Paul Valencia: Rivals inside lines, but brothers always

Commentary: Paul Valencia

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The game was out of hand and Fort Vancouver baseball coach Bryce McGrew was already on edge, watching his team struggle in a Thursday game against Hudson’s Bay.

Standing next in the coach’s box next to third base, one of his players hit a hard grounder toward the bag. The ball either bounced just outside of the bag or over the bag. The umpire ruled foul ball. Bryce McGrew called foul on the call, believing the ball went over the bag.

It is not a stretch to say most people in attendance that day thought the ball was fair.

Except for the umpire.

Oh, and maybe one more guy.

“Clearly foul,” Ben McGrew said after the game, trying -- and failing -- to mask a smile. “Clearly foul.”

Of course, Ben McGrew just might have had an entirely different perspective on the play as the head coach of the Hudson’s Bay Eagles.

Raised in Vancouver, growing up next to the family of legendary coach Curt Daniels, the McGrew brothers lived baseball. Three years apart -- Ben is 32, Bryce 29 -- the two have never been on the same team; yet they never really had to face each other, either.

Until now.

So last Thursday, it was a big event for the McGrew family.

Mom and dad -- Becki and Sparky -- were there, as well as a grandmother and cousins. They were there to watch the first of what they all hope will be many brother-vs.-brother coaching confrontations. Ben took the 1-0 lead when the Eagles topped the Trappers 13-0.

Since Bryce took over Fort’s program this school year, they knew this day was coming. Both coaches said they attempted to downplay the event with their players. After all, Bay vs. Fort is a big enough deal anyway. That rivalry does not need any extra flavoring.

“I tried all week to make it just us playing Bay,” Bryce said.

The key word there is tried.

Bryce started thinking about what head coaches do before games.

“That’s when it hit me,” Bryce said. “It’s going to be cool to shake his hand in front of home plate.”

Ben caught himself taking in the moment in the middle of the game.

“This is pretty cool,” Ben said. “My mind did wander a little bit. There was a moment of reflection in there.”

Because it was Fort’s home game, it just so happened that the Coaching McGrew Brothers had their first game against each other at the same complex they called home for Little League.

“My first opening ceremony was on this field right here,” Bryce recalled.

Three years apart is a big difference physically when brothers are young. Ben and Bryce were always in different levels of play. In high school, Ben was a senior at Hudson’s Bay when Bryce was a freshman. Bryce was not on varsity. Not only that, but the two never went to the same high school at the same time. That year, Bay freshmen attended the new Skyview campus.

Both played for Tacoma Community College, but again, at different times. Ben would eventually walk-on at Oregon State, while an injury ended Bryce’s playing career. He would end up going to Washington State.

With baseball in their blood, they both opted to go into coaching. A few years back when Ben was the head coach at Columbia River, he did face his brother when Bryce was an assistant at Skyview.

But last week was the first time the two were on the same field, on equal footing. Brother vs. Brother.

Mom wore red for Thursday’s game but promised to be in Hudson’s Bay colors the next day for the second of back-to-back tilts.

“It’s hard,” she said. “I didn’t realize it would be so hard.”

It was also so much fun. Bryce quickly got over the loss and posed for pictures with his brother. Bryce even smiled a time or two. Perhaps he knew something.

The next day, Fort Vancouver got even, taking down Hudson’s Bay 7-6.

Just like that, the brothers were 1-1 lifetime against each other.

Well, officially, anyway.

“I think we had a few more battles,” Ben said, recalling their younger days.

But nothing quite like last week’s varsity games. Two head coaches competing against each other, with mom and dad watching, making sure to not take sides.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valenciacolumbian.com.