The family members, friends and casual spectators at the Little League field had no idea what they were watching at the time. New Braunfels, Texas -- a suburb on the north side of the Greater San Antonio area -- has always been a baseball town, but not exactly a traditional hotbed for Major League talent. Yet, on one spring day circa 2011, something special happened there, even if it wasn’t evident then.
Two future big leaguers, both 12 at the time, took each other deep in consecutive half-innings.
There may not be Baseball-Reference box scores for random Little League affairs that occurred in suburban Texas more than a decade ago, but there doesn’t need to be to fact check what happened that day in New Braunfels. Bryce Miller and Jordan Westburg recalled it the exact same way 12 years later as 24-year-olds.
In the third inning of a scoreless game, Westburg homered off Miller. The next half-inning, Miller homered off Westburg.
"I haven't brought that up in forever, but I still remember it," Miller recently said.
Why bring it up now? Because on Sunday afternoon, Miller and Westburg -- childhood friends who grew up in the same neighborhood, competed throughout Little League and played together at New Braunfels High School -- could face off again. Only this time, it would happen on the field at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, where Miller is scheduled to start for the Mariners in the finale of a three-game series against Westburg’s Orioles.
It would be a battle of MLB rookies, but a batter-pitcher matchup with much more history than most.
“That’s something that I think we both have thought about all the way growing up,” Westburg said. “Just like, ‘Man, we both have this dream of playing professional baseball. If we’re not on the same team, then it would be pretty cool to face each other.’”
New Braunfels High didn’t have a track record for producing big league players until recent years. Right-hander Ralph Garza Jr. became the first former Unicorn to reach MLB when he debuted for the Astros on May 29, 2021.
Three more have followed in Garza’s footsteps, each breaking into the big leagues this year: Miller (May 2), Westburg (June 26) and Royals righty James McArthur (June 28).
Westburg’s debut didn’t quite come early enough, though, for the first potential meeting of Unicorns from New Braunfels’ Class of 2017.
The Mariners were in Baltimore for a three-game series against the Orioles from June 23-25. Miller (a fourth-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft) made his 10th big league start in the middle contest, but he was hoping to see Westburg -- a 2020 Competitive Balance Round A pick slashing .295/.372/.567 for Triple-A Norfolk at the time -- show up at Camden Yards.
"I figured he was getting called up soon," Miller said. "I texted him, I was like, 'Hey, you need to get called up, like, right now.'"
Following the June 25 series finale, Miller was boarding his team’s plane headed back to Seattle when the news broke on social media: The Orioles were calling up Westburg to make his debut the next day, after the Mariners had left town.
It wasn’t the first time Miller and Westburg had something like that happen. Even though both played college ball in the SEC -- Miller at Texas A&M and Westburg at Mississippi State -- they never went head to head in an Aggies-Bulldogs matchup. However, they almost did during their sophomore year.
On May 3, 2019, Miller entered a game vs. Mississippi State with one out in the eighth inning -- but three batters too late, because Westburg was already standing at second base. He came around to score and didn’t get back up to bat until the ninth, after Miller had exited.
So Miller hasn’t pitched to Westburg in any type of competitive setting since their high school days, when the two would face off in batting practices -- and show why they had bright futures.
"I knew they had a chance to play for a while," New Braunfels High head coach Bobby Alford said. "Jordan’s work ethic is second to none. And that was Plan A, Plan B and Plan C -- 'I’m going to be in the big leagues, and if that doesn’t work out, I’m going to be in the big leagues.' He was going to force himself there, just because he works so hard.
"Same thing with Bryce, the way he takes care of his craft and what he does. ... They’re both going to leave a mark, in my opinion, in a positive way."
According to Alford, New Braunfels High School is working on installing four signs at its baseball field to commemorate the four alumni who have advanced to MLB. The ones for Miller and Westburg will serve as reminders of the practice battles they had there as classmates.
Whenever Westburg stepped in the batter’s box against Miller, the encounters were "pretty even," as Westburg remembers it. Neither got the upper hand more than the other, which only adds to the intrigue of what could happen if the two face off Sunday in Seattle.
Alford can’t be there, but he’ll be watching on MLB.TV -- and he isn’t sure what to expect.
"I don’t know who to go for. I mean, it’s a win-win. I’ll have an Orioles jersey on, and a Mariners hat," Alford said. "Bryce throws a really good fastball, and Jordan hits the fastball pretty well. Bryce’s secondary stuff is really good; Jordan is playing really well right now. I don’t know how it’s going to go. And that’s the cool part, is that, like I said, I’m rooting for both of them."
Maybe Westburg will hit a home run, just like he did against Miller 12 years ago. Or perhaps, this time, Miller will record a strikeout with his heater -- which now averages 95 mph and can even touch 98, per Statcast.
Any result will be fine with both Miller and Westburg. The opportunity for a head-to-head matchup on this stage is exactly what they’ve dreamed about since they were playing Wiffle ball together as kids in their New Braunfels backyards.
"No matter what the outcome is, whether I get him or he gets me, I don’t think either of us are going to put too much weight on that," Westburg said. "It would just be cool to reflect, see each other at our respective positions and tip the hat, smile and have that unspoken congratulations said -- and then, compete."
MLB.com Mariners beat reporter Daniel Kramer contributed to this story.