HICKORY, N.C. -- Ryan and David Ledbetter knew the chance of it happening was slim, perhaps nearly impossible.
Agents had told them over and over again that the percentage was low, that they should prepare for the worst-case scenario, just in case it didn't happen.
As they sat down for dinner on June 7, 2013, in Fishers, Ind., the mood, Ron Ledbetter said, was awkward. Anxious.
On one hand, Ron and his family wanted to celebrate their oldest son David, who had just been selected 99th overall by the Texas Rangers in the third round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. After three years at Cedarville University in southwestern Ohio, the 2013 Great Midwest Athletic Conference's Pitcher of the Year had logged onto the computer with his family by his side, just to hear his dream become a reality the second his name was uttered.
But at that same dinner table sat Ryan, David's twin brother and younger by one minute. He, too, had spent three years at Cedarville. Ryan, too, was decorated with accomplishments, leading the 2013 team in ERA and also being All-Conference. But the difference was that 10 rounds had passed and Ryan was still undrafted.
The Ledbetters began to wonder when Ryan's name would be called, and more important, if it would be by the Rangers.
As dinner began, all they could do was wait. Cling to a glimmer of hope. Pray that despite what agents had told them, David and Ryan just might get drafted by the same team and take the next step of their baseball journey together.
"That was brutal," Ryan said of the period in limbo. "I just wanted to get picked up."
He was, with the 580th pick, in the 19th round, and it was by Texas.
After 21 years of being right by each other's side, the twins wouldn't have to split. Ron let out a sigh of relief, and then he began to celebrate again -- this time with both of his boys.
"We really felt like it was God's blessing to have that happen," he said. "They draw strength from each other, and we knew going in that they probably wouldn't have the same assignments, but just to have them both drafted was overwhelming for us."
It was overwhelming in the best possible way.* * * * *
Less than 10 months later, David and Ryan sit in the front row of the Hickory Crawdads' stadium, just an hour away from game time in the Class A South Atlantic League. The sky is dark from on-and-off-again rain, the machines preparing the field and the music blaring through the loudspeakers fill L.P. Frans Stadium as the players warm up and the grounds crew puts the final touches on the field.
Neither of the Ledbetters will be pitching on a Friday night against the Greensboro Grasshoppers. David started the night before, and Ryan's still on the disabled list. In just two days, Ryan would head to the Rangers' facility in Surprise, Ariz., to rehab a wrist injury, and the two will temporarily be separated.
They recognize that now that they're in the Minor Leagues, baseball is their full-time job and that certain circumstances will require the two of them splitting up.
"We did split last year. After the Draft, I went to Spokane [Wash.]. He stayed in the [Arizona Rookie League]," David said. "We've got our own identities, I guess."
|"Having each other around is a little better because you always have the accountability and the friendship -- automatic," Ryan said. "I already know everything about him." |
|-- Ryan Ledbetter |
But together, they create their own identity. Ryan sits one seat to his brother's right, wearing a black shirt and Rangers shorts, while David wears a blue shirt and those same shorts. The 22-year-old duo recalls getting married on the same day -- Dec. 28 -- exactly one year apart. David in 2012, Ryan in '13.
They laugh about the time that Ryan missed a pop fly in center field to ruin David's no-hitter in the state championship game while playing for Indianapolis Heritage Christian High School. It would've been the first no-hitter in Indiana state championship history.
"It got in the sun. Literally, directly -- it was high and noon above us," Ryan said. "He stole some of my lunch that day. I had to miss it."
The memories start to flow. Making videos while Ryan plays guitar and they both sing to John Legend's "All of Me." Pulling twin pranks. Being the best man in each other's wedding.
Then they move on to the time that Ryan had Tommy John surgery his freshman year at Cedarville, his last pitch before the injury being a changeup that struck out David in the fall intrasquad series. A week later, David was hit by a truck while long boarding and was out for three months with an ACL tear.
"I had Tommy John surgery, and the week after, David gets hit by a truck," Ryan said.
"I couldn't let him just take all that 'Oh, I feel so bad for you' attention," David teased back.
It's a special bond that can't -- won't -- be broken, and one that each knows he can rely on to get through the days.
That and their faith are the two most important components of their lives, and David has been relying on both heavily as he's faced some unfamiliar adversity through the beginning of the season with the Crawdads.
Despite never struggling in high school or college, David is 1-2 with a 9.98 ERA in his first four starts. He needs his faith and he needs Ryan, who promises to always be there.
"Having each other around is a little better because you always have the accountability and the friendship -- automatic," Ryan said. "I already know everything about him."
He turns to David, who sits on his left and begins to smile.
"Keep battling," Ryan tells his brother. "Keep after it."* * * * *
Now that Ryan is in Arizona rehabbing his wrist and David is still in Hickory, the two hope they'll be reunited soon. Until then, they're doing everything they can to enhance their chances of moving up to the Majors, and Crawdads pitching coach Oscar Marin sees no reason why that can't happen someday.
"For myself, for the organization, I think we'd like to see them in the big leagues, just like every other kid here," he said. "You see David as a starter, a strike thrower, a competitor knowing how to pitch, moving the ball around. And you kind of see Ryan more so as a power arm in the past and showing that short relief. Both of them, they have that same drive."
Ron Ledbetter believes his boys have what it takes to become great baseball players, but more important, even better people. He points to the day both David and Ryan came back from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where Ryan gave his brand new glove to a young child, and David gave his new one to Ryan because his older one was still in fair condition.
As for the twins, they know that moving up at the exact same time is unlikely, but they promise to support each other regardless of what happens.
"If he moves up, I'm always happy for him," Ryan said. "You go do your job, get better at it, and if I move up, I hope he'd be the same way."
David nodded his head.
"I would be the same way," he said.
But for both of them, there's more to life than baseball. They hope to be remembered as loyal men of faith who are always good to their wives and always there for their friends.
"There's so much more to look forward to than just success in your life," David said. "If you could pick eternity on a little piece of string, right now is a small weave of that string. And we're so worried and so conscious about that one little part, when we're missing the whole picture.
"That's the whole point. There's hope for something a lot better than this."
And for the Ledbetter twins, those strings are intertwined.
Grace Raynor is a contributor to MLB.com.