Berkshire County. Thistle has bragging rights over Braman -- for now.
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