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The best of brothers

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

As far as brothers go, you will not find many closer than East Lake's Tyler and Nate Huegel.

As far as baseball players go, you will find few better.

The Huegels -- Tyler the pitcher and Nate the catcher -- have been receiving attention since powering their way through Little League and now form the battery of one of Pinellas County's best teams. East Lake is off to an 18-3 start, ranked No. 7 in Class 5A and has lost to only one county opponent (Dunedin).

Along with standout pitcher Mike Billek and shortstop Jeff Germano, the Huegels think the Eagles might have the makings of a state champion.

"And I think everyone on the team had the confidence we'd be good, and think we can go to state," said Tyler, who's a year older than Nate.

A title would be the perfect ending to Tyler's career of playing with Nate -- one he says he wouldn't trade for anything. When Tyler is in college next season, Nate is expected to be one of the county's top seniors and a draft prospect, but for the first time in a long time, won't have his brother as a teammate.

"I've been playing with him since tee ball," Nate said. "I always played up in age so we could be on the same team. It's been pretty cool."

As a result, the two have formed a strong bond. It is one of the reasons this season means so much to Tyler. While he has individual aspirations (all-state would be nice) and is hoping for a state title, he sounds as if he'd just be happy if the season lasted forever.

"I love playing with Nate," Tyler said. "He's the one person I love most in this world. And he's a great baseball player. What could be better? Playing what I love with the person I love."

There is little competitiveness between the two, a problem that often plagues the relationships of many brothers, including the one between Craig Huegel, Tyler and Nate's father, and his brother.

That relationship, Craig said, was not nearly as close as the one his sons have forged.

"I had an extremely competitive relationship with my brother and I really grew to hate that whole thing," he said. "Personally, I always made a real effort to make them support each other. They didn't have to if they didn't want to, though."

But they did. Then again, he joked, it might have had something to do with the family's living arrangements.

Though their parents are divorced, Tyler and Nate grew up on the Booker Creek Preserve and lived in the only house on the 8,500 acres of land. Craig oversees the land as the division administrator for the environmental lands division in Pinellas County.

"I guess they had to play with each other," Craig said. "The opportunity wasn't there to say, "I'm not going to play with you. I'm going next door to play with someone else."'

Next door was three-quarters of a mile away.

"We were in the boondocks," Tyler said. "But it was kind of cool. It was weird at first though because we didn't have any neighbors."

"Pretty much out in the middle of nowhere," Nate said, "but plenty of room for baseball."

And that's what Tyler and Nate did. In the pool, even if it meant swimming to the bases. In the woods, even if it meant chasing the balls on their own.

"We played everywhere," Tyler said.

Their pitcher-catcher relationship made baseball easy, and made understanding each other's game natural. To this day, if Tyler notices a hitch in his brother's swing, he'll help fix it. And if Tyler is struggling on the mound, Nate often has encouraging words.

In fact, each brother says the other is the best on the team. They both make good points: Tyler is 6-1 on the mound, has completed every game he has started but one and is batting .456; Nate is hitting .390 and leads the Eagles in home runs and RBIs.

But even two supportive brothers, each the other's biggest fan, can't resist giving different answers to the question:

Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, Tyler vs. Nate, who wins?

Tyler thinks he gets his brother to hit just under the ball to lift a fly ball to centerfield.

"Deep, though," he said, "but an out."

Nate thinks he gets a single up the middle.

"Probably."

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