The day the Vikings made center Garrett Bradbury the 18th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Bailey Ober was already thinking to the future.
Ober was nearly 2,000 miles away from the Twin Cities, pitching for the then-Class A Advanced Fort Myers Miracle at the time. It was April and Ober hadn’t yet given up an earned run that season in his three prior starts, but he wasn’t particularly close to cracking the majors yet, something which finally happened in May 2021.
“When he got picked, I texted him and I just wished him congrats and was super happy and kind of just said, ‘Hopefully I’ll see you there in a year or two,’ ” Ober said.
Ober and Bradbury, you see, go way back. The duo played two seasons together on the baseball team at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina, a private school well known for its athletic success — Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is an alum — after Ober transferred there for his final two high school seasons.
Ober, of course, pitched. Bradbury caught. The former battery mates are reunited now in the Twin Cities sports scene, one playing for the Twins, the other for the Vikings.
“It’s pretty sweet to think about — two high school kids on the same team playing in the same city hundreds of miles away together,” Ober said. “It’s pretty cool to think about and it kind of brings back memories to when we were playing.”
There’s plenty of good memories from those days, as Charlotte Christian won state championships in 2012 and 2013, the two years Ober, 26, and Bradbury, 26, overlapped. The pair also played with Royals pitcher Jackson Kowar, who was selected with the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 draft and is now Bradbury’s brother-in-law.
“If I hadn’t won a state title with that group, they probably should’ve fired — I should’ve fired myself,” Charlotte Christian head coach Greg Simmons said.
High school days
As a high school pitcher, Bailey Ober was “unhittable,” Bradbury said. He was one of the Knights’ best hitters, too, using his long legs — already in high school, Ober, who is now 6-foot-9, towered over everybody — to turn a single into a double or a double into a triple, Bradbury remembers.
“If he was as big as far as his weight now, he might have been illegal in high school,” Simmons said. “Gosh, he was probably 200 pounds in high school. He was a tall drink of water.”
Ober was low key and even-keeled, but always, always, wanted the ball, Simmons said, because of his competitive streak. And he made it easy for Simmons to want to give it to him.
After graduating high school, Ober headed to the College of Charleston to continue his playing career. He was selected by the Twins in the 12th round of the 2017 draft and steadily made his way up through the minor leagues. This year, Ober has carved out a role for himself in the Twins’ starting rotation, posting a 4.34 earned-run average through 19 starts this season.
“If there was someone to make it, he was definitely one of the guys that I played with growing up that I was like, ‘This guy, he’s 6-9, has multiple pitches and has the right attitude and mindset,’” Bradbury said. “It wasn’t a big surprise, but any time someone makes it, it’s pretty awesome to see.”
Bradbury as a teenager was a “goofball,” Ober said. He was the biggest, strongest kid in the clubhouse, and often wound up being challenged to wrestling matches by teammates.
“No one ever won,” Ober said.
To this day, Simmons maintains Bradbury could have been a Division I baseball player because of his bat. On a trip back to Charlotte last year, Bradbury called up Simmons, hoping to take some batting practice.
“He still hit four out (of the park) during BP,” Simmons said. “He’s still got some juice.”
But it was apparent back then that football would be Bradbury’s path, and after graduating from Charlotte Christian, he headed to North Carolina State to pursue it. There, he became a consensus All-American before he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
“You could see that they had something special. You just didn’t know how far that was going to go,” Simmons said. “Did I think they were going to play professionally? Absolutely. But for Garrett to be a first-rounder and Bailey to be in the big leagues, I don’t know if I can say I saw that in high school.”
Supporting each other
Garrett Bradbury’s phone started lighting up with texts from old friends from high school. It was May 18, and Ober had just been called up to start in place of Michael Pineda, who had undergone a minor procedure.
“They were like, ‘Hey, are you in the Twin Cities? Bailey’s starting in his MLB debut tonight,’ ” Bradbury said.
Bradbury and his wife, Carson, quickly went on StubHub and snagged tickets to watch Ober’s debut. They watched as Ober threw four innings, taking a no-decision in an exciting game that the Twins went on to win 5-4 over the White Sox on the strength of three Miguel Sanó home runs.
Simply put, “it was awesome,” Bradbury said.
Ober didn’t find out until after the game that Bradbury had made it. While the two have busy schedules that can make it difficult to connect, Ober said their wives have hung out in the Twin Cities. Ober hasn’t yet made it out to a Vikings game, though he’s said he’d love to. If he does, “I have tickets for him,” Bradbury said.
Simmons hasn’t yet had a chance to see either play, but a baseball trip to see Ober, Kowar and other Charlotte Christian alums is on the agenda for next summer. One day, a football trip to see Bradbury might be, too.
“It’s obviously been really exciting. You see these guys when they’re younger and they were all very special and you knew they were really good but when they’re competing and having success (against) the best of the best, it’s really fun to watch,” Simmons said. “Those guys were great to coach, great teammates and leaders, so for them to make it to the top, it doesn’t surprise me.”