When BYU and Utah square off tonight in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference baseball tournament, it will likely mark the Relf brothers' final showdown on the field, at least as collegians.
The No. 4 seeded Cougars (22-34 overall, 10-14 in the MWC) face the No. 5 seeded Utes (23-26 and 10-14) at 6 p.m. in Fort Worth, Texas.
The two teams just completed a wild three-game series last weekend at Franklin Covey Field, where BYU won two of three, including a dramatic 13-10 victory on Saturday that featured a 12-run eighth inning after trailing 10-0.
Cougar sophomore second baseman Brandon Relf and his younger brother, Ute freshman outfielder Tyler, are savoring every moment of these meetings. For them, the only thing bigger than the BYU-Utah rivalry is their sibling rivalry. During last weekend's series, their father, Peter, wore a cap sporting the BYU logo on one side and the Utah logo on their other.
"We were hoping our sons would get on the same team, but that didn't work out that way," Peter said. "I'll have to wear this hat the rest of my life. It's actually funner this way. It puts a little bit of fun in the family. I like the camaraderie and competition. It's good.
"They'll have grandkids that they be able to tell this about."
While Brandon recently returned home from an LDS mission to South Africa, Tyler is planning to leave for a mission later this year, meaning this is the only year they'll be able to play against each other on the college level. The season series between BYU and Utah is deadlocked at two games apiece. For the Relfs, tonight's game is a huge rubber match with lifelong bragging rights on the line.
No matter the outcome, the Relf brothers are enjoying the ride. When BYU and Utah played for the first time this season, back on April 8 in Provo (the Utes won, 9-7), Brandon was playing second base and Tyler was standing on second base.
"We were jawing at each other. I was saying I was going to pick him off and he was saying he was going to steal third base," Brandon recalled. "After a little while, the umpire asked if we were brothers or cousins. At the same time we said, 'Brothers,' in kind of an annoying tone. It was funny."
For Christmas, the Relfs' mother, Kimberely, gave both boys a football. "She gave Brandon a U. of U. football and Tyler a BYU football," Peter said. "I sat and watched them wrestle each other at Christmastime trying to stuff a football down each other's shirts. It gets a little rough at times. They're good brothers. They love each other. But when they're out there on the field, they're very dedicated to their individual teams. They're proud of their teams and love their coaches. But they won't say anything about the other boy. Their teammates try to find out their brothers' weakness, neither will say a word about each other. That's good."
During the first game of last week's series, which Utah won, 5-3, Brandon struck out late in the contest and some Ute players jeered him. But Tyler stood up for his brother. "Yeah, but two of those runs up there on the scoreboard were ones he hit in," he told his teammates.
In game two, Tyler came off the bench to replace an injured Ute and played most of the game in centerfield, catching one of Brandon's fly balls for an out. Later, Brandon drilled a pitch over Tyler's head for a double.
"Why did you catch my ball?" Brandon asked Tyler in mock disgust after the game, which the Cougars won, 15-2.
Reminded that he later hit one over his brother's head, Brandon said, "That's because he caught my first one. I was mad."
"You were lucky on the second one," Tyler replied with a smile. Tyler recorded an RBI single in the game.
"Obviously we make a few comments to each other to keep it fun," Brandon said. "Deep down I'm pulling for him because I want to see him do well. When he got that RBI, I was kind of mad. As long as BYU comes out on top, I want to see him do well. It's fun to see him out on the field at this level. To have two brothers contribute on a Division I level is pretty impressive."
Brandon and Tyler not only play at rival schools, but they have taken different paths to their respective teams. Brandon was the Deseret News' 5A MVP back in 2004 when he starred at Alta High. He signed with BYU and played one season before departing on his mission.
Tyler also starred at Alta, but was less heralded than his brother. While Tyler did not receive a Division I scholarship offer, Utah coach Bill Kinneberg offered him the opportunity to walk on.
"We're grateful to coach Kinneberg for recognizing his talent," Peter said. "When he got on there, he said, if you come back to Utah after your mission, and not sneak down to BYU, we'll take you."
Brandon is gratified to see Tyler's success. "It's awesome," he said. "It's been fun to see him playing as well as he is."
And if Brandon gets his way, he and Tyler will resume their rivalry at the next level."Our goals are to make it to make it to the big leagues," he said. "Hopefully this is a stop on the road for us."
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