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As you sit down to watch the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night against the Miami Marlins, there will come an exchange in the bottom of the second or third inning that will flash by faster than you should be able to catch.
With Rockies’ starting pitcher Chad Kuhl toeing the slab, awaiting the sign from his catcher, Marlins’ Jacob Stallings will step into the batter’s box and a nearly decade-long friendship will be on display.
Before donning purple and teal (aka Miami blue), respectively, the two wore the same black and yellow uniforms of the Pittsburgh Pirates together for years.
Dating back to 2014 when the pair first appeared on the Bradenton Marauders of the High-A Florida State League, Kuhl and Stallings have been a battery both on and off the field.
“He’s one of my best friends in the game,” Stallings said of his former teammate. “I do not want to face him. He’d probably be out there laughing at me and I’d probably be laughing at him.”
The bond for both men is still present, especially after having been through the worst of times. Injuries, particularly when Kuhl required Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2019, and the general trials of establishing yourself as a big leaguer, similar to the way Stallings was shuttled back and forth to the minors over the course of his first four season, have hardened the men, but not their relationship.
“He’s just one of those guys that I’ve seen grow,” Kuhl said of the catcher behind the plate during 15 of his starts in 2021. “I’ve seen him from the guy the Pirates DFA’d. The guy never stopped working, never stopped getting better, offensively and defensively, specifically.”
For Stallings, he’s also got that connection with Elias Díaz, another former Pirate who shared a common interest with him.
“I’ve known (Elias) for a long time. When we were in Pittsburgh – really all through the minor leagues, but specifically in Pittsburgh – we worked really well together. Talking pitchers and talking hitters and that type of thing,” the 32-year-old backstop for Miami shared. “I was super happy for him to get that extension and I know he was happy. I talked to him about it the other day. Just so happy for him.”
It will be a reunion of sorts at loanDeport Park between the three players who cut their teeth in the Steel City before moving elsewhere, as often is the case with this profession.
Díaz got his multi-year extension from the Rockies, Stallings won the 2021 National League Rawlings Gold Glove Award at catcher and Kuhl latched on with Colorado for the time being, leading the rotation with a 3.69 ERA through 12 starts.
As luck would have it, this won’t be the first time Kuhl will be face-to-face with a familiar and friendly foe this season. Josh Bell, another former Bucco, nearly pulled that moment from Kuhl.
“JB was hard,” the 29-year-old right-hander shared with a wide grin. “I threw one inside and he looked at me. He texted me after and said, ‘I was staring at you to see if you could smile.’ And I looked down. I couldn’t even look at him.”
With or without that close call, spirits will be high when Kuhl and Stallings reunite.
Keep your eyes peeled for that glance, that smirk or twinkle of a purely joyous exchange between two friends playing a children’s game for all the world to see.