Bros before pros

It's Feb. 24, the first Sunday game of the new season at Husky Ballpark for the Washington baseball team. The sun is out, the crispness in the air is biting, and over 700 fans pack the bleachers hoping to witness Washington's first victory of the season in the friendly confines. The home team is sporting new-look Sunday uniforms - pinstriped gold pants with matching sleeveless jerseys, contrasted with purple undershirts.

Husky starter Jeff Petersen gives up a run in the top of the first to the visiting Gonzaga Bulldogs, who have already taken the first two games of the three-game series.

Up to the plate steps Washington's starting shortstop, Tila Reynolds, the familiar face who's been the anchor of the Husky infield since first arriving on the scene in 2000. In his three years with the team leading up to the 2003 season, the Liberty High product had started 158 of the 159 games he'd been involved in.

So in this, the ninth game of his senior season, Reynolds felt quite comfortable as he led off the game for the Huskies.

It didn't have to be this way, though. Reynolds had other options heading into the season. He could have easily been heading other places - like Single-A.

Eight months earlier, the Milwaukee Brewers selected the slick infielder in the 13th round of the 2002 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Tila had all summer to contemplate the biggest decision of his 21-year-old life: to sign with the professional team and forego his final season of eligibility at the UW, or to stay for one more season and have the opportunity to play with his little brother, Simi, who signed with the UW out of Skyline High and figured to play some centerfield.

"It was a hard decision, something that lasted all summer," Reynolds said. "It was all about finishing school and playing with my younger brother. I can't tell you how much that means to me to have the opportunity to play Pacific-10 Division-I baseball with my kid brother. That was a huge part of it."

Simi, an athletic centerfield with extraordinary range who doubles as a walk-on cornerback for Rick Neuheisel's football team, appreciates how much his older brother values the opportunity to play together.

"It's been awesome," said Simi, "having my older brother out there showing me the ropes has made it a lot easier for me."

He says the advice Tila has given him has already begun to pay off.

"He let me know before the season started that the coaches look at your body language and it's not what you do when you are going after a ball in the outfield, it's what you do to get the ball in or what you do after the play," Simi said. "If you make a mistake, they want you to learn from it. He taught me that you've got to move on because you can't be successful if you dwell on it. It's the 10-second rule. You've got 10 seconds to be mad about it, then you've got to move on."

On this Sunday, Simi bats ninth and considers himself a second-leadoff hitter, batting in front of Tila once the order flips over. Life couldn't be better for the two of them.

Tila understands there is no guarantee that he'll get drafted as high as the 13th round again following this season. Though rated as the No. 9 senior college player in the country by Baseball America heading into the season, injuries can occur, slumps do happen and nothing is ever quite certain in the world of baseball (other than uncertainty).

He found that out the hard way last year on the day of the Major League Amateur Draft, when he and his fellow teammates sat in the same house as phones rang off the hook with teams from all over America on the other line. Tila, who was told by baseball draft experts that he'd go somewhere from the third through sixth round, slid all the way to the 13th. Tyler Davidson, the team's right fielder in 2002, went in the eighth to the New York Mets. Several others - Jay Garthwaite, Bryan Johnson, Tyler Shepple, and Shawn Kohn, went in the next eight rounds after Reynolds.

"That's the risk I'm willing to take," said Tila of his draft status for 2003. "I figure that I'm young right now, I'll just take care of school and focus on getting to the next level."

So here in late February, with his former teammates in the stands and due to report to Arizona and Florida for minor league spring training camps, the oldest Reynolds brother remains in the purple and gold. On this day, he goes 3-for-4 and is a vacuum cleaner at shortstop all game long. The Huskies prevail, snapping the skid, using a style of play that Reynolds' calls "little ball."

With offensive stars Garthwaite and Davidson gone, the fourth-year senior knows his Husky team is going to need to play this way in order to be successful.

"We lost a lot of punch in our offense," admitted Tila. "We have to work on executing and playing small ball. It all boils down to pitching and defense."

And though Tila doesn't pitch, nothing gets him more excited than defense. As the greybeard in the UW infield, he knows the team will depend on his play all season long in the six-hole.

"When it comes to making a diving stab or a web gem, that's my deal," he said. "I love defense."

That's a quality that must run in the family because Simi holds defense equally as close to his heart.

"I love diving and making plays because your pitchers like you," the freshman said. "You save runs that way. Nobody is going to pick you up at your position. You've got to do it. We are the last line of defense out there."

In the early going, Simi has gotten a bad dose of sharp liners and diving "knuckleballs" hit to him in center. He's been given the title that Ken Griffey Jr. did in his early days with the Mariners as "the guy who can get to balls that others can't get to, but doesn't always make the play." It's been a learning experience for the freshman, but when it's gotten tough he's had the perfect person to turn to - his brother.

Tila says he's enjoyed being there for his little brother, No. 8 in center.

"I've talked to him a lot," he said. I've told him it's all about controlling your brain. This game is tough, it's all about failure. In high school the competition is not that strong and you are the top dog. Then, when you come here and you face this level of pitching, you're going to strike out. You're not going to get hits every time. I try to have him understand that."

Just getting the rare chance to suit up with his own flesh and blood makes every day a joy, says Tila.

"It's awesome man. Just looking over my shoulder, he's there in centerfield. We know each other. I know where he's going to be, I know his speed. We know where to crash on the ball.

"Growing up with him, we always played. I know his nuances of the game, and he knows mine."

The only thing left for No. 3 - in a perfect world - would be a chance to head to Nebraska for the College Baseball World Series.

Tila wastes no words when describing this as his one goal in his final season at Montlake.

"I want to go to Omaha," he said. "I feel bad for last year. Sean White and I are the seniors, and we have a lot of unfinished business here."

No matter what transpires in the coming months, the magic of two brother together in one lineup make one thing certain.

The pros can wait. Top Stories