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Former Golden Eagles still playing together

Daniel Best and Marc Maddox spent four years together at Southern Miss., playing baseball and going fishing together. Brandon Lance and Brenan Herrera were roommates and teammates for a year at Oklahoma.

None of them figured they’d end up playing together again; when you get drafted in professional baseball, you expect to end up in some remote place, away from your family and friends.

And they did end up in a remote place — Idaho Falls has the only professional team in all of eastern Idaho. But there was a familiar face once they got there: all four were drafted by the Kansas Royals, meaning two sets of former teammates are playing for the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer League.

“It is a little strange,” says Maddox, an infielder. “When you think about it there’s 30 teams that have a chance to get you and for the Royals to get both of us was pleasing.”

Strange, but it actually happens more than you might think. Last year, Best and Maddox watched three of their former teammates get drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Still, when it happens to you, it comes as a surprise.

FAMILIAR FACES

The first few hours after being drafted are a whirl, your mind trying to wrap itself around the fact that your dream of playing professional baseball has come true, and that you’re headed to some small town you’ve probably never been to and out on your own, maybe for the first time in your life.

But once the congratulations end and reality has a chance to settle in, you take a closer look and realize that somebody you know is going to be there for your first season of professional baseball. Talk about a relief.

“It was awesome,” says Lance, a catcher. “Coming into a new place where you don’t know anybody, it was awesome knowing that he was going to be here, a comfort-zone type of deal.”

Best and Maddox both grew up in the South — Best in Ruston, La., and Maddox in Hattiesburg, Miss. — so they already had something in common when they ended up at Southern Miss. They played four years there, developing the kind of bond that comes from living in the same dorm, seeing each every day at the field, going on fishing trips together.

But once their senior season was over, Best and Maddox figured that was it, at least from the standpoint of playing together.

But once draft day rolled around, Maddox went in the ninth round and Best in the 14th, both taken by the Royals.

The first season of professional baseball is often the most difficult because the players have to learn how to play every day instead of a couple of times a week, to deal with long bus rides and questionable hotels, and to deal with the loneliness that comes from being away from home.

Best and Maddox already had a head start on the rest of the rookies because they already knew somebody on the team, someone they could confide in and learn the ropes with.

“It’s good because when we first didn’t come in we didn’t really know the ins and outs of everything,” says Best, a right-handed reliever. “Maybe one person will know something or hear something that the other one didn’t, and we can just talk about it a relate it to the things we did in college and get through it.”

GUIDING THE RECRUIT

Lance and Herrera took a little different road to the Pioneer League.

Both grew up in Oklahoma — Lance in Edmond, Herrera in Lawton — and ended up being roommates at Oklahoma University in 2004. But, wanting to get more playing time and a better look from the professional scouts, they both transferred to other schools, Lance to New Mexico State and Herrera to Abilene Christian.

They kept track of each other in the papers and played together for Graham, Texas, in the Texas Collegiate League two summers ago before Herrera signed as a free agent with the Royals and joined the Chukars late last season.

Lance still had a year of school left and after finishing up his career with New Mexico State. He was drafted by the Royals in the 31st round last month.

Herrera looked at the list of Royals’ draft picks this year and instantly picked out Lance’s name.

As for Lance, he knew Herrera was playing somewhere in the Royals system, but didn’t realize it was in Idaho Falls until after he was drafted.