By Rob Rains
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Sam Tewes was a sophomore in high school when his brother Luke left their family’s home in Lincoln, Neb., headed for college. Tewes graduated in 2013 and moved on to Wichita State, when his brother Thomas was a high school freshman.
Now, thanks to baseball, the three brothers are all together again for the first time in nine years.
“Family was something mom and dad preached growing up,” Sam Tewes said. “Our relationships are about as strong as they can be. This has been special.”
Tewes, 23, is pitching for the Double A Springfield Cardinals and is living with Luke and his wife Kelly at a house in Bolivar, Mo., just north of Springfield. Luke is a graduate assistant coach of the baseball team at Drury University, where he played, and where Thomas is now a freshman pitcher.
“It’s been something our whole family was praying about for a long time,” Luke Tewes said. “We knew Thomas and I were going to be here and the good Lord blessed us with having Sam here for a few months. It’s been pretty awesome.”
Said Sam, “It’s a crazy story, that we are all in the same place and all in the baseball world. I call it a God thing.
“It’s nice to have kind of a family dynamic to go back to after games. It’s a feeling that sometimes, especially in the minor leagues, that gets lost a lot of times. It can be lonely when you are out on the road by yourself, crashing on couches and air mattresses. A strong family dynamic is something you can’t take for granted at times like this in your life, where there is so much up in the air.”
Luke has appreciated having his younger brothers around, and the time they have been able to spend together.
“He wasn’t quite sure if he was going to live there (at his house) or not but I think it saves a little money for everybody,” Luke said. “It’s been nice. We get to car pool together if the schedules align. I love having him around; we get to do some fun stuff – golf on off days – and just hang out.
“My wife takes care of him, makes him food. He will get some groceries every once in a while and he’s going to help me mow the lawn here pretty soon, he just doesn’t know it yet.”
There are also two older brothers in the Tewes family, Jack and Mike, who both live in Nebraska and a younger sister, Kristina, who is a senior in high school.
It is Luke who Sam has always been the closest to, however, as they were growing up.
“I’ve always called him my head coach my whole life,” Sam said. “He’s always been the guy who’s asked the questions when they needed to be asked and when I’m kind of diving or slipping a little bit, he’s the one who gets me back on track whether it’s baseball or life circumstances.
“He’s kind of always been the guy who set me back on track. My brothers and I fought a lot growing up, but I didn’t really want to fight with Luke. I’ve just always absorbed everything he said. He was a hitter, so there’s certain things we go back and forth on with differing opinions. We have different ways of thinking, but our conversations have been an incredible learning tool for me.
“It’s definitely something that I’m thankful for. If I didn’t have it I don’t know if I would be where I am.”
Luke has mutual respect for his younger brother, and the challenges he has faced in his career, including coming back from Tommy John surgery when he was a junior at Wichita State.
“As we’ve gotten older it’s more of a friendship now,” Luke said. “With the position he’s in there’s a lot more baseball talk that goes on. Growing up I was the first one in the family to play baseball at a higher level and kind of helped set the table for both of these guys behind me.”
Luke was a prolific offensive player in his college years at Drury, owning the school’s career records for slugging percentage and on-base percentage and he is tied for the best career average, .377, in school history. He lost his chance to play professionally because of a freak accident near the end of his senior season.
“I was playing first base and stuck my arm out to make a catch and the runner collided with me,” Luke said. “I tore my UCL and the radial head burst so my elbow basically exploded. The injury was the reason I stopped playing. If that hadn’t happened I would have potentially given it a shot somewhere.”
Instead he turned to coaching, where he now gets to advise not only Sam but Thomas, who is 2-2 with a 3.37 ERA in 11 games, seven starts, during his freshman season for the Panthers.
Thomas believes he has benefitted from the time he has spent with both of his brothers.
“Luke deals more with the hitters so we don’t cross paths that way too much,” Thomas said. “He helps out when I need it. Having Sam here is another tool for me to learn what I can and progress my game.
“I was pretty stubborn growing up. They (his brothers) would try to coach me and I was like, ‘no, no, you’re my brothers.’ It’s not the same now as I grew up. I kind of realized I have a pretty special thing going on with my brothers. I’ve been able to learn quite a bit in a few short months.”
Because they are together at the Drury games, Luke has been able to spend time there with Thomas, who was still a youngster when he left for college, while the majority of his time with Sam has been spent away from the ballpark.
“Having him (Thomas) here is a pretty special experience,” Luke said. “I get to do a lot of things people don’t usually get to do. Before he goes out to pitch I can tell him I love him and give him a hug before every start and then have the best seat in the house to watch him throw. It’s a pretty emotional experience and one I’m trying to take advantage of and take the most opportunity to be involved in that I can. It’s awesome.”
Luke knew once he returned to Drury to coach and his brother committed to play for the Panthers that they would be together this spring. They didn’t know for certain that Sam would be there, but it was something they hoped would happen as soon as he was drafted by the Cardinals.
In at least one way, Sam’s elbow injury helped make that happen, because area scout Dirk Kinney believes Sam would have been selected well before the Cardinals took him in the eighth round in 2016 if he had been healthy.
“It would have really depended on how his season played out,” Kinney said. “I saw him pitch one time as a junior and he showed the ability to spin the baseball consistently and do it with purpose. He handled adversity well because he had some bad luck during the game. He handled himself well on the mound and his work ethic was outstanding.”
Because of his faith, Sam is convinced the injury helped make him a Cardinal, which is where he believes he is supposed to be.
“I think God has a plan for everything and maybe I wouldn’t have been with the Cardinals if that hadn’t happened,” Sam said. “With different circumstances I might not be in Double A. I try not to think about it. I’m just grateful to be where my feet are.”
Sam has had a slow start to the season and is currently on the disabled list with a minor non-arm injury, but he has already seen enough to have a plan ready when he does get back on the mound.
“Hitters here have a little more polish and are willing to not swing at stuff that some guys at lower levels swing at,” Sam said. “The biggest thing is their raw tools are better. Everybody in the lineup can hurt you.
“What I’ve already learned here is that you have to work to your strengths. That’s something I think I’ve gotten away from in my first three starts. I’ve been trying to make the hitters too big and feel like they have all the weapons. As a pitcher you are supposed to be the one attacking. I’m going to attack them with the fastball, get ahead in counts, and do the things I’ve done my whole life to get to this point. The next step for me is to learn how to dominate at this level.”
While the Springfield season is just beginning, the Drury season is almost over and Sam hopes he will get a chance to watch Tom pitch before that happens – or there could be another day like happened earlier in April, when Sam started a home game at 2 p.m. and Tom started a 3:30 p.m. game just a few miles away.
Their parents made the drive from Lincoln and went to both games. Unfortunately, neither won that day.
There likely were some spirited conversations later that day among the three brothers.
“We have a lot of the same conversations,” Luke said. “With Sam I just try to talk to him about what he needs to do to get to the next level. We get into arguments some times because he thinks he’s right most of the time. I enjoy it.”
Said Sam, “It’s been pretty incredible, the whole circumstance of both of them being here. I can’t really attest how thankful I am.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains