STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - An observer as intrigued as any watched the second game of Mississippi State’s baseball series against Vanderbilt from a hotel room in Minneapolis nearly 900 miles northwest of Hawkins Field in Nashville.
Yeah, that’s right.
A pitcher whose Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Minnesota Twins earlier that afternoon on April 24 had rooting interest in the matchup pitting the hottest starting pitcher in college baseball at the time against a Mississippi State sophomore with aspirations of becoming just that.
The MSU sophomore was Will Bednar. The Pirate in the hotel room was David Bednar, Will’s older brother. Will pitched five innings with eight strikeouts and one earned run. The Bulldogs lit Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter up for four earned runs in his five innings.
Mississippi State beat Vanderbilt. Will beat Leiter, who suffered his first loss of the season. And David didn’t miss a pitch. He never does.
Whether he’s watching from an airport, a bus, a training table in the Pirates’ clubhouse or wherever else life as an MLB pitcher takes him, David watches every one of Will’s starts. He’s seen Will go 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 43 innings.
“I’m just super proud of everything he’s accomplished so far and will accomplish going forward,” David told the Clarion Ledger. “It’s beyond cool to see what he’s doing now and what everyone thinks he’s capable of doing in the future.”
Mississippi State pitcher Will Bednar has 67 strikeouts in 43 innings this season. The sophomore has a 4-1 record with a 3.14 ERA.
Right back at you, big brother. Will has seen David enter a game in the seventh inning or later in 10 of his 13 relief appearances, managing a 2.31 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.
“It’s really cool to have him as a role model,” Will said. “I’m really appreciative to have someone like him to pick his brain about all kinds of baseball stuff. It’s been really good for me.”
‘YOU CAN’T SCRIPT IT ANY BETTER THAN THAT’
The Bednar brothers were born into baseball. Their father, Andrew, learned to love the game from his dad. Andrew pitched at Cornell for four years. He’s been a high school coach for the last 22.
He coached David, 26, and Will, 20, at Mars Area High School just north of Pittsburgh.
“I probably wouldn’t be playing baseball without him,” Will said.
Andrew’s dedication to his sons has helped them as much as anything else. Will pitched against Kentucky on Friday, April 2. Andrew and his wife, Sue, drove from Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday to get there. Then they drove all day Saturday to Chicago to watch David pitch against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday.
Will had a season-high 10 strikeouts in six innings. David pitched a scoreless eighth inning in relief. Hundreds and hundreds of miles on the road, 21 combined outs from their sons, a win and a loss and one priceless extended weekend for the Bednar family.
All built around baseball.
“You can’t script it any better than that,” Andrew said.
‘WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?’
Or maybe you can script it better than that.
Will won’t ever forget what happened Jan. 19. Neither will David. Or Andrew, or any other Bednar.
“One of my buddies I hadn’t talked to in awhile texted me and said, ‘Hey, David to the Pirates?’” Will said. “I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Sure enough, I go on Twitter and see he’s in that (Joe) Musgrove trade. We were all going crazy, and we were all super excited.”
David was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 35th round in 2016. He worked his way through the minors and made his MLB debut on Sept. 1, 2019. He appeared to have a future with the Padres.
Then he was dealt to the team he grew up rooting for.
“Each day it kind of gets cooler and cooler,” David said. “Every time putting that jersey on is just unreal.”
Andrew thought back to watching David pitch in Low-A minor league baseball in Lake Elsinore, California, and in High-A in Pasco, Washington. What a grind. Now David can drive 20 minutes south to watch his son at PNC Park.
“It’s just completely surreal,” David said.
‘YOU HAVE TO KEEP A LEVEL HEAD’
Will knows how special it is for David to pitch for the team they rooted for together as kids. He knows how special it is for David to pitch in the MLB, period.
That’s a dream Andrew had but was admittedly not good enough to attain. It’s more than attainable for Will. Much more so than it was for David, even.
“In high school did I think he was going to pitch in the big leagues? You always hope that in the back of your mind, but we were just hoping to get a Division I scholarship,” Andrew said of David.
He got that scholarship. He pitched three seasons at Lafayette College, which isn’t exactly Mississippi State. David’s college ballpark had a capacity of 500. Over 15,000 fans were at Dudy Noble Field when MSU hosted Ole Miss in 2014. There have been over 13,000 fans in attendance 15 times in the stadium’s history, including last month against Ole Miss.
Will is playing at a place that pumps pitchers into the majors at an accelerated pace, but he observed every step his brother took to get there along a much more unlikely path.
Neither takes that for granted.
The two bounce advice off each other all the time, often chatting while playing “Call of Duty” on Xbox. After Will allowed six runs and seven hits in three innings in a deflating loss to Ole Miss last month (yes, in front of 13,388 folks), he turned his Xbox on.
“I really hated every second of doing bad in that outing,” Will said. “But after the game, I talked to David, and he basically said you can be mad about it today, but tomorrow you forget about it, keep working hard and get ready for the next week. You have to keep a level head.”
LIKE BIG BROTHER, LIKE LITTLE BROTHER
Andrew calls David Will’s “guiding hand.”
David is always there for Will, but there have been times in the duo’s journey as pitchers when the one in the majors can’t relate to the one still in college.
David wasn’t Andrew’s go-to pitcher at Mars Area until his junior year. Will became that guy as a sophomore and was gassing fastballs at 95 MPH as a junior.
“He was definitely busting Dave up a lot about that,” Andrew quipped.
David didn’t commit to Lafayette until late October of his senior season. Will committed to Mississippi State, fresh off a College World Series appearance and a few months away from another, in September of his junior season. Andrew said Will was “head and shoulders anybody else” at Mars Area by then.
David is even the first to admit Will is a better “Call of Duty” player than him.
“And it’s not even close,” David laughed. “I’ve got team morale, though.”
That last part, whether David knows it or not, is enough for Will. Younger brother might throw harder than big brother. He might have a wider range of pitches to choose from. Those pitches might perplex opposing batters more than big brother’s do.
But younger brother is still trying to end up where big brother is: on the mound at Wrigley Field and PNC Park and wherever else he’s called to come out of the pen.
There will be plenty of Xbox chats between now and when it’s Will’s time to toe the rubber at such venues, but David believes his brother is well on his way.
“Just being able to see me in the majors and see that it is possible and it’s a very real thing to achieve makes him push a little bit harder,” David said.
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