by Eamonn Ryan | Photos by Sadie Parker
On an overcast Wednesday afternoon at Stony Brook Elementary, Whitecaps outfielders James Tibbs (Florida State) and Will Turner (South Alabama) unload bags off a pickup truck before getting into the batting cage and working for about 40 minutes before boarding the team bus to a scrimmage at Bourne.
For some, getting extra work in with a teammate might be a good way to make a friend. But for this pair, it was simply routine.
Their roots stretch further than just the nine hour drive they made together from Tibbs’ house in Marietta, Georgia to their host family in Brewster, as Tibbs and Turner manned the same outfield for the East Cobb Astros during the summers from ages 14-18. They now get to chase their dreams together, playing in the same outfield for another summer.
“We got really close over that time, and I consider [Turner] one of the best friends that I’ve got,” Tibbs said. “I’m very blessed and it’s been a pretty cool relationship that we’ve been able to build and we’ve had some good memories.”
Bringing the friends north wasn’t at the top of Whitecaps manager Jamie Shevchik’s mind when he signed them.
“It happened by accident,” Shevchik said. “We didn’t do it on purpose…but to have two guys who were childhood friends and have remained friends, both outfielders, I think is pretty cool.”
Even though it was an accident, there’s no doubt it’s a benefit to both each other and the team.
“They’re definitely going to adjust a little quicker and people are going to start to gravitate around those guys as well,” said Shevchik.
Tibbs comes to Brewster after a stellar sophomore campaign at Florida State, where he slashed a .338 average with 17 home runs and 43 runs batted in, and Turner comes in after earning a Second Team All-Sun Belt nod at South Alabama thanks to his .349 average and 52 RBI.
After similar seasons, the two continued to cheer each other on, sending texts and showing up to games to show support for each other. But that’s not how it always was, at least not in the beginning. Motivational competition between them was a part of their game, especially when Turner first showed up for a workout.
“When we started playing together at 14, [Tibbs] always gave me a hard time because I ended up playing center a majority of the time,” Turner said. “But it was just playful.”
Tibbs was perfectly okay with moving around, though, but still would joke around with Turner and developed a friendship because of their living situation.
“[Turner] was over there hitting for our coach. And I was like, ‘Who is this guy? He’s rolled over every single ball he’s hit,’” Tibbs said. “But [coach Matt Hightower] brought him on…and he started staying in my house pretty much right away.”
That competition never stopped the two from becoming friends and working together to put together the best product on the field. Turner and Tibbs arrived at Stony Brook on day one in the same car, warmed up together and were batting practice partners.
As 16-year-old kids, though, getting to the park on time wasn’t always the easiest. Tibbs remembers a time when Turner was driving to a travel ball game with another teammate, and when they showed up to the field, no one was there. They had accidentally driven to a field two hours in the wrong direction.
“And we get to the field and [Hightower] says, ‘Yeah, you’re not playing today. At least you’re not starting,’” Tibbs recalled with a smile.
All was forgiven, though, as Turner doubled in the game and Tibbs followed that up with a home run.
“We were down by one or two runs and ended up winning the game,” Tibbs said. “In the moment you’re sitting there like, ‘I’m screwed, my life’s over’…but it ended up working out just fine.”
After successfully completing the nine-hour trek up to Brewster (and not making any wrong turns), the two have once again settled into the familiar situation of sharing a summer home, this time with a new team.
“It’s pretty cool, over the course of our lives our paths have continually crossed,” Turner said. “For us to be able to play with each other again is a super cool experience and hopefully this won’t be the last time. Hopefully we play with each other in the minors and in the big leagues.”