ST. PETERSBURG — The Brothers Lowe have faced off plenty of times before.
At the basketball hoop in the driveway of their former home in Marietta, Georgia. Football in the yard with their dad, David, as the all-time quarterback, the pass coverage getting chippy in a matchup of Nathaniel’s strength vs. Josh’s speed. “We weren’t allowed to really hit each other, but we still got after it,” Nathaniel said. “There were more tears shed in that yard than either of us have let on.”
They competed in other sports, video games, workouts and just about anything else boys 2½ years apart do growing up.
“They were very, very competitive, of course,” their mother, Wendy, said. “With everything.”
But there is one type of competition the boys haven’t experienced yet — a baseball game against each other.
That will change — barring any cruel circumstances — this weekend, when Nathaniel’s Rangers visit Tropicana Field to play a three-game series against Josh’s Rays.
Both are eagerly anticipating the series, especially after two potential meetings last year were circumvented by the Rays sending Josh to the minors.
“Oh my gosh, yes,” Nathaniel said.
So are their proud parents, as well as roughly 120 other relatives and family friends coming from more than a half dozen states to cheer them both on.
“We are all so excited,” Wendy said. “I have butterflies, but they’re happy butterflies.”
The boys have played together a few times.
In 2013, when Nathaniel was a senior slugger and Josh a freshman reliever on the Pope High team that won Georgia’s Class 5A state championship.
Then — after the Rays took Josh in the first round of the 2016 draft as a top high schooler and Nathaniel in the 13th round as a college junior — parts of two seasons at the Class-A end of the minors, 2017 in Bowling Green and 2018 in Port Charlotte.
As they moved through the Rays system, Nathaniel more quickly, it seemed the brothers one day would share a big-league field as teammates.
“I think it really hit home probably when we both got drafted by the Rays. That’s when it really was like, ‘Oh, crap,’” Josh said. “That was the first time we were like, we’ve got a chance at doing something pretty cool, so let’s see what happens.”
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Those plans were revised in November 2020, when the Rays traded Nathaniel, who made it to the majors in 2019 but lost playing time at first base to Ji-Man Choi, to Texas. He blossomed there, including a 2022 season that included a Silver Slugger award as the American League’s top-hitting first baseman.
As Nathaniel settled in with the Rangers, he noted Josh’s strong 2021 season at Triple-A Durham and felt better about his brother joining him in The Show.
“That’s when I realized like, OK, we’re going to do this,” Nathaniel said. “He’s not going to be the first-rounder that’s going to fall apart in the minor leagues. He’s going to have a successful major-league career, and he needs to keep working because he can be a really good player.”
Testy test run
A few months before the trade, the brothers got a sense — and provided a glimpse — of the level of competitiveness they could bring to this weekend’s meeting.
To break up the summer heat and monotony of the alternate training site workouts in Port Charlotte for players not on the active roster during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, the Rays held intrasquad scrimmages.
On a day the brothers recall as the only time they have been on opposing teams, Nathaniel thought he’d swung his way out of a slump with a liner toward the leftfield corner.
That is, until Josh, a promising prospect invited to the camp for developmental purposes, laid out to make a diving catch — and yelled a few choice words to make sure Nathaniel noticed.
“I’ve never seen him that mad before,” Josh recalled. “Everybody there was pretty much like they knew nothing was going to happen, but they kind of had to walk in between us because they knew if either of us said anything we were going to go at it.”
Nathaniel first feigned ignorance when asked for details.
“The one when he dove towards the line and took a hit away from me and laughed about it for weeks? You know, for some reason I can’t really recall,” he said. “I think that’s more of a fixation of his imagination.”
After a few laughs, Nathaniel acknowledged the play, then took a pointed shot at his younger brother. “I’ll let him have it,” he said. “When he gets a Silver (Slugger) trophy, then we can be on the same level.”
Noting Josh’s 14 steals this season — and apparently ignoring his edge in homers (11-6) and OPS (.918-.793)— Nathaniel said, “His game is apples to oranges to mine. Like, he can have all the stolen bases and all the cool stuff. But I still like my bat versus his.”
Expect smack talk
With their teams holding the best records in the majors, the overall intensity for the series, which starts Friday, is already high.
The brothers have started talking some trash about who is going to rob who. Josh, 25, said it may be more of a slow build of needling and tossing seeds than direct taunting.
Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, a friend and Orlando-area offseason workout partner of both brothers, expects high stakes — “100%” — for some steaks.
“I think it’s going to be who can get the most hits,” Lindor said. “And then good dinners after. Hopefully, Nathaniel is paying, because he’s making more money ($4.05 million to Josh’s $723,200.)”
The scene the Lowes and their extended family are waiting for will be if/when Josh reaches first base and is held on by Nathaniel.
“We all cannot wait for that moment,” Wendy said. “There’ll be some talking, and who knows what they’ll do.”
Nathaniel, 27, said he isn’t sure how that conversation will go but does have his own version of smack talk in mind: “Man, I hope we get to try a pick-off so I can smack him as hard as I can.”
Different paths, same goal
As kids, there was plenty of back and forth. And a fair amount of difference in personality.
Wendy said Nathaniel was the better student and more of a risk-taker.
“He loved to do so many different things,” she said. “He would study it, watch videos on it and then go try it. And then he wanted to perfect it — whether it was skateboarding, rollerblading, bicycle jumping, fly fishing, skimboarding,.
“Joshua would kind of more observe and say, ‘Let me see how this goes for him. I might try it, but, nah, I don’t really want to do so.’ Nathaniel did a lot of different activities, and Joshua would kind of do it for a little bit and then hang up the skimboard or the skates.”
There are differences now, too. Among the barbs they toss are ones about each other’s fashion sense. Nathaniel said Josh’s style “is a little vanilla for me.” Josh defines his brother’s as “a little western-ish,” with vests and a mustache.
One thing they do share is an appreciation for the opportunity they finally will have this weekend following the frustrations of 2022.
“I’ll take it however we can get it,” Nathaniel said. “Having a chance to compete against him is a dream.”
And to actually see it happen?
“You’re going to make me cry now,” Wendy said. “Just so proud.”
That they all agree on.
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