If L.D. Bell baseball coach Paul Gibson gets feelings of déjà vu this season, it’s understandable.
In 24 seasons at the helm of the Blue Raiders, it’s not been uncommon for siblings to come through the program, either at the same time or following another. However, this season he has six players on the varsity and three on the junior varsity whose older brothers were previously a part of the program.
“I remember these siblings running around, coming to camp, coming to games, and now here they are playing for me,” Gibson said, adding with a laugh, “It makes me feel old.”
The six varsity players and their alumni brothers are:
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▪ Senior first baseman Ryan Kidwell. Brother Bryce, pitcher, 2014 graduate, now in the Army.
▪ Senior outfielder/pitcher Matt Maher. Brother Will, 2015 graduate.
▪ Senior first baseman Creighton Driggers. Brother Patrick Kennedy, 2005 graduate, played for Tufts University from 2005-2009.
▪ Junior outfielder/pitcher Jacob Rose. Brother Caleb, 2014 graduate, outfielder.
▪ Junior outfielder/pitcher Blake Empkey. Brother Taylor, 2012 graduate, catcher/outfielder, played at Eastfield College and LeTourneau University.
▪ Junior catcher Grant Plunkett. Brother Zach, 2014 graduate, catcher, playing at Arkansas after transferring from TCU.
The three JV players and their older brothers are:
▪ Sophomore shortstop/second baseman Dylan Herd. Brother Logan, 2015 graduate, shortstop/pitcher.
▪ Freshman Colin Ruby. Brother Ben, manager of 2014 team.
▪ Freshman catcher Landry Choate. Brother J.R., 2016 graduate, outfielder.
“They converted me to the outfield, so I went to him for advice,” Jacob Rose said of his brother. “I remember his junior year, when he finally got to start in the 2013 playoffs. He started all through the playoffs and it continued through his senior year.”
Blake Empkey said he vividly recalls his brother’s work ethic.
“He taught me to keep fighting, always strive to be the best. Our dad always talked about that, and it inspired me watching Taylor,” Blake said.
Grant Plunkett said he watched his brother to be better prepared when he arrived to the Bell high school program.
“Whenever I’d watch him play, I was analytical,” Grant said. “I learned how he handled the small things. I paid so much attention to the little things, I knew a lot more when I got here.
“He caught pretty much all his life, and by watching him, I knew I’d move into that role.”
Gibson said one of the perks of having an older brother who has come through the program is the younger siblings know what to expect when they join the team. Matt Maher confirmed that.
“It’s definitely less nerve-wracking,” he said. “Every time a fresh face comes into a program, there are a lot of questions, but having watched him I knew more about what was expected of me.”
Dylan Herd said he remembers watching his older brother pitch and the excitement he felt.
“I loved watching him on Friday nights pitching a big game,” he said. “I like following in my brother’s footsteps.
“He’d tell me things about the coaches, what I should expect and what kind of effort is expected to battle for a starting spot. It really helps having him come through the program first.”
Though J.R. Choate opted not to play in college, Landry Choate said his older brother encourages him to go farther and earn a college scholarship. Landry said they have always been close, even attending camps together.
“I was basically his little shadow, following him around,” Landry said with a smile. “He is a great big brother. I remember how hard he worked, and when we work out now he pushes me almost to the brink — and that’s good.”
Gibson said he does not compare the siblings. Ultimately, their success comes down to their own individual talents.
“They have to turn the experience into their own,” he said.
Gibson said he loves seeing siblings follow their older brothers into the program for a variety of reasons. It shows family unity. It is indicative of the success of the Bell program. And, he takes it as a personal compliment.
“I think that’s indicative they enjoyed their time here,” he said. “And their younger brothers could see [that].
“It was really neat to see this many younger siblings this season.”