Given a slight head start into this world on Oct. 3, 2000, in Norman, Oklahoma, Jake Brandon didn’t have a lot of time to establish sibling dominance over a twin brother hot on his heels.
“When I first found out, I was like, ‘How is that possible?’” he recalled Tuesday night. “My mom had to have a C-section, so I was a minute older. I’ve tried to use it to my advantage before, but it never works.”
And you know what they say: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Bayfield baseball is certainly glad that was the case for two boys entering their senior seasons. They’ve played together since tee-ball at age 6, and the Ripken-esque Brandon tandem is ready to again anchor the Wolverines’ up-the-middle defense, provide offense up in the batting order and also offer pitching depth should situations dictate in hopes of returning BHS to the top of the 3A Intermountain League this spring, to say nothing of avenging last year’s 11-1 postseason loss at Arvada’s Faith Christian.
“Yeah, that was kind of a disappointing way to end the season,” Hub Brandon said Wednesday morning. “So, I think that’s a little bit of motivation for us this year.”
“You never want to lose like that in the playoffs,” agreed Jake. “But we can’t change the past; we’ve just got to keep on focusing on what we can do this year, and just keep on working.”
So far during the 2019 campaign’s first official week of practice, most of that work has taken place inside BHS’ auxiliary gymnasium while other key returnees such as senior Hayden Farmer and junior Ethan Morris are still in basketball mode. But, when Wolverine Field’s keystone bag is finally unearthed from beneath recent snows, the Brandons will be there guarding both sides with pride.
“I’m thankful to be able to play up the middle with Jake for this high school team,” said Hub, who primarily plays shortstop. “That’s an honor to me.”
Jake, who plays second base, said the brothers grew up competitive with each other.
“I think that’s part of being a twin, you know? You want to be good,” Jake said. “But when we started playing baseball, we kind of found out it was our passion and we just worked on being the best we could and pushing each other.
The two have a chemistry up the middle together that should help the Wolverines’ defense this season.
“It’s easy to work with him,” said Hub, who spent the summer with his brother playing for Grand Junction-based Rocky Mountain Baseball. “I know what he’s going to do, he knows what I’m going to do, and it seems to work out pretty well.”
“I don’t know if it’s, like, a subliminal thing or if it’s just that we’ve been playing with each other so long,” Jake said. “It’s a lot easier to make a double play with him than some kids I’ve played with just because I know how he works, you know? I know where the ball’s going to be, what his footwork’s going to be, so it’s a smooth transaction.”
And the more of those made on-field, the smoother the transition back into Wolverine Country will be for new head coach Bert Miller (33-44 overall at 2A Ignacio from 2015-18) and a new-look staff including former Wolverines Clay Miller and Ryan Terry, as they prepare for a March 7 season-opener versus 4A Uintah of Vernal, Utah, at the Farmington Scorpion Invitational.
“They make the game really fun to play,” Jake said of the new coaching staff. “They obviously want to win; they’re competitive coaches, but I think that it’s going to be an upbeat year and I think we’re going to play different.”
Hub said he is excited about the nucleus of players coming back.
“I think we should be a solid team,” said Hub, who hit .433 with 20 runs, 21 runs batted in and an .862 fielding percentage a year ago. “We’ve got a good group of guys; all of us have started since sophomore year, so I think we should be pretty tough.”
Jake, who hit .241 with 12 runs and seven RBIs to go with a .907 fielding percentage, noted the team has seven returning seniors.
“So, we’ve got the experience and a really athletic group of kids coming back,” Jake said. “I think that our biggest obstacle right now is going to be the mental side of the game; I think we just need to slow it down, and I think we can do that.”
Bayfield went 10-10 overall in 2018, and finished second in the IML with a 7-3 mark. Alamosa went undefeated in league to win the title.
DID YOU KNOW Oklahoma-born and mostly Montana-raised before arriving in the Pine River Valley in March 2013, the home-schooled Brandons are known mainly by their nicknames as opposed to their actual names.
The older twin goes by his given middle name, while the younger’s sobriquet, once somewhat common in the majors, is actually a blend of sorts of his given first and middle names.
“My real name is Hayden Blade Brandon,” Hub explained. “And so when me and Jake (first name Jaren) were born, dad was calling us by our initials ‘J.J.’ and ‘H.B.’ and decided he didn’t like that. So, he called Jake his middle name ‘Jake’ and then he just ran my initials together and made ‘Hub.’”
The names have stuck all the way through their sports careers, and they’ve made baseball their focus.
“We just started playing as soon as we were old enough playing tee-ball and it took off from there,” Hub said. “I think just the challenge of baseball keeps us going; we enjoy it.”
“We really started to, like, focus on baseball when we were about 12,” said Jake. “We figured out that we really loved baseball and that’s what we wanted to do.”