Tim Proudfoot and Bryant Burleson couldn’t be from more diverse backgrounds, yet couldn’t be closer as teammates if they were Siamese twins.
One grew up on the plains of Midland, used to the West Texas heat and wind, where the tallest structures are oil rigs that light up the night sky. The other grew up in the Pacific Northwest with green grass, blue waters and in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Rainier.
But their love of baseball brought both to Texas Tech in the fall of 2011, and they’ve been linked ever since. It’s probably why the two have been one of the top middle-infield and double-play combinations in the nation the last two years.
“We’re like best friends out there,” said Proudfoot, Tech’s three-year starting shortstop and native of North Bend, Wash. “Playing and talking with your best friend, you know there’s a certain communication level that’s better than other people that you know. We just translate that to every aspect of our defense, offense we help share other things we learn on the field and just help each other out.”
Numbers don’t lie
Over the past two seasons, no team in the Big 12, and few across the country, have been better defensively than Texas Tech.
In 2013, the Red Raiders broke school records in both fielding percentage (.974) and double plays turned (68). Those 68 double plays ranked sixth in the nation and eighth in Big 12 history for a single season.
This season, the Red Raiders are on track to be even better defensively. Tech has led the Big 12 for the majority of the season with a .981 fielding percentage, and the 41 errors would be the fewest in team history since 1987 (37).
It’s no coincidence that a big part of the reason is having two juniors up the middle in Proudfoot and Burleson. Together, those two have started 135 and 141 games, respectively, in their careers.
Of those starts, 93 have come with Proudfoot at short and Burleson at second. Burleson spent much of his freshman year switching between second and third, while Proudfoot missed about a month this year after taking a pitch in the shoulder during batting practice right after the beginning of the season.
When they’re on the field together, however, they’re the pitcher’s best friends, in addition to each other’s.
“They are a huge confidence booster,” senior left-hander Jonny Drozd said. “Having them in the middle, almost nothing gets by them and that allows us pitchers to just focus on throwing strikes, getting ahead and letting the batter get themselves out.”
Best of friends
Proudfoot and Burleson hung out together in the dormitories their freshman year, then moved into an off-campus apartment together as sophomores. Whether through talking baseball, going out to eat or staying home and playing video games, a tight bond quickly formed.
“I think it’s just the chemistry,” Proudfoot said. “Not just on the field. We’re always around each other. We know every aspect of each other’s lives. That translates to the field and makes us the dynamic duo that I guess everybody talks about.”
But their penchant for turning two or getting to balls deep in the hole hasn’t come naturally. Proudfoot estimates the two take about 100 double-play feeds every practice.
“I think it started out coming in as freshmen and (head coach Tim Tadlock) putting us to work,” Burleson said. “We would get ground ball after ground ball every day before practice, after practice. I’d never taken that many ground balls in my life. I think that was the start of it, a lot of hard work and then being good friends helps a lot, being able to communicate and being able to know where he’ll be on the field and where I’ll be on the field.”
With both coming in as freshmen at the same time and both having played shortstop in high school, there was competition between the two at first. Proudfoot won the job and started 102 of 106 games at the position his first two seasons.
Burleson, meanwhile, flipped between second and third his freshman year before taking over second full-time at the beginning of 2013.
“I’d played shortstop my whole life coming in but I knew that I wanted to play and I wanted to help the team out any way I could,” Burleson said. “If I saw my name in the lineup I played that position as hard as I could.”
Burleson and Proudfoot are both having career years offensively as well. Burleson is hitting .287 with 33 RBIs, and ranks behind only teammate Adam Kirsch in the Big 12 in doubles with 17. Proudfoot hit just .233 last season, but is hitting .314 this year, despite missing 22 games with his shoulder injury.
“That’s big with the bat,” Proudfoot said. “The stronger we are in the lineup, the more depth we have now at the bottom.”
As long as their defense stays the way it is, Tadlock will take whatever he can get from them offensively.
“They both like playing and both have accepted the roles about where they’re playing,” Tadlock said. “They both make each other look good at times, and that’s the way it works on the baseball field. You pick each other up and they’ve been pretty good about doing that. They’ve been solid so far and hopefully they keep doing that.”
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