By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. - Kenny and Danny Diekroegerhave been playing baseball together for so long, it would be weird not to be roaming the same infield. Never mind that both start for nationally-ranked Stanford and are believed to be the only brothers to do so at the same time in school history.
"The funny thing is it feels completely normal," said Kenny, a junior shortstop. "We've done it pretty much our entire lives. So, even though we're doing it at the collegiate level, it feels normal. It's just business as usual."
Danny, a sophomore second baseman, also takes it in stride.
"It's really funny how it worked out," he said. "I just think it's pretty cool."
Leave it to father Ken, who graduated from Stanford and met his wife, Kathy, at Stanford Business School, to put it into perspective.
"Any time we see them out there, we just try to appreciate it because we know it's not going to last," said Ken, a private equity investor. "Enjoy it while it's happening.''
Kenny, the 2010 Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday. He has 167 career starts for the Cardinal at third, short and second, and boasts a .306 career average.
Danny played sparingly as a freshman, but has come on strong late this season. He has appeared in 32 games - 20 as a starter (10 and DH and 10 at second base) - and has batted .360 while compiling a .981 fielding percentage. He has also shown power, belting four home runs.
The Woodside, Calif., natives and Menlo School products will be in the starting lineup Friday night when Stanford (41-16) plays Florida State (46-15) in the NCAA Super Regional in Tallahassee, Fla. The winner of the best-of-three series advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
"The thing that has impressed me about Danny is his defense," said Mark Marquess, The Clarke and Elizabeth Nelson Director of Baseball. "He could always DH because he's a good left-handed hitter, but he has really improved his defense. He's made some great plays."
Danny has made only one error and contributed significantly in a 10-9 win against BYU, gunning down a potential tying runner at the plate. He also threw out a runner at the home last weekend in the NCAA Regionals against Pepperdine, and knocked in the winning run in a 12-inning nonconference victory against Saint Mary's.
"He's doing very well, but that doesn't come as a surprise to me," Kenny said. "He's always been a very good hitter and a very solid defender. I'm just happy that he's doing it at this level."
Kenny, Danny and younger brother Mikey, a rising junior at Menlo School, first started playing together in T-Ball, then continued together in Little League and high school. While living in Burlingame, Ken built a makeshift batting cage in the backyard, not that it did much good.
"We played tons of whiffle ball," said Danny. "My dad would always pitch to us. I know our neighbors hated it because we were always hitting balls into their yard."
Added Kenny, "Pretty much all we did is just play together in the backyard. We didn't have video games back then, so we were always competing against each other."
While Kenny starred in baseball at Menlo, and was named a high school first-team All-America by Baseball America as a senior, Danny was a two-sport standout. He was a two-year starter in football and baseball, and threw for 4,185 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior while guiding his team to the Central Coast Section Division IV championship game.
"I really fell in love with football in high school," said Danny. "I still think about it sometimes, what it would be like. I didn't have the same offers that I did with baseball. I was talking to some Ivy League schools about playing. I went with baseball and I'm happy with the decision."
Danny looked hard at playing baseball at Duke and also considered Princeton.
"When Stanford came around with an offer, it was hard to turn down because everything seemed perfect," he said.
Unaccustomed to sitting last year, Danny played summer league ball in North Carolina following Stanford's Super Regional loss to the Tar Heels. He started 39 of 43 games for the Morehead City Marlins, and ranked fourth in batting in the wood-bat Coastal Plain League with a .275 average.
"Coming into this season I wasn't expecting too much," said Danny. "I was trying not to think about what would have to happen for me to play or where I was going to play, and just kind of focused on getting better and controlling what I could control."
A season-ending knee injury to starting shortstop Lonnie Kauppilacreated an opening at second base, with Kenny moving from second to short.
"Lonnie unfortunately got hurt and I ended up being lucky enough to get a chance at second," Danny said.
Although Kenny and Danny have great instincts together, there was an adjustment period.
"We still have to talk," said Danny. "It's been a couple years since we've actually played together. We're doing different shifts we didn't do in high school. It's comforting playing next to each other."
And knowing each has the other's back. Both have professional baseball aspirations.
"Kenny's been really helpful the past two years, especially when I first came in, helping me get used to college baseball and how to manage myself," Danny said. "We definitely help each other out."
"We've definitely gotten closer in the time we've been together at Stanford," he said. "I look up to him, too. I try to do a lot of things the same way he does."
Initially, Ken and Kathy were concerned Danny might have trouble trying to keep up with his big brother. Not for long.
"It's never an issue, because Kenny never uses that over him," said Ken. "Also, Danny always had enough self-confidence and success in other ways - he had football and was always good in school. Kenny never held it over him. Mikey and Kenny go at it all the time for whatever reason. In a good way."
Some have suggested Mikey might be the best athlete in the family, although Kathy ran cross country and track at Dartmouth, where she set multiple school records.
"For his age, he's definitely ahead of those guys," Ken said. "Whether it will continue, we'll see. He probably gets way more attention than he deserves just because people recognize his last name, but he's done pretty well."
Ken, Kathy and Mikey will make the trip to Tallahassee to watch Kenny and Danny play Florida State. They wouldn't miss it for the world.
"Kathy is a nervous Nellie and I am just savoring every minute of it," said Ken. "I really, truly enjoy every minute of it because I know it's not going to last."