Western Branch's Conner Butler following his brother's lead
June 8, 2017
Conner Butler was easy to find when older brother Kyle was on a baseball field.
Conner might have been nearly four years younger, but he was itching to get in, too.
“He would always be at our games and be our bat boy or take batting practice with us,” Kyle said recently. “Or he’d stand behind the fence and watch practice and watch all our games.”
Kyle carved a path as a standout second baseman at Western Branch, helping the Bruins win the Group 6A state championship in 2014 before heading to Radford. Three years later, Connor is following his brother’s lead as a Bruins second baseman.
And he can match Kyle’s state championship with two more victories. The Bruins (16-7) play Oakton at 2 p.m. today in a Group 6A semifinal at James Robinson Secondary in Fairfax. Cox (21-4) plays Patriot at 10 a.m. in the other semifinal; the winners meet Saturday for the state championship.
Conner, a junior, drew motivation from watching Kyle.
“He’s definitely a good role model,” Conner said. “He’s cut a good path for me. I want to follow in his footsteps and have success like he’s had.”
Conner this season has ticked off a number of accomplishments of his own. He was first-team All-Monitor-Merrimac and All-6A South Region, and while batting second in the lineup, has hit .310 with seven doubles, a home run and seven stolen bases.
Conner was a starter last season but had some growing pains as he adjusted to the rigors of varsity baseball as a sophomore.
“I definitely did struggle because of the faster pitching, and I’ve gotten the hang of it now and feel like this season’s gone a lot smoother,” Conner said. “I had to change my swing, definitely get stronger, get in the weight room and learn the pace of the game.”
Conner had a familiar workout partner this summer. He and his brother were regulars together in the weight room and on the track, training with former Norfolk State track All-American Marlon Woods.
As a redshirt sophomore, Kyle was a second-team All-Big South Conference pick this season and led the Highlanders in batting. Radford won the Big South Conference tournament and made its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years.
The brothers’ success this season has kept their parents – Lee and Tracy – scrambling to keep up. Lee, a former standout at Portsmouth Catholic and Lynchburg College, played three minor league seasons in the Atlanta Braves’ organization. But those minor-league road trips weren’t nearly as lengthy – or as stressful – as trips they’ve taken during their sons’ careers.
Last week, Lee and Tracy drove to Woodbridge, hoping to watch Western Branch’s 6A South Region semifinal. That was postponed a day, and the parents flew from there to watch Kyle in the NCAA tournament in Louisville.
“I never had any nerves, never had any problem playing in front of a crowd,” said Lee, who played shortstop and coached his sons from an early age. “But watching them, it’s a different experience.”
Kyle arrived home this week from Radford after the Highlanders were eliminated, and he’ll join his parents in the stands to watch Conner play in Fairfax.
Conner, who watched his brother’s team win a state championship on the same field, shrugs off the notion of having to live up to his older brother’s accomplishments.
“I like him having success and I want to have success,” Conner said, “but there’s no pressure to live up to his success. I gotta be me.”
Jami Frankenberry, 757-446-2376, Follow @JamiVP on Twitter.