Saturday night was a special one for the folks of northeast Texas. It was one day after the St. Louis Cardinals punched their ticket to the World Series, sending Texarkana native and Pleasant Grove grad Michael Wacha to the Fall Classic after a breakout performance in the postseason, which earned him NLCS MVP honors. But that night, Texarkana was overjoyed again when the Boston Red Sox clinched the AL pennant to send another northeast Texas star and Liberty-Eylau grad, Will Middlebrooks, to the biggest series of baseball games in his life.
Wacha wasn’t always the dominant pitcher he is now for St. Louis; he was a tall, skinny hurler for a Hawks team that went to the Texas Class 3A state tournament in back-to-back seasons, which were immediately after Middlebrooks’ Leopards played in consecutive title games in the same classification.
But what most folks outside of Texas don’t know is PG and LE are in the same district and have been for years, so these two players were dominating not only their district and region, but the entire state all from the Texarkana area, which is known for sending athletes to the next level in football and baseball.
As a Texarkana area native and having played with and against these two players and called games that featured each of them on the local radio there, I’m blessed to have seen them play “before they were famous” as we like to say in the TXK. The Red Sox third baseman is the son of Tom Middlebrooks, a longtime coach in the northeast Texas region who coached for and against a slew of players who are now on television, including the Cleveland Indians‘ Drew Stubbs, the San Francisco 49ers‘ LaMichael James and the Philadelphia Eagles‘ Jason Peters, to name a few.
In fact, James and Middlebrooks played together on a state championship football team at Liberty-Eylau in the former’s sophomore season and the latter’s junior campaign. Needless to say, that offense was explosive, as were most under Coach Middlebrooks.
The Middlebrooks name goes a little further than that, though. Julie, Tom’s wife and Will’s mother, has been an art teacher following her husband at various coaching stops over the past quarter century and their daughter, Lacey Middlebrooks, was a star pitcher at Tulsa University after a historic career at LE. But in addition to the headline most folks know from 2012 when Will and Lacey hit simultaneous home runs, they were superstars long before their games were televised. Try wrapping your mind around siblings who posted sub-1.00 ERAs and batted over .500 while winning rings as high school juniors and seeing their younger sister, Mary, grow up to be one heck of an artist like her mother.
Like his crosstown counterpart, Wacha was a multi-sport athlete in high school as well with a super athletic family. He led PG to the region finals in basketball as senior in addition to taking the Hawks to those two appearances in the state tournament including a great extra-inning showing in the title game as a junior.
Wacha’s uncle, Dusty Rogers pitched in the Cincinnati Reds‘ organization, his younger brother, Lucas, is a redshirt freshman linebacker at the University of Wyoming and his younger sister, Brette, is a standout varsity basketball players for the Lady Hawks as a freshman this year. The Wacha name was already big from Michael’s days at PG, but now the name is dominant in the region, just like Middlebrooks.
Another commonality of folks in the Texarkana area is education from Texas A&M University, where both Middlebrooks and Wacha were offered scholarships to play baseball. The former forwent his offer and entered directly into the Red Sox organization out of high school while the latter played three years for the Aggies before getting selected 19th overall by the Cardinals in 2012. Although they took different paths and they’re from two slightly different eras of Texarkana sports, Middlebrooks and Wacha are both in the World Series right now, so regardless of which one comes home with a ring, all of northeast Texas — not just Texarkana — has already won the Fall Classic.