BOSTON (AP) — Michael Wacha remembered passing Will Middlebrooks a few years ago back in Texarkana, the small northeast Texas city where they grew up.
"One of the guys that everyone looked up to," Wacha said Tuesday. "Like he's walking by, 'That's Will Middlebrooks there.' It's pretty crazy."
Texarkana has a population of 36,411, according to the last U.S. census. That's slightly fewer than the crowd that will jam into Fenway Park on Wednesday night to watch the old friends face each other when the Boston Red Sox host the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series opener.
Middlebrooks was a senior at Liberty-Eylau High School in 2007, when Wacha was a sophomore at Pleasant Grove High, about a 10-minute drive away. Now the pair will be in the spotlight as Series rivals.
Wacha, 22, has been a sensation since joining the Cardinals' rotation in September — Pedro Martinez can't mention his name on television broadcasts without saying "Wacha! Wacha! Wacha!" like a Pac-Man sound effect. The 25-year-old Middlebrooks has seen extensive action at third base for Boston during the last two seasons.
Bob Bruggeman, a high school umpire for 34 years, remembered umpiring behind the plate for five-to-10 of Wacha's starts and talked of his dominance. He said citizens of Texarkana are pumped to watch the two on baseball's biggest stage, and the town might even arrange a parade.
"I'm hoping that right after the Series is over both of them will be able to come back to Texarkana," he said. "In addition to being a baseball umpire, I'm also the mayor of Texarkana, Texas, so I would like for them if possible to be able to come back to the community to be recognized by the City Council as well as the citizens within the community."