Brothers turned rivals

Former Tiger teammates open season on opposite sidelines

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When asked if it was weird to see a former teammate in a different-colored uniform than he was in, Garret Zaskoda from Sealy High School’s class of 2019 said, “A little bit, yeah.”

“We got our own little minute there kicking it, chilling like we're boys still,” Zaskoda said of his pregame encounter with Justin Eckhardt, a member of Sealy’s class of 2018. “Once they went in and we went in and put the uniforms on, it's ‘I hate you.’”

Eckhardt, now a pitcher for the University of Texas Longhorns, and his new band of brothers made a trip to Houston for a weekend series against Zaskoda and his Rice Owl teammates to open their respective baseball seasons.

On their way from Austin to Houston, Eckhardt found a familiar stretch of road that sat right behind the practice field he toiled on for years growing up.

“We actually drove through Sealy on the way here,” he said. “I was like ‘This is where I went to school!’ I'm super proud to be from Sealy and to represent Sealy at the next level, it's a huge honor. I wouldn't be where I'm at without Sealy; it's a great place and I love it there.”

It was in that town that he created his friendship with Zaskoda. Eckhardt eventually lined up at wide receiver to catch passes from him on Friday nights before serving as the Tigers’ three-hole hitter on the diamond, eventually earning district MVP and first-team all-state outfield honors as a senior.

Zaskoda followed in his footsteps and took over as one of the aces of the Sealy pitching staff last year, leading the Tigers three rounds deep in the playoffs before being named a first-team all-district pitcher and a top-50 right-handed pitching prospect according to PerfectGame.com.

The pair of former teammates, who are now both freshman after Eckhardt used a red-shirt year to recover from Tommy John surgery last year, converged on Reckling Park in Houston over Valentine’s Day weekend. The visiting Longhorns emerged with a sweep although only Zaskoda made his debut in the series, entering the Saturday-night game for the top of the ninth.

The second pitch he threw, fellow freshman Brenden Dixon hit it over the left-field wall to make the Longhorns’ lead 4-0. Zaskoda bounced back, however, and retired the side with a flyout, a lineout and a strikeout, showing promise in his first collegiate outing.

“I thought it showed my teammates that I'm gonna try and do my job. Home runs are gonna happen, but I'm going to battle back and do what I can for the team,” Zaskoda said. “I knew it's not my first home run I've given up; it's not going to be the last so I might as well go out and try to get the next guy.”

He made his way to the bullpen in the seventh inning to warm up and mentioned there were plenty of thoughts running through his mind before his jog to the mound.

“I tried to compare it to the first time playing high school football, anything I've been through and I thought, ‘When I when it comes down to it, I'll be fine. I'll breathe through it, we'll get through it,’” Zaskoda explained. “But honestly, once I got down there and started warming up, it was kind of like an ‘Oh crap, we're here’ moment. It's either you're ready or you're not. I got a little adrenaline going said, ‘Just fill the zone, do what you can and whatever happens, happens.’

“When I was running in, it was kind of like a hype like, ‘Yeah, let's do this,’” he continued. “At the same time, it was kind of like a dream, kind of slow-motion when I'm running. I thought, ‘This is like a movie.’”

Despite the blemish, Eckhardt was similarly excited for his guy and looks forward to seeing more of him at the collegiate level.

“It's always fun seeing Garret pitch,” Eckhardt said. “It's been a while, but I'm happy for him that he got the opportunity to show out, especially in front of us, that's big time. I know his adrenaline was pumping but I'm super excited for him and the rest of the season.

“He's always gonna compete, that's one thing about Garret,” he continued. “I’m very proud of him because he's a competitor at heart and I know he's not gonna let that (home run) get the best of them. He's gonna carry that on towards the end of the season.”

Zaskoda added that although he received some ribbing for fawning over his connection to the other dugout, he enjoys his new home so far.

“I think it's cool. I mean, they always give me crap because I'm over here like, ‘Yeah I'm from a small town,’” he said. “They always call me Sealy because I'm always talking about my hometown. I'm like, ‘Hey, you can dog me on it, but I'm proud of where I came from.’

“I'm always telling them about my friend over there, that guy I know,” Zaskoda continued. “Everyone was like, ‘OK, cool, whatever; we all know those guys too.’ You know what it's special to me, he's my friend from my hometown.”

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