Ty Koehn and Jack Kocon owe their friendship to baseball. They met as Little League teammates in the suburbs of Minneapolis and played together on traveling teams. Even though Jack decided to attend Totino-Grace, a private high school, and Ty attended Mounds View, they remained friends, hanging out over the summer, playing American Legion ball and visiting Ty’s cabin in northern Minnesota. “Ty and I focus on being buddies,” Jack said.
Neither imagined that the sports world would focus on their friendship, even when their teams met for a spot in the state tournament in June. Even as Ty pitched to Jack with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a 4-0 lead. In fact, Ty’s top priority was to win the game, which he did by striking out his bud. “But then it was instinct to be there for a friend when he was at his worst,” Ty said. As his teammates rushed toward the mound, Ty walked straight to the batter’s box. With Mounds View celebrating in the background, Ty embraced Jack. “I told him it wasn’t his fault. I told him our friendship was way more important than the game,” Ty said. Despite their bond, Jack said, “In the moment, I was caught off-guard. You expect someone to celebrate with his own team. To have Ty come up to me surprised me a lot. But I needed someone, and he was there for me.”
Video of the moment spread quickly, which was no big deal at first. Ty played along when his teammates ran to him, mockingly begging for a hug. “They like to give me a hard time, but it was all in good fun,” he said. “It’s proof of how close we are as a team.” Then the pair got calls from national media and received an honorary ESPY as guests on “Good Morning America.” “I couldn’t understand why this was so big. It’s just a moment between me and my buddy,” Ty said. “But looking back, it’s counter to our culture to do that. People don’t often think of others before themselves, so they get captivated by it.”
Jack thinks that people are almost programmed to expect bad behavior of athletes, “but they like to see stories that surprise them or that fill your heart and make you happy.” Ty didn’t know it at the time, but the strikeout was the last plate appearance of Jack’s competitive baseball career. “I thought we’d see each other in Legion ball over the summer, but Jack didn’t play,” Ty said. “That makes it a bigger deal that this was his final competitive moment.”
Ty plans to continue playing at Bethel University in St. Paul. Jack is a freshman at Marquette University in Milwaukee, considering a major in biomedical engineering and perhaps dental school. They text frequently and still get together when Jack comes home for the weekend. Both seem sure their friendship will stand the test of distance as well as the test of time. “Twenty years from now, I won’t remember the score, but I’ll remember what Ty did for me,” Jack said. “And that’s all that matters.”