Ty Koehn threw the final pitch that sent his team to the high school baseball state tournament. Fastball on the corner, a perfect pitch for a called third strike.
His Mounds View teammates burst into celebration. They tossed their gloves into the air and jumped and shouted in a jubilant group embrace on the field.
Koehn didn’t join them at first. He ran directly to home plate to console the batter, Totino-Grace’s Jack Kocon, his childhood friend.
The two embraced for 15 seconds. A party was taking place behind them. Pure joy. Koehn stayed at home plate, hugging his opponent.
It was an amazing gesture, a show of sportsmanship that puts a lump in your throat. A young man experiencing one of the greatest moments of his sports career offering support to a young man experiencing one of his lowest moments.
“It was just instincts to go up to him and let him know that the outcome of the game isn’t as important as our friendship,” Koehn said.
The game took place Wednesday at CHS Field in St. Paul. Videos of the moment went viral Monday on social media.
Sports often reveal lessons about selflessness and character. Wins and losses matter, but true acts of sportsmanship define participants. A moment this genuine should be required viewing for all athletes.
A senior playing in his final organized baseball game struck out for the final out one game shy of the state tournament. And the opposing pitcher rushed to console him.
“When I realized what happened, I hung my head and he gave me a hug,” Kocon said. “That was huge for me, because I needed someone and he was there for me.”
As young kids, Kocon and Koehn played together on Little League and travel baseball teams in Shoreview. They remained friends after going to different high schools. They spent a few weekends last summer hanging out at Koehn’s family cabin.
Kocon had faced Koehn earlier in the playoffs and got a single off him. He was impressed with Koehn’s curveball, so he told himself to look for a fastball early in the count as he waited to bat in the seventh inning of the section championship.
Mounds View led 4-0. Two outs, runner on first. Koehn was so focused on the task that he didn’t realize Kocon was up until he saw him walk to the plate.
“My heart kind of dropped,” Koehn said. “I knew there were two outs. If he got a hit, great for him. It wasn’t going to threaten our win. But if I got him out, I know what it’s like to be on that side of an outcome.”
Kocon didn’t think about their friendship in that moment, either. His only thought was to get on base and start a rally.
“I was looking at it as just another pitcher,” he said.
With two strikes, Koehn, a lefty, fired a fastball that froze Kocon. Strike three.
Kocon stood in the box and removed his helmet as Mounds View players sprinted toward Koehn, who gave a slight fist pump as he jogged toward home plate.
He grabbed his friend for a long embrace.
“I had no idea what to say,” Koehn said. “I was kind of overwhelmed.”
He told him the loss wasn’t his fault and that he loved him. Koehn eventually joined his teammates in their celebration after walking with Kocon toward his dugout.
“I owe it to my team to always try my hardest,” Koehn said. “I did the best I could, and it worked out for us. But I felt really bad for him.”
Kocon held his graduation party two days after the game. Most of the Mounds View team showed up. Many of them have been friends with him for years, too.
“They were giving me hugs,” Kocon said. “It was great.”
The state tournament starts Thursday, so Koehn’s dream of winning a state title as a senior remains possible.
Kocon will be just fine, too. On Monday, he went through freshman orientation at Marquette. He plans on majoring in biomechanics and hopes to become a doctor.
He is rooting for his friend this week.
“I’m happy for him,” Kocon said. “Obviously it stinks to see yourself striking out on every major news [outlet], but it means so much more than that. In 20 years, I’m not going to remember the score. I’ll just remember what he did and that’s all that matters to me.”
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org