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Friday, May 21, 2010

Birds of a feather: From Firebirds to Jayhawks, three have stuck together

Kansas second baseman Robby Price, left, first baseman Brett Lisher, center, and pitcher Travis Blankenship played together in high school at Free State. The three seniors will play their last home series at Hoglund Ballpark starting tonight.

Kansas second baseman Robby Price, left, first baseman Brett Lisher, center, and pitcher Travis Blankenship played together in high school at Free State. The three seniors will play their last home series at Hoglund Ballpark starting tonight.

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KU baseball preparing for weekend

The Jayhawks were out in the wet weather Thursday preparing for an important weekend series against Oklahoma. If the Jayhawks win the series, their chances of making the NCAA tournament would greatly improve.

In every group of friends there exists a certain dynamic that surfaces after years of spending time together.

Typically, someone emerges as the leader, while another acts more like a younger sibling or class clown, and the rest fill the spaces in between.

The Kansas University baseball team has one such unique set of friends, a group of Free State High graduates who played their high school ball together and wound up wearing KU uniforms in college. They didn’t take the same path to get here, but this weekend, when the Jayhawks open their series against Oklahoma at Hoglund Ballpark, the three KU seniors will suit up together for the final time as teammates in the city they grew up in.

“I think it’s something that we’ve all been thinking about,” second baseman Robby Price said. “It’s been a special ride for everyone, and it’s something we’ll remember for years.”

Price is the lone member of this group who spent all four years at Kansas. Because of that, first baseman Brett Lisher and pitcher Travis Blankenship have called him the leader of this pack of former Firebirds.

“Robby’s been here four years so when I’m on the field or even in the dugout, I always look up to him,” Lisher said. “I looked up to him even when I was in high school because I knew he was such a special baseball player.”

It’s funny, but even knowing that, Price said there was little difference between the three players.

“I think we’re just three guys that play baseball,” Price said.

In fact, the son of KU coach Ritch Price said if it hadn’t been for the warm welcome extended to him by Blankenship and Lisher when he first came to town, there’s a chance he wouldn’t be where he is today.

“Those two are the most genuine people I’ve been around. When I moved out here, they were the first two guys I met and we built a pretty strong relationship in high school and carried it all the way through college. Those two have always had my back, and there’s not one bad bone in their bodies.”

Unless you’re talking about on the diamond. In addition to their taste in movies, music and things to do during down time, these three share one trait that has helped the Jayhawks tremendously in 2010 — competitiveness.

The season hasn’t gone exactly the way the Jayhawks pictured it going back when they were picked to finish second in the Big 12 in the preseason. Injuries and jostled lineups have contributed to that. But the Free State threesome has gone a long way toward righting the ship and leading KU to a 31-21-1 record with three games to play. The Jayhawks already have clinched a spot in next week’s Big 12 Tournament and currently are in sixth place in the conference standings. They could climb as high as third by the end of the weekend and are guaranteed to avoid eighth place with a single victory against the Sooners.

No matter how things play out, though, the chance for this group to play together and contribute collegiately in the same town they won a high school state title has been its own reward.

“In high school, it was our dream for all of us to go play at the same place together,” Lisher said. “But, to be honest with you, when I was coming out of my sophomore year at Allen County, I never thought I’d be in this position. But I’d always hoped for it.”

KU coach Ritch Price had the following to say about this special group:

On Lisher: “He wanted to play at KU out of high school, but he wasn’t polished enough right out of high school to come here and compete. But he is now, and I can’t be more proud of a guy than I am of him. He’s worked his tail off and has become an every-day player for us.”

Lisher enters the weekend with a .290 batting average, three home runs and 30 RBIs.

On Blankenship: “His (velocity) is significantly better than when he got here. I watched him pitch in the state championship game in high school, and he wanted to come here, too, but I told him, ‘Travis, you need to go to junior college to improve your velocity and develop your secondary pitch.’ He’s going to leave here having had an absolutely outstanding career. I think he’s accomplished every dream he had in the game when he started playing.”

Blankenship has thrown 392⁄3 innings for the Jayhawks this season and has recorded 45 strikeouts against 14 walks.

On Robby Price: “He’s the best defensive second baseman I’ve coached in my career, and he’s also one of the best fastball hitters in America. If he gets in the right organization, he has a legitimate chance to play in the big leagues someday.”

Robby Price leads the team in runs (71), doubles (17) and triples (4), is second in home runs (6), batting average (.337) and fielding percentage (.983) and third in RBIs (48).

KU will open its final series of the season at 7 tonight when junior T.J. Walz (8-4, 5.05 ERA) squares off against Oklahoma’s Zach Neal (7-2, 4.02).

Comments

KGphoto 4 years, 3 months ago

Hmmm. Yeah, these baseball stories aren't exactly catching on.

Personally, I liked it. But unless the story is about KU on a big win streak, I think you're gonna hear crickets.

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Munich_Jayhawk 4 years, 3 months ago

Cool guys with sweet hats. How about you bend the bill and put it on straight. You look like morons. Thanks.

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KGphoto 4 years, 3 months ago

Haha. You must be old like me.

Been noticing, on the street, every kid under the age of say, 21, dresses like a moron. Walks like a moron. Talks like a moron.

Hey, it's cool to them. When's the last time you checked your high school yearbook out. Yep. It's full of Morons.

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DutchMo 4 years, 3 months ago

There hats are part of the official uniform. Do you think they are all going to wear different hats during the game? maybe a Royal's hat, huh??

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KGphoto 4 years, 3 months ago

Actually if you want to get a better push for baseball stories, you might think of listing it a little higher on the chart. Currently "baseball" is dead last.

Listed before baseball.

Football Men's basketball Women's basketball

Fine. But the next eleven perplex me.

Swimming Soccer Track and Field Cross Country Men's Golf Women's Golf Rowing Volleyball Bowling (yes bowling) Tennis Softball Baseball

If they were alphabetical, and baseball was actually Z'baseball, I would dismiss this. But if I'm playin' ball in the spring, I'm not feeling too good about this ordering. They should have a link on the homepage, at least during the season.

I want to be able to check the stats, roster, and standings. As a fan I just can't keep up with what's happening on the field. Stories about team personalities are punchless without the team's standing.

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chickensandwich 4 years, 3 months ago

Do you think they realize how retarded the look with their hats like that?

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