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This has been going on since they were kids in Texarkana, Texas. The softball games would start an hour and a half before the baseball games, with their mother, Julie, the art teacher, standing somewhere in between the two fields, trying to watch both her son the baseball player and daughter the softball player, who were competing as much against each other as they were anybody else.
Lacey Middlebrooks is two years younger than her big brother, Will, and can't remember a time when she didn't want to do everything he did -- and better -- from the moment their father, Tom, the high school assistant football and head baseball coach, erected goalposts in the backyard for Will when he was maybe 5 or 6.
|As Will Middlebrooks was hitting a tying grand slam in Boston, his sister hit a go-ahead homer for the Tulsa softball team.|
"And then here comes Lacey," Julie Middlebrooks said Monday, "wanting to be everywhere with Will."
Lacey would strike out a dozen batters pitching for Liberty-Eylau High. Will would come home after striking out, say, 10, and wasn't happy to hear his sister had whiffed more. The next morning, they'd both grab for the sports section, to see who had a lower earned run average. Mary, the youngest, stayed out of it. She took more after her mother, the artist.
"Mary's the lover, we're the fighters," Lacey Middlebrooks said. "It ran deep. We'd even race through dinner to see who would get to the living room first. It's all my dad's fault. He created the competition between his kids. But it helped to make us who we are."
But they'd never experienced anything like Sunday afternoon, when they were almost 1,200 miles apart, Will Middlebrooks in Boston, younger sister Lacey in Birmingham, Ala.
In the bottom of the fifth inning in Fenway Park, with the Red Sox trailing the Baltimore Orioles 5-1, Will Middlebrooks, who had been promoted to the big leagues only on Wednesday and was playing in his third big league game, hit his first big league home run, a grand slam off Tommy Hunter that landed in a parking lot across Landsdowne Street and tied the game at 5.
Meanwhile, in the top of the sixth inning at the UAB Softball Field, Lacey Middlebrooks, a junior pitcher for the University of Tulsa, connected for a three-run home run to break a scoreless tie against the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Two home runs, one in New England, one in the Deep South, one by brother, the other by sister, almost simultaneously. How close did they come to connecting at the same time?
Red Sox publicist John Shestakofsky had the team's video production department review a tape of Sunday's game. "According to the clock that feeds our tape deck," Shestakofsky reported, "the bat crack for the grand slam was at 3:18.19 p.m."
Eric Hollier, an assistant media relations director at Tulsa, said the coach's video of the game was 11 minutes fast, but showed Lacey hitting her home run at 2:28 p.m. Birmingham time, which is one hour behind Eastern time. Subtract 11 minutes, and that places Lacey's home run at 2:17 (3:17 in Boston).
|Lacey Middlebrooks, shown after hitting a home run last month, says her childhood rivalry with Will helped make both of them better players.|
"No matter what," Hollier said, "I think we can safely conclude the two home runs happened no more than one minute apart from each other.''
Both Will and Lacey had unfinished business. Will was on the field for all 17 innings of Boston's 9-6 loss. Lacey, meanwhile, took a no-hitter into the sixth and finished with a one-hit, 3-0 win that clinched the Conference USA title for her team.
A reporter told Will about his sister. "Awesome," he said.
A friend texted the news to Lacey that her brother had hit a grand slam, and soon she heard about the uncanny timing.
"As soon as we got to the restaurant, I Googled for his home run and found the video," she said. "I found it and passed it around to everybody.
"As soon as I saw it, them celebrating his grand slam, I had chill bumps. I was just in awe."
Tom and Julie Middlebrooks did not see either home run. They had come to Boston for Will's debut, but had boarded a plane back to Boston late Sunday morning.
Brother and sister caught up with each other Sunday night.
"We got to Facebook-message each other," she said. "He was on the team's flight to Kansas City. We talked about how awesome and weird it was for both of us to hit such big home runs, and at the same time."
Only one thing comes close, Lacey said. Back in high school, they were both playing against Liberty-Eylau's rival, Pleasant Grove. Will beat them in baseball. Lacey beat them in softball. The headline in the next day's paper?
"It was something like, 'The Middlebrooks Handle Pleasant Grove,"' Lacey said.
Pleasant Grove, the big leagues, Conference USA. Brother and sister are still handling it.