Jayhawk Insider: Former Kansas teammates now opponents in Minor Leagues
LAWRENCE, Kan. – As an athlete, special bonds are created between teammates that last a lifetime. That sentiment holds true for two former Kansas baseball pitchers who saw success during their Jayhawk tenures.
Stephen Villines (2014-17) and Blake Weiman (2015-17) stood as a deadly combination out of the bullpen covering the latter innings in 2017. The southpaw Weiman would set the table for the sidearm closer Villines where they created a bond that stands the test of time, even facing off as adversaries.
In 2017, the duo combined to throw 88 and 1/3 innings for Kansas that included 109 strikeouts en route to a 6-3 record out of the pen and successfully saving 14 games. The almost identical performances by the two – Villines 43.1 IP, 15 R, 13 ER, 5 BB 54 K; Weiman 45.0 IP, 16 R, 14 ER, 5 BB, 55 K – earned them each a selection in the Major League Draft that followed in June.
Weiman earned an eighth-round nod by the Pittsburgh Pirates while Villines was drafted in the 10th round by the New York Mets.
The two saw success early in their first full season of Minor League Baseball in 2018. Weiman spent the first two months of the season with the Class A West Virginia Power before being promoted to the Bradenton Marauders of Advanced A ball. Three months later, he saw himself earn another call-up to Class Double-A Altoona, just in time for the playoffs.
Weiman threw in 67 innings throughout the year, compiling a 2.42 ERA while striking out 77 batters.
Villines spent the first three months of the season with the Class A Columbia Fireflies before moving to Advanced A with the St. Lucie Mets. Keeping pace with his former teammate, he then earned an August call-up to the Double-A club, Binghamton Rumble Ponies. Combined across all three stops, Villines struck out 96 batters in 66 and 2/3 innings pitched en route to a 3.11 ERA and 10 saves.
With all the success the two achieved in 2018, nothing was more rewarding than pitching against each other in a Class A showdown in Columbia, South Carolina.
At the time, Villines was playing for the Fireflies and Weiman for the Power.
The game saw both hurlers come in during the late innings, and pitch into extra innings, with Weiman earning the win for the Power, 3-2.
Both Weiman and Villines remember the game like it was yesterday and how weird of a feeling it was being in opposite dugouts looking across the diamond at each other.
“I was talking to our hitters about his (Villines) pitching,” stated Weiman. “I loved hearing from our hitters about how nasty he was and I was like yeah, that is my boy!”
Villines found it unique that both he and Weiman were able to pitch the same innings that night much like the one-two punch they used to be.
“It was funny because one of my teammates said something to Weiman while he was pitching and he barked back at him,” Villines said.”He is a fun competitor and a great pitcher.”
That May 21 contest saw Weiman close out the final four innings where he struck out four batters. Villines pitched two of those four innings, also striking out four batters.
The almost identical performances these two hurlers keep turning in reminds them of the special bond they share. When Villines and Weiman aren’t out on the field competing against each other, they continue to support each other every day.
“I talk to Weiman all the time,” Villines said. “We are going to live together in the offseason. We bounce ideas off each other because we are kind of in the same situations with how we are being used out of the bullpen.”
The two will live in Arizona during the offseason while Weiman continues his development in the Fall Instructional League.
The 140-or-so-game 2018 schedule was a first for both Villines and Weiman, and it couldn’t have been a better ride.
“I want to keep the mindset of go out there and throw strikes and not try to do too much,” Villines said. “When you play that many games – you are going to have your bad outings – it is about staying mentally tough.”
“It was pretty crazy and a long season,” Weiman said. “Fortunately, for me, I was able to move up a couple times. It was challenging having to travel all the time. Now looking back at it, it was awesome and a fun ride.”
Both Villines and Weiman mirror each other in baseball and in life, and that special bond they share will be with them forever.
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