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Tullahoma pitcher's mound features two aces from one family


1:00 AM, Aug. 07, 2013 EDT
TULLAHOMA — 

One is a hard-throwing right-hander. The other is a smooth-delivering lefty.

One is the life of the party. The other is more reserved.

But together, brothers Jordan and Justus Sheffield make for a dynamic duo on the baseball diamond, combining to win 30 games and strike out 378 batters over the past three seasons for the Tullahoma Wildcats.

How did the brothers, who are 11 months apart, become two of the best baseball prospects in Tennessee?

"I think the biggest reason they are both successful is the competitiveness that comes with how close they are in age," said their father, Travis Sheffield. "They ride in the same car together, show up to the same field together and they have to go home together. There is bickering about who is better and picking at each other about what they did in the game."

Jordan, the older brother, missed most of his senior season because of Tommy John surgery. He turned down the Boston Red Sox to take his 98 mph fastball and laid-back demeanor to play for coach Tim Corbin at Vanderbilt.

Justus is the outgoing younger brother with the talented left arm. He plans to join his brother on West End next fall, provided a professional team doesn't grab him first.

The early years

The Sheffields haven't always been the intimidating presence on the mound that they are today. The brothers were cut in their first attempt to make a travel ball coach-pitch team at ages 6 and 7.

"I'm still not over that," Travis said. "I think that's when I got hard-headed in making sure that when you go out there to play that you always do your best."

When faced with participating in his first basketball practice as a child, Jordan broke down and cried because he didn't want to go.

"Justus was the basketball player at that age," Travis said, laughing.

But Jordan stuck it out and eventually became a pretty good basketball player himself.

Athletics were a year-round endeavor at the Sheffield house, weaving from soccer into basketball and growing into football while staying constantly involved with baseball.

"I definitely encouraged them doing it all at a young age," Travis said. "You can get something from each sport in terms of athleticism and competitiveness."

But they always gravitated toward baseball.

"They have been playing baseball since they were born," Travis said. "As far as I can remember, that was the first sport that they took up."

Baseball standouts

It made perfect sense that baseball would be what the boys knew best.

After finishing his own baseball career at Tullahoma, Travis played at Alabama A&M and Motlow State.

Travis' cousin, Tony Sheffield, was a second-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1992.

Even their mother, Misty Sheffield,had experience as a softball player at Tullahoma.

But they are not related to former major league all-star Gary Sheffield.

"We get someone asking us that at least once a day," Jordan said. "And there was a reporter that mistakenly wrote that once, which I think is part of the problem."

A left-hander pitcher like Justus and a right-handed hitter like Jordan, Travis had plenty of experience to call on while teaching his sons the game he loves.

Practicing for countless hours in the backyard of their rural Coffee County home, Travis challenged the boys to stick to a throwing routine and paid close attention to pitch counts.

The Sheffields did not use the travel ball approach that is popular with many young athletes today. Instead, they stuck to playing in local leagues with Travis as a fixture coaching in the dugout.

"We always figured if you were good enough you were going to get noticed," Misty said. "(Travel baseball) has become a business, which is sad because you see players that can't afford to do that, but yet they are probably better than some players that actually do play on those travel teams."

"We have yet to pay any thousand-dollar summer ball fee and we never will," Travis added. "We have been very blessed to not have to come out of pocket for those things to get Jordan and Justus noticed, because if we had to, no one would know who they are."

Even in recreational leagues, it didn't take long for the high school baseball coaches at Tullahoma to get word of the type of players they were going to be receiving.

"You hear from parents about the next big thing coming out of the Little League all of the time," Tullahoma coach Brad White said. "But we knew just how special these boys were going to be."

White placed Jordan on the high school's summer team in the eighth grade. Jordan hit .375 in 120 at-bats against players that were three or four years older.

Potential football star

Jordan played football through his sophomore year at Tullahoma, starring as a wideout with more than 800 yards receiving and a as kick returner with several touchdowns.

"I felt like he was better than any sophomore I had ever coached," Tullahoma football coach John Olive said. "Whether he would have developed to be better and better, I don't know.

"We sent out over 100 DVDs with highlights of him and some other players in the spring between his sophomore and junior years, and we got phone calls back from all over the country."

Jordan said Tennessee, where he originally committed for baseball, and several other Southeastern Conference schools showed interest in his football abilities.

"I used to like football more," Jordan said. "Going through middle school I really enjoyed playing football and playing quarterback."

But after two seasons of playing multiple sports, Jordan had to make a decision on one sport to focus on for his final years of high school.

"I thought I was a better pitcher than I was a receiver or quarterback," Jordan said. "So I just went with my instincts and started focusing on baseball."

Once that decision was made, Justus also decided to stop playing football after his freshman season to focus on baseball.

"It was an easier decision for me because I had only played a handful of downs on varsity, so I didn't really have that attachment or feelings for football," Justus said. "I realized that I wanted to play baseball only to try and make a career out of it."

Brothers being brothers

White's favorite memory of coaching the brothers was the time they got into a tussle at an indoor facility hitting workout during Jordan's sophomore and Justus' freshman year.

The brothers were pitching to each other and hitting from machines when tensions rose over a prank gone awry.

"Jordan had put some kind of ball into the machine that was defective and it shot out and hit Justus," White recalled. "And I looked over and I just heard bats dropping and screaming and all of the sudden here they go -- it's a brawl.

"And I looked at their dad and said, 'What do we do?' and he said, 'We let 'em go until one starts crying or they hit the ground.' "

No one was hurt and big brother claimed to come out victorious in the scrum, but little brother remembered the punishment more than the result.

"We had to end up running (sprints) for that," Justus recalled. "We are not usually like that, but at times we can get a little rough."

A house divided

In spite of his arm injury and commitment to Vanderbilt, Jordan was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round in June.

Jordan was projected to be as high as a first-round pick prior to the arm surgery. The decision on what to do rested on his shoulders and created a bit of division in the family.

Misty preferred that her son go to college to mature as a person and get an education. Travis originally believed that the money available to Jordan through a professional contract would be too much to pass up.

"I seriously believe that had the injury not happened, he would not be at Vanderbilt," Travis said. "If that money would have been first-round money, it would have been hard to turn down. But looking back, I'm glad that it happened this way because I think that he's where he needs to be."

The Sheffields would not discuss the terms of the Red Sox's offer.

Jordan said he fielded phone calls from the Red Sox up until the July 12 deadline to sign, but ultimately decided that school was where he wanted to be for the next three years.

The Sheffields are prepared for a similar decision with Justus next summer, but say that each son should weigh his options individually.

On their own

With the exception of a few summer all-star teams, the upcoming season will be the first that the Sheffield brothers will spend away from one another.

Jordan enrolled in summer school at Vanderbilt last month and has begun a throwing program with the Commodores to nurse his injured elbow back to health.

It is unknown whether Jordan will be able to pitch for the Commodores in 2014 or redshirt. Meanwhile, Justus will be pitching his senior season at Tullahoma with hopes of the Wildcats on a return trip to the Class AAA tournament.

"It is going to be different because when I am on the mound and he is at short we have these little signals," Justus said. "And if I'm not doing well, he'll correct me and stuff."

"When we lost Jordan (last season) I kind of went into the role of trying to lead the team. It was kind of a win-lose situation. He went down and I got to be the high man, which gave me experience in leading that I can use next year."

 

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