WESTBROOK – As brothers and twins, Zach and Jake Gardiner had their share of disagreements and rough-housing as siblings often do growing up.
Their dad, Rob, likes to kid that he didn’t need to watch wrestling or boxing on TV.
“I had it right here in my living room,” he said.
The Gardiners, 18, toned down their battles a few years ago and are on the same page when it comes to sports. And now that spring has arrived, they are key players for a Westbrook baseball team that has designs of winning the Class A state title.
Zach, the older by five minutes, is a four-year varsity player who will start at shortstop for the second straight year. Jake is a three-year varsity player who played alongside his brother at third base last season but will move to the outfield.
He enjoyed playing third and said the two worked well together. He is moving to the outfield to help strengthen the team’s defense. Jake may be the Blue Blazes’ most versatile player.
“Pick a position, go play,” he said.
“Jake is a kid who can play anywhere,” said Coach Mike Rutherford. “He can also play first, catch and even pitch.”
Zach is a sure-handed fielding shortstop. Both will bat in the middle of the lineup. Rutherford said their success with the bat will be essential.
“Last year they got off to a slow start and struggled offensively,” said Rutherford.
“For us to do well, they have to come up big and protect Scott Heath and Zach Collett in the batting order. With Sean Murphy and the Gardiners in the middle of the order, it’s a pretty strong lineup. If the Gardiners play well, it will definitely put us over the hump. The key for them, as with everyone, is to get off to a good start. It’s such a short season that if you don’t start out well, it’s hard to make it up.”
Along with the pressure of getting off to fast individual starts, the Gardiners know that much is expected of the team.
“Growing up, we’ve lived baseball,” said Jake. “It’s a chance to show we’re the team to beat.
“If the chemistry comes together, anything is possible.”
If any team has chemistry, it must be the Blazes. After all, the seniors played on Little League (2005) and Babe Ruth (2008) World Series tournament teams.
The brothers realize Westbrook hasn’t won a state title since the East vs. West playoff format began in 1970. Westbrook has been in two state finals (1971, 2005), losing both.
“We definitely want to change that,” said Zach.
Added Jake: “I think the city needs a state title.”
The brothers play the same sports but have different personalities.
“Zach is mild-mannered, while Jake has the temper and is more aggressive,” said their father.
Jake played center and middle linebacker on the football team and served as a captain.
Zach might have been the quarterback, but a back injury his freshman year led to him giving up the sport.
“I tried to play as a sophomore but it hurt too much. It doesn’t bother me now,” he said.
Having played so much baseball growing up, the Blazes are a close team.
“We have the same friends,” said Jake. “We’re more like friends than brothers. We pretty much do our own thing. We’ll walk by each other in the hallways and not say anything.”
Said Zach: “Most people don’t know we’re twins.”
The brothers are peer mentors for students in junior high. Jake likes to get involved when the school has spirit week. Zach is a member of the Spanish Club.
The Gardiners also won’t be done playing baseball together after this spring. They’re both headed to St. Joseph’s College.
“Next level, here we come,” said Zach. “We can’t wait. We looked at the financial end and it made sense for our family.”
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: