In the fifth inning of Friday night’s game at Wrigley Field, Pirates outfielder Cole Tucker knocked a single to center and slid into second base for his first steal of the season. As so often happens with Tucker, his batting helmet popped off his head and skittered across the infield dirt.
Jason Kipnis, playing second base for the Cubs, retrieved the helmet for Tucker. Maybe he was just returning the favor. When Kipnis was named the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year as a star at Arizona State University, Tucker was one of the team’s batboys.
“It was funny because my helmet fell off, because it always does, and he ran and picked it up for me and tossed it to me,” Tucker said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s such a full-circle thing for me,’ because I used to grab his bats and helmets and stuff and anything he ever wanted. Now, he’s grabbing my helmet. So look how far we’ve come.”
Tucker came to be a batboy for the Sun Devils through a connection to then-ASU coach Pat Murphy, who is now the Brewers’ bench coach. Tucker’s younger brother, Indians prospect Carson Tucker, grew up playing baseball with Murphy’s son, Kai. So when Murphy needed batboys for his team, he recruited Tucker, Carson and Kai for the job.
“I remember it all pretty vividly because I was in middle school and baseball-crazy and impressionable and all that,” Tucker said. “He was just the coolest guy ever and he raked, and he was super nice to all us little kids running around. It’s nice to see how much success he’s had. We stayed in touch over the years, so it’s pretty cool to be playing against him now -- except when he hits balls over my head in right field.”
Kipnis did exactly that on Friday night, hitting his first homer for the Cubs over Tucker’s head and into the right-center-field seats at Wrigley Field. Kipnis admitted that sharing a field with his former batboy made him feel a little older than his 33 years.
“He's an awesome kid. He's going to have a bright career ahead of him,” Kipnis said. “It just makes you feel old a little bit, but it's really fun to watch something like this. Some other guys you know, their dreams play out, too.”
They caught up before Friday’s game, speaking from a distance in center field during batting practice.
“Pretty cool, full-circle, however-many-years-later story,” Tucker said.
Friday night was the first time those two met up in the Majors, but not the first time they reunited. Last April, Kipnis was on a Minor League rehab assignment with Cleveland’s Triple-A Columbus affiliate as they played Pittsburgh’s Triple-A Indianapolis club. Kipnis asked Jake Elmore, a teammate at Arizona State, to confirm what he thought he saw.
“I recognized the hair and I turned around and I'm staring at the board, almost even missed a pitch. I'm like, 'Tucker, Tucker...' I was like, 'Why is this standing out?'” Kipnis said. “And he gets to like second base and it clicked right away. I started laughing and I was like, 'Oh my God, come meet me afterwards, because I want to talk to you.'”
“Kipnis was like, ‘Yo! Is that Tucker? Is that our batboy?!’” Tucker added, laughing.