Ten years ago, when USF baseball players Luke and Levi Borders spent the summer with their father, Pat Borders, who played for the Seattle Mariners at the time, the boys had an ongoing competition to see who caught the most fly balls during batting practice.
“The last day before they had to go home to get ready to go to school, they were close (in their competition),” Pat said. “At the end of (batting practice), one of the kids — I’m not gonna tell you which one — caught a ball. It was the last one they were running for. If the other caught it, I think it would have been tied, and the other one just was destroyed because they were leaving to go home the next day.”
Neither brother remembers who won the competition, but both smiled, remembering the summers spent with their dad.
“That was one of my best memories from when he played,” Levi said. “I used to love shagging fly balls during (batting practice).”
The Borders brothers took to baseball very early in life.
“As soon as they were old enough to walk, they started seeing baseball because I was around it,” Pat said. “They’d try and emulate me.”
Levi and Luke were boys among big leaguers during batting practice and continued their play in their father’s locker room during the games, playing with souvenir balls and bats they’d get from stadium souvenir shops.
The boys learned much from their father. Levi, a sophomore who, like his father, is positioned as catcher, parallels Pat in other ways.
Coincidentally, their first triples were off another father-son pair: the Leibrandts.
Pat’s first major-league hit came during his debut on April 6, 1988, the second day of the season. During his first at bat, he hit a bases-clearing triple off Kansas City pitcher Charlie Leibrandt.
“(Leibrandt) could have hit the screen and I would have swung,” Pat said. “I was a young kid. I was ready to go. I was all wound up. He could have thrown it anywhere in the ballpark except over the plate, and I still would have swung.”
Like his father, Levi’s first triple was off a Leibrandt pitcher.
Leibrandt’s son Brandon, a junior at Florida State, surrendered the hit against Levi last season.
The similarities don’t stop in the field of play, though.
Levi’s walkup song last year was AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells,” but Pat said he would have been fine with anything off the classic ’80s album “Back in Black.”
Unlike his father and brother, Luke picked the EDM song “Boneless” by Steve Aoki as his walkup song.
“That’s his personality,” Pat said. “Just listen to the music.”
Luke, the 6-foot-3, 198-pound freshman, walks to his own beat, but the brothers have been best friends since before the days of fly ball competitions and make-believe MLB in their dad’s locker room.
The boys have since traded in their souvenir bats for aluminum ones at USF, but their competitive edge has not faded.
“We’re real intense whenever we do something,” Luke said. “No matter what it is — running, racing with each other, fighting, wrestling around — it’s always the same intensity.”
This intensity is carried onto the field.
Just 14 months apart, the boys played on the same teams even before enrolling at USF. They’re around each other on the field, but also spend time together away from the diamond.
“We’ll fish every now and then, ride four-wheelers, play basketball,” Luke said. “Sometimes we’ll lift if we get bored, or work out on the pastures.”
Pat and his wife Kathy live on a 500-acre ranch in the middle of Polk County with their children.
“Sometimes we’ll get some cows together, put them in the trailer, dig up cactuses in the pasture, fix the barbed-wire fence,” Luke said. “There’s always something to do.”
But Pat said he wanted all his children to involve themselves away from home, “whether it was baseball or the chess team, they had to do something.”
“We have nine kids in our family, and they’re all doing something athletically,” Pat said. “We’re in the game all the time.”
Baseball plays an active role in the Borders family now, but the American pastime goes back generations.
Both of Pat’s grandfathers played in military leagues during the World War II generation, and Pat’s father, who played in high school, now owns a softball complex in Kentucky, where he plays in tournaments.12