When the Texas Longhorns and Rice Owls meet at Reckling Park on Feb. 14 in Houston to open their 2020 baseball regular seasons there will be a pair of former Sealy Tiger teammates who will once again share the diamond, just while wearing different-colored uniforms.
Despite being a year apart, Texas’ Justin Eckhardt and Rice’s Garret Zaskoda created a special bond in their time playing Sealy sports together, eventually working together as wide receiver and quarterback before taking turns dealing heat from the pitcher’s mound.
Not only that, but it was Zaskoda who stepped up in the wake of Eckhardt’s graduation in 2018 to lead the pitching staff and 2019 Sealy Tiger baseball squad altogether.
“(He was my wide receiver, but he was also) my pitcher and centerfielder, and most of the time three-hole hitter,” Zaskoda said. “It’s going to kind of be like playing against a role model, someone you’ve always looked up to and then got to play with. I love him as a teammate, love him like a brother, but while I’m on the field he’s gonna be the enemy. It’s like playing my brother in anything; you gotta take it competitively, but at the end of the day I’ll go over there and give him a hug and tell him I love him.”
Eckhardt is similarly looking forward to getting back on the field with his friend and looks forward to seeing what he does in his time at the next level.
“We’re really excited, I’m really excited to see Garret at the next level,” Eckhardt said. “He’s got a great arm, he’s at a great school with a great coach and just really excited for that series. I’m sure there’s going to be a little bit of trash talk the week before or just building up to it.”
That sort of back-and-forth began as soon as the schedules were released although specifics weren’t quite nailed down yet.
“Me and Garret actually did talk about it a while back when the schedules came out,” Eckhardt said. “We knew we would play each other, we didn’t know when, but then we found out that it would be the first game of the year.”
“I thought, ‘Oh boy, here we go, of course this is how it’s going to work out,’” Zaskoda said of his initial reaction. “It’s definitely going to be cool to see someone I grew up playing with, it’s going to be awesome.”
Dane Bennett, the current Sealy skipper who managed both athletes, added it will be a special moment for the program’s rich history.
“Obviously, those two are the ones that are the biggest and those two getting to show themselves and show how Sealy has made them is awesome, but it’s not just them two,” he explained. “You’ve got Devin Aguado at Coastal Bend, Hunter Kelley at Pratt College, Hunter Anderson who just got red-shirted this year, he’s at SFA.
“All those guys are getting their chance to represent what Sealy has done for them and I’m just honored to say I got to be a part of it for one or two years, it’s an honor for them,” Bennett continued. “Every time they come back to Sealy, they talk about how much Sealy athletics meant to them and how much they love what they get to do.”
Eckhardt added that although the first thought of Sealy sports may go to the football program, the baseball program has been making some noise and now he gets to represent that small town in between Houston and Austin on one of the biggest stages.
“In Sealy, I’ve never really heard of baseball being a big thing but just to represent Sealy like the other great athletes that have on a different spectrum other than football or basketball or track I think that’s really cool,” he said. “I feel like the community of baseball altogether has risen with the Astros’ success but it’s cool coming from a small town. I probably am the kid from the smallest school at the University of Texas on the baseball team, there’s one other kid from Decatur but that’s about it.
“I have a lot of teammates from the Houston area and I tell them, ‘I’m from Sealy, you pass it on your way to Austin,’” Eckhardt explained. “They’re like, ‘Yeah I passed through it, you live there?’ It’s awesome representing the small town, a lot of people don’t know where Sealy is but it’s awesome.”