It’s amazing how small the world really is.
Nolan Kingham and Ryan Shetter, both pitchers for the Danville Braves, have so much more in common than just the team they play for, and they didn’t even really know it until they showed up in Danville.
The two played against one another in college. Kingham played for Texas, while Shetter pitched for rival Texas Tech. Before they got to Danville, they both were in Omaha competing in the NCAA College World Series.
Now, they’re both in Virginia and they are best friends. They were both even named after the same man, MLB Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
“I had a buddy that told me that we would get along pretty well and so I was waiting until he got here,” Shetter said. “I was here like two days before him and then I saw him in the locker room and we introduced each other because we knew of each other, but we didn’t officially meet yet.”
“That same person, I ran into him in Omaha and about 20 minutes in of him meeting me he was like, ‘you and Ryan Shetter are going to get along just fine. Trust me, you guys are on the same team,’” Kingham added. “He goes, ‘y’all will be roommates. I promise you y’all will be roommates,’ and sure enough we get here and we pick each other as roommates.”
The rivalry between Texas and Texas Tech is not new, but the rivalry between the two teammates is now just fun and games, especially when it comes to attire.
“He’s tried to get me to switch from like a pair of shoes or a t-shirt or something, but I can’t wear that orange,” Shetter laughed.
On the field, the rivalry is viewed from very different perspectives depending on which school you went to.
“I was a big, die-hard Texas fan growing up. My whole family was. My whole family is from Texas,” said Kingham, who actually lives in Las Vegas. “Going to Texas, actually playing at Texas, kind of made me realize all of the legit rivalries with OU (Oklahoma), (Texas) Tech, TCU, (Texas) A&M. Tech is the team we want to beat every time just because they’re the rah-rah guys and obviously they want to beat us – I mean everyone wants to beat us – but we just kind of try to kick the crap out of them.”
“Texas is the big school and then A&M,” Shetter said. “Tech’s always kind of been like the underdog you could say, scrappy little dirt bags they used to call us… Every time we played Texas you wanted to beat them because they were the big-name school, so every time we played them it was a fun fight. It was competitive, it was fun though.”
They may not agree on colors, or teams, but they do both agree which field is harder to play at.
“We don’t get as many fans as them, but our fans are pretty brutal sometimes. They get after you,” Shetter said.
“Their fans are in your face, rah-rah and our fans are just laid back and watching the game,” Kingham added.
Now that they’re both settled in Danville for the summer, the two not only live together, but they work out together and they even throw on the same day for the most part. Both had experience as starting pitchers in college, but they also both spent some time in the bullpen. Now, they are both coming out of the bullpen and usually one right after the other.
“It’s like we’re starters, but we’re not,” Shetter said.
That just allows for more friendly competition between the two college rivals.
“He went three innings with three strikeouts with two hits, all right I’ve got to get four strikeouts and try to get no hits,” Kingham said. “It’s more of a friendly competition.”
GETTING TO DANVILLE
The Major League Baseball draft is held right in the middle of college baseball’s postseason. It’s not quite the College World Series, but the draft occurs when the teams are focused on getting there.
“Let’s just say it was nice when the draft was over,” Shetter said.
“I wasn’t worried about the draft,” Kingham said. “I just wanted to basically… put Texas back on the map before I left.”
There wasn’t much time after the CWS before the two had to make their way to Danville. Both flew back to their respective college towns, packed up, and went home for a few days before making their way to start their professional careers.
Next up was getting acclimated to the different environment that is professional baseball.
“I would say it’s all on you now, no matter what it is,” Kingham said. “If you don’t want to workout, obviously you’re not going to work out here. If you don’t want to do something no one is going to be pushing you, so it’s all on you. Back at UT, we have strength coaches that are on our butt, our coach is on our butt telling us what to do, when to do it so that was never really put in our mind… Now we’re here and it’s basically finding out what works best for you and just sticking with that instead of trying to do too much.”
“It’s like your job now. You’re getting paid to do it, so you’ve got to take care of yourself a little more. We’re getting a little older now so we’ve got to take care of ourselves,” Shetter added. “We’re on a new rotation, not going once a week. It’s like once every five days so we’re getting used to that too… It’s been a good transition so far.”
GROWING UP BASEBALL
Kingham isn’t the first member of his family to make this professional baseball journey. His older brother, Nick Kingham, just made his MLB debut as a pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this season after an eight-year minor league stint and battling his way back from Tommy John surgery. Ever since he was a little kid, Nolan looked up to his big brother, and it’s only continued since then.
“Growing up I always looked up to him. He was my idol,” Kingham said. “I never had a pitching coach. It was always my dad and him. And if I had a question when he was in the minors and I was in high school I’d call him no matter what time it was and I’d pick his brain, he’d pick my brain. We would always basically feed off each other. In the offseason I’m working out with him and I’m throwing with him and he’s messing with me and trying to figure out how to get me going and how to get my mind going and he got me ready for basically minor league ball when I was going to college.”
At Texas, Kingham got to learn a little bit more about his craft from a guy who’s a pretty big deal in the state of Texas.
“Roger Clemens, his sons played at Texas with me and I basically got to pick his brain for three years and he got to watch my pens so he grew on me a lot in the last three years,” he said.
For Shetter, he grew up in the same town as another big-time big league pitcher.
“Andy Pettitte, same home town, his sons grew up the same age as me, we went to church together,” Shetter said. “He was a great role model growing up. He was good to be around.”
FULFILLING THE DREAMS
Now that they are both in the minors, one step closer to their dreams, neither player wants to rush the process. A number of their Danville teammates have gotten the call to move up in the system. Obviously, each player wants to receive that same news, but they aren’t going to be spiteful towards another person who may get the call sooner than them.
“It’s pure. It’s a real team instead of going out there like, ‘I hope he does bad just so it makes me look better,’” Kingham said. “We’re all boys, even outside the stadium… We all have the same goal and same dream.”
“Every time someone gets moved up we’re excited for them,” Shetter added. “Yeah we might wish we were moving up too, but we’re going to be happy for whoever it is because they deserve it just as much as us.”
When that time does come, neither Kingham nor Shetter intends to let the opportunity pass them by.
“Now my brother got to the big leagues this year and so that’s kind of the expectation and the bar that he’s set,” Kingham said.
“It’s been a dream since I was young,” Shetter said. “I’m going to hopefully play as long as I can. It’s getting to play a game for my job so I’m loving that. It’s a blast. I love baseball.”