Couldn't they have just played this thing in Chickamauga?
Childhood friends Tucker Bradley and Cole Wilcox competed for different high schools before becoming teammates at the University of Georgia, but they were in opposite dugouts again Tuesday night during a Single-A showdown in South Carolina between Bradley's Columbia Fireflies and Wilcox's Charleston RiverDogs. Tuesday's matchup in Columbia marked their first time on the same field since last year's Bulldogs were set to begin Southeastern Conference play before the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"It's a surreal feeling just to be able to play professional baseball, much less against one of the guys who's going to be in my wedding in December," Bradley said Tuesday afternoon with a laugh. "We have baby pictures together from our parents when we were growing up, and now we're facing off in different uniforms while we chase our dreams together.
"That's something you just don't really think about when you're growing up."
The Fireflies are the affiliates of the Kansas City Royals, while the RiverDogs are affiliates of the Tampa Bay Rays. The San Diego Padres drafted Wilcox in the third round last June and signed him for $3.3 million, which set a Major League Baseball record for a third-round selection, but then traded him in late December as part of San Diego's acquisition of Blake Snell.
Last year's draft was limited to just five rounds due to the pandemic, resulting in Bradley having to sign as a free agent.
Both players have enjoyed each other's early professional success entering Tuesday's encounter, with Wilcox's debut last week yielding four scoreless innings with five strikeouts. Bradley, a right fielder, hit .375 through his first three games with a double and an RBI.
"If we aren't texting every day, it's pretty much every other day," Bradley said. "We've been texting all morning, honestly, and it's been along the lines of who's coming from whose family and stuff like that. It's never baseball-related.
"We don't really talk much baseball until after the fact. We don't really talk about it, but I know what he likes to do, and he knows what I want to see from a pitcher."
Bradley and Wilcox faced each other once Tuesday, with Bradley grounding out to second base to end the second inning. Wilcox worked four scoreless innings again before being replaced in the fifth by Jose Lopez, who gave up a single to center by Bradley.
Although Bradley and Wilcox did square off during fall scrimmages in Athens, Tuesday marked their first duel in different uniforms since Bradley was a Gordon Lee senior and Wilcox a Heritage High sophomore. Bradley hit .552 during his senior season with the Trojans and also went 7-0 with a 1.12 earned run average in 50 innings pitched.
Bradley earned a spot in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" section in 2016 after hitting for the cycle and pitching a complete game against Darlington.
Two years later, Wilcox led Heritage to a 31-8 record by hitting .445 with 49 RBIs in 35 games and by racking up a 9-2 record and a 1.59 ERA with 95 strikeouts. When Bradley and Wilcox were together in Athens for a season and a half, the Bulldogs posted a 60-21 record that included a 21-9 SEC mark in 2019, which set a program record.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.