Ryan Smoyer and Jimmy Orwick are baseball buddies, elite pitchers who formed a bond through a sport that will keep them together in college.
Smoyer, a senior at Otsego, and Orwick, a senior at Findlay, have both signed to play at Notre Dame. They have been on the same summer travel teams since they were 13.
“We both had the same dream growing up as kids,” Orwick said. “We wanted to play baseball at the highest level we could, and we’ve been able to achieve that. Hopefully we can continue.”
The 6-foot-4 Smoyer uses his size to generate speed. It also generated attention from dozens of college programs. But Smoyer chose to follow Orwick to South Bend, Ind.
“It is a dream come true,” Smoyer said. “When I think about it at home, it’s still tough to wrap my head around it.
“Jimmy has been my best friend since I was 13, and it made sense to go to college with him. There’s no one else I’d rather play with than Jimmy. We couldn’t have picked a better school than Notre Dame with the history there and the academics.”
Orwick, 5-11, is shorter and more compact. He uses arm-whip and a downward plane to generate velocity.
Orwick, who has been sidelined recently with an elbow injury, has a career 8-7 record with an ERA of 1.77. He has struck out 148 batters in 101 innings. He has a career batting average of .355 with 40 RBIs, nine doubles, 11 triples, and 22 stolen bases.
Smoyer is 4-0 this season with three complete games. and a 0.95 ERA. Smoyer has struck out 31 batters in 22 innings and has allowed just 11 hits. He has a .447 batting average with 12 RBIs and four doubles.
Both pitchers keep hitters off balance with breaking balls they consistently throw for strikes. They have dominant — and at times overpowering — fastballs. Both feature tricky curveballs and effective changeups. Most importantly, they can locate all three pitches.
“We have similar arsenals,” Smoyer said. “He gets good movement on his fastballs.”
The duo has played together on three different summer teams — Midwest Renegades, Ohio Hurricanes, and Ohio Elite. Now they will play for the Fighting Irish.
“I think it’s great,” Findlay coach Jeff Stutzman said. “You don’t see it every day. Notre Dame is big time in my book. It's neat that they are good friends.”
When they were younger, one travel coach referred to Smoyer as the “right-handed Jimmy” and to Orwick as as the “left-handed Ryan.”
“It’s kind of freaky how close we are,” Smoyer said. “Pitching-wise we’re about the same person. It’s weird.”
The most obvious difference between them is that Orwick is a lefty and Smoyer a righty.
“When you watch him pitch, he explodes,” Smoyer said. “For me, 6-4 is a helpful tool to have. He is more of a Tim Lincecum. He reaches back and throws it by you.”
But both feature fastballs in the upper 80s. “My fastball is probably what most people see,” Orwick said. “Last summer I was clocked at 86 to 89. But I have good off-speed stuff as well.”
The two have contrasting personalities with Smoyer outgoing and Orwick reserved.
“Ryan is a little more vocal. I like staying composed,” Orwick said. “I don’t get rattled very easily. That’s just my personality in general. I don’t get too up or too down. I’m a pretty calm person.”
Smoyer said he also tries to stay composed. “But I’m also a competitor. I live for the moment I can go nuts,” he said. “I like to express myself.”
Smoyer helped Otsego remain undefeated in the Northern Buckeye Conference with a hold in the seventh inning Monday when the Knights (10-5, 7-0 NBC) rallied to beat Eastwood in the final inning.
“He kept the team focused and he’s been a real leader,” Otsego coach Chase Welker said.
Welker said the key for Smoyer is that he can throw any pitch in any count.
“He keeps the hitters guessing,” Welker said.
Stutzman said he brought Orwick up to the varsity at the end of his freshman season. Findlay is 11-3 overall and 2-0 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference this year.
“He’s been our ace ever since,” Stutzman said. “He throws very hard. He has three pitches and throws them all for strikes. He also has great composure. You wouldn’t know if he’s up 5-0 or down 5-0. He just goes out and throws. He shows no emotions.”
Orwick and Smoyer attended Notre Dame’s 10-1 win Sunday over South Florida.
“It hit home right then,” Smoyer said. “We’ll be moving on and playing there. It's the next step to the ultimate goal of playing in the majors. I truly realized how big of an honor this is.”
The seed of the dream began when they first met. “We really liked hanging out,” Orwick said. “We both wanted to keep playing at a high level.”
Their 14-under team won a state championship in 2009.
“We really connected and formed a bond and over the years we’ve built on it,” Smoyer said. “When we’re involved in something, we want to get each other involved.”
Notre Dame offered Orwick a scholarship after his sophomore season.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all being as young as I was,” Orwick said. “They said I threw well and I got an offer. It’s pretty amazing. Everything is first class there.”
Smoyer said the relationship helped each of the pitchers through the recruiting process.
“We talked each other through it,” he said. “When he got recruited by Notre Dame, he started to nudge me.”
Smoyer said he got offers from several Mid-American Conference schools, including Toledo. He also visited Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State.
“Those two going to Notre Dame shows that there are a lot of good baseball players in the area,” Welker said. “It gives northwest Ohio some exposure.”
The friends were set to square off against each other when Otsego played April 15 at Findlay. But Orwick has been shut down, perhaps for the season.
Orwick threw a complete game, one-hitter in his season debut against Bryan. He then pitched five innings against Defiance but left with a sore elbow.
“I was in the best shape I’ve been in in high school,” Orwick said. “So I’m disappointed I only got two starts. But I’m trying to do what I can hitting-wise. And I'm staying positive.”
After resting him for 10 days, Stutzman used Orwick as his closer against Celina on April 20. But Orwick hasn’t pitched since. He said he was diagnosed with a sprained elbow. “Fortunately there’s no structural damage,” Stutzman said. “But I feel very bad for him.”
Smoyer said he received a text message from Orwick.
“You could tell he was deflated,” Smoyer said. “I feel really bad for him. But he will do what he can. He’s fast and he can hit and do some things. That will keep him going.”
Welker has high hopes for Smoyer.
“Obviously it’s extremely difficult for anyone to make it to the major league level,” Welker said. “But Ryan has all the physical attributes and a good head on his shoulders. He’s focused. So it’s legitimately possible for him.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.