Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Six years difference in age was just about the perfect spread for Niwot senior Skyler Messinger to have grown up always viewing his older brother Connor as a mentor and a hero in life and out on the baseball field.
With the season winding down for the Cougars, and as Skyler makes one dazzling play after another as one of Colorado’s top position players, he continues to realize just how influential Connor has been in many aspects of his childhood.
And Connor, who was invited to come back to his alma mater to coach in Skyler’s prep swan song, continues to be gushing with pride at what his brother has accomplished.
It’s a relationship built on faith and family, but baseball is certainly a bonding agent that has made the two best friends.
“It’s always been baseball for us, for sure, and really I grew up at the field watching him play,” Skyler said earlier this week, the 18-year-old having two more games to go in his prep career. “He has been a monumental influence, and I firmly believe I would not be half as good a player as I am now without having him as an influence. It’s just been such an incredible advantage to me to have the insight from him on everything about the game.”
Added Connor, 24: “Honestly, we’re best friends and couldn’t possibly be closer as brothers, and such a huge part of that is baseball.”
Being on the diamond has simply been an essential part of life for the Messinger’s — and it has shown.
Both anchored the shortstop position for NHS coach Craig McBride, whom the brothers lauded as a tremendous influence himself. While Connor went on to play two years at Division I Nebraska-Omaha and finished up his schooling and baseball career at Nebraska-Kearney, Skyler is bound for the Kansas Jayhawks on a baseball scholarship.
While awards and accolades are not the end-all, be-all indication of a player’s talent, both share some pretty high honors in the area and in the state. Connor, in fact, was the 2011 Northern League player of the year as a senior.
Based on numbers, Skyler seems to be at least in the conversation for that same honor, which is voted on by league coaches. He leads the Cougars in batting average (.482), hits (27), runs (21), RBI (20), triples (four) and home runs (three). He has also struck out just four times in 68 plate appearances.
Those marks, along with a highlight reel of making the tough plays look routine, have gotten the attention of pro scouts, too. He’s filled out prospect questionnaires for some clubs, he said, and the idea of being drafted in June is starting to become a legitimate reality. For Skyler, there has been no bigger confidant than Connor.
Of playing with scouts in attendance this year, Skyler said: “I have just tried to stay true to my approach every game, and just try and block out all those outside influences and just trust myself.”
He followed by saying: “My brother has been my agent throughout everything, starting with college recruitment and now with this new pro ball situation. He’s just been a tremendous asset to me.”
Connor earned his degree in sports management, so it makes sense that he would be interested in helping Skyler make his decision with more doors opening every week and that Skyler would put a lot of trust in him, too.
“I just want to be involved in baseball in some way but haven’t completely figured out what exactly quite yet,” Connor said. “I think the thing I’ve been able to help him with the most os helping him realize that if he trains as hard as he can and plays the game the right way, the rest will kind of take care of itself. The college recruitment, and now professional baseball, you don’t have a lot of control over a lot of things … you control what you can control, and you leave the rest up to having faith.”
The two always wanted the chance to share a dugout as teammates, but six years was enough of a gap to make that a tough proposition. However, with Connor getting the chance to come back to coach, both agreed it’s been the next best thing.
“Just to be on the same field as a coach and player tandem, it’s probably one of the most fun seasons of baseball I have ever been a part of,” Connor said. “I have seen him do a lot of things, but it’s all stuff I knew he was capable of because I know how hard he works and how hard I can push him at times.”
Adam Dunivan: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/AdamDunivan24