Brett Graves said he can count on one hand the number of errors he’s seen Brett Peel make.
This is plausible, since Graves, Missouri’s ace junior pitcher, has been at MU for three years. Peel, a junior college transfer, just joined the Tigers this year.
The only problem: Graves has known Peel for a while.
“Brett might be one of the best defensive second basemen,” Graves said. “I mean, I’m kind of biased because that’s one of my best friends and I’ve played with him since I was 9.”
Peel isn’t Graves’s only childhood friend on the Missouri baseball team.
With Peel and fellow junior college transfer Steven Diel joining Graves, Case Munson and Jake Ivory at Missouri this season, five friends from Francis Howell High School in St. Charles are all on the same team again.
“It’s having my best friends that I grew up with, here playing with (me),” Graves said. “It’s been great, on and off the field.”
They’ve been friends since elementary school.
Peel, Graves and Ivory were on the same Little League team. Munson and Diel played against them in the same league.
In 2011, they went 32-3 at Francis Howell and won seven straight games in the postseason to win the Class 4 championship.
“Everybody else that didn’t go to Howell is always giving us crap because we’re always talking about what happened in high school,” Graves said.
After high school, Graves, Munson and Ivory came to MU to play baseball.
Though friends since adolescence, it wasn’t a plan for them to all play for the Tigers. They all committed at different times, with Graves being first in June 2010. Ivory came later, in August. Munson got an offer in the spring of 2011.
“It all kind of came together separately,” Graves said.
Peel and Diel had to wait a bit to join their friends.
Peel said he wasn’t satisfied with the baseball offers he had coming out of high school. He and Diel went to Jefferson College, a junior college in Hillsboro.
After two seasons at the junior college level, they both received offers to play for Mizzou. Peel committed first; Diel followed.
Peel said he got other offers after his two years at junior college, but he wanted to join his friends at Mizzou.
“Having an opportunity to come play with these guys again really excited (me and) pushed me to come here,” Peel said.
Even though they’re the same age, and have shared experiences, Peel said he’s looked to Graves, Munson and Ivory for guidance as he’s transitioned from junior college. He said they told him to come with an open mind and that he would be given opportunities to play.
“They’ve been here,” Peel said. “They’ve been through the playoff experience (in 2012). They’ve been through the long (first) year in the (Southeastern Conference).”
Peel and Diel moved into a house next to Graves, Munson and Ivory. The friendship the five share is a dynamic that Ivory cherishes.
“If there was four guys that I was really good friends with in high school, it was these four,” Ivory said. “So it’s awesome having them here as friends and as teammates.”
Their coach at Francis Howell, Tony Perkins, is elated for his players. He said that though he hasn’t made it to Columbia for a game yet this season, he texts them when they do well and speaks often with their parents.
“I think it’s fabulous (that they’re playing together),” Perkins said. “Really, it was one of the most talented, close-knit groups I’ve ever had.”
From the 2011 Francis Howell team, 10 went on to play in college. The five at Missouri are the only ones to compete at the Division I level.
“Most of our kids, if they want to, they’re playing college somewhere,” Perkins said. “Division I in the SEC, that’s different. That’s a different breed of cat right there.”
On the baseball field, Graves said he doesn’t interfere with his friends or attempt to coach them. He knows what he’ll get out of them.
“I feel like Jake and Case and Brett and Steven, they’ve always been really hard workers,” Graves said. “They’ve been like that since we were 9 or 10 years old. Nothing has changed.”
The five friends have produced at different levels this year.
Graves is the Tigers’ ace. Ivory, an outfielder, has started more than 20 games this year. Munson and Peel are bench players. Diel is redshirting.
Though three years removed, their state championship remains a highlight.
“That’ll definitely be up there for the rest of my life,” Ivory said. “I’m hoping that there (are) better things to come.”