Teammates were funneling between the Grays locker room and dugout as Braden Horrocks stood in the grassy mid-point. One by one they passed with grins, aware of the bizarre and eclectic looks they were sporting.
As part of some team bonding activity or attempt to get into the playoff spirit, a number of the Grays decided to play Wednesday’s Northern Utah League playoff opener against the Brigham City Peaches with facial hair – and those who lacked any filled in their upper lip with marker.
“I didn’t have to draw mine,” Horrocks said with a chuckle.
Horrocks rocked a solid blonde mustache. So, too, did shortstop Braden Palmer. It was first baseman Brayden Pieper, though, who would have won best in show with a superb Fu Manchu.
The looks were, um, interesting – but results are hard to argue with. The Grays cruised to a 5-0 win in their playoff opener, highlighted by starter Trei Hough’s 10-strikeout no hitter.
The night was an impressive showcase for the Grays. And for Horrocks facial hair, which, years ago at Poky High, wasn’t always acclaimed.
“He grew a horrible beard. Just gross,” said Pocatello coach Vinnie Benavidez. “Just like 10 hairs, so we nicknamed him ‘Beardo.’”
It was a little more than 10 hairs, but they were all on his neck. Very Andrew Luck-esque, Horrocks was steadfast in his look, growing out the blonde neck beard for almost two years without much coming in above his jawline.
“It was kind of like a humor point for the team,” Horrocks said on Wednesday. “So it worked out.”
The original beard still draws laughter from those who remember it, but it draws on a larger point of just how unwavering Horrocks can be. Years before the ‘Beardo’ nickname came to be, Horrocks was a cocky freshman who came in ready to do this and that for the Poky baseball team.
Except he didn’t make the team. Not varsity. Not JV. Not anything.
“It really humbled me and changed my perspective,” Horrocks said. “I kind of dropped my practice from other positions and focused on pitching. I really enjoyed playing the outfield, but we had stellar outfielders … It’s nice to have a position to focus on.”
Horrocks settled on a singular craft to devote his time to, then kept in the game with the Poky fall ball team months later. Instead of taking the bad news as an omen for his future on the diamond, he took it as an indication to work harder. A year after he was cut, Horrocks showed up for his redemption. Impressed at tryouts, Poky assistant coach Joe Maravilla asked the righty why he didn’t try out the year before.
“I did,” Horrocks responded.
“See it worked,” Maravilla joked.
Indeed, and it worked out for both parties. By Horrocks senior season, he was Benavidez’s “go-to” guy out of the bullpen, a change-of-pace arm who knew how to use spin and movement to create outs.
“Even from my early high school years, I never had the velocity to blow it by anybody so Vinnie taught me to work on my off-speed,” Horrocks said. That’s been really beneficial for me learning to throw around rather than throw down the middle.”
With the Gate City Grays, Horrocks has done the same thing, mixing up his arsenal of a curveball, changeup and a tailing two-seam fastball that usually hovers around the high-70s. It’s a style that most people aren’t mature enough to execute.
Young kids are often keen on just winding up and whipping their fastball over the plate – whether or not they have any real zip. What those kids do after a few balls get belted to the fence is the interesting thing. Grays’ manager Rhys Pope knows all about that. A 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore at Dickinson State, Pope abides by Horrocks logic of rarely throwing any pitches absent of movement.
“It’s effective,” Pope said. “You just have to hit your spots.”
Horrocks struggled with that at points in the season but, like usual, he gathered information and advice and bounced back. In the penultimate regular-season game, the right-hander tossed two hitless innings in relief with a pair of strikeouts, using his three-pitch combination to fool the Peaches’ hitters.
“That game kind of gave me the confidence back,” Horrocks said.