It’s rare for best friends to play their entire career together. It’s even rarer for them to be talented enough to play on the same Div. I baseball team. Little league and travel ball took Matt Whatley and Bryce Howe from teammates to friends. High school took them from friends to best friends. College has made them brothers.
The chemistry they’ve always had carried over into to their collegiate careers. When the duo started together for the first time against Oklahoma on March 10, 2015, the emotions were overwhelming.
“It was unbelievable. It’s one of those things you dream about when you’re younger. I was stoked that it was with Bryce,” said Whatley. “I think the first game Bryce got to start was against OU last year and it was awesome getting to see him in that moment and see him have success.”
Whatley and Howe’s success started at their hometown Claremore High School. The duo thrived at Claremore making two Oklahoma state championship appearances in the process. Success came as easily as their friendship.
Whatley and Howe’s competitiveness made them strive to be better. Not just better than their competition, but better than each other. Whatley’s .404 batting average as a senior was second only to Howe. Howe hit .625 as a senior even though he was primarily a pitcher–a stat he still laughs about at Whatley’s expense.
“I can say there was some competition between them to see who could outperform the other, but it never became a distraction to the team,” said former Claremore High School varsity baseball coach Brent Payne. “I think it made them both better.”
Howe and Whatley continue to have success as the relationship they’ve built since 2005 has helped them on the field. Their personalities are different and some would even say completely opposite, but together they are inseparable.
“[Matt] is extremely talkative, and he’s very outgoing and extremely energetic,” Howe said. “He’s a good guy.”
Whatley appreciates the more complex personality of his best friend.
“He’s kind of shy at first, but once you get underneath the skin, he’s a [funny guy],” Whatley said. “I love him to death and I’m glad he’s my best friend.”
Whatley earned All-American honors last season as one of the country’s best freshman and Howe went 4-3 with a 3.93 ERA and leads the Golden Eagles’ 2016 starting rotation.
Playing baseball together for 10-plus years creates life-long friendships. Taking pride in each other’s successes is an important part of making the friend- ship last, but staying close even during the tough times is what turns close friends into family.
“I think they’re a lot like brothers,” said Payne. “They get frustrated at each other at times, but they’ve never let anything split their relationship.”
Story by Russell Dorsey, Photo by Wyatt Bullard