FORT MYERS, Fla. — The shared dream was that the doctors finally would figure it out and the two brothers would play together, Bryce in the outfield and Jared as the catcher.
They are fraternal twins, born minutes apart in a Tennessee hospital in 1988. But they were identically competitive, driven to swing a bat, throw a football, or just wrestle in the front yard until somebody came along and broke it up.
The bigger they got, they more determined Bryce and Jared Brentz became.
“I’d throw a ball at him as hard as I could and he’d throw it back at me even harder,” Bryce said. “He was the best athlete I ever saw. He could pick up any sport and be good at it right away.”
But the doctors never had the right answers. Jared was born with bilateral clubfeet and arthrogryposis, a condition that stiffened his joints and caused his leg muscles to develop abnormally. He had three surgeries by the age of 9 but still had to use a wheelchair.
“None of us could push it for him,” Bryce said. “He’d insist on doing it himself. Or he’d just walk in braces no matter how much it hurt him.”
Bryce grew up into one of the best baseball prospects in the Knoxville area. He hit .465 with 28 home runs as a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State and was drafted by the Red Sox in 2010, the 36th overall pick.
The right fielder is 8 of 20 in spring training, leading the team with three home runs and six RBIs. After a difficult 2013 season that included an accidental gunshot wound in his leg, Brentz looks like a player who could help the Sox at some point this season.
“You see the raw power,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s got all-field power. He’s by no means a finished product but there are skills there that certainly translate. That makes him a strong prospect.”
If the story ended there — athletic brother motivated by disabled twin — it would be a decent one. But Jared threw the ball back even harder.
In 1990, doctors told the family that Jared had three options. He could stay with the wheelchair, endure another surgery that would fuse his ankle joints, or get a double amputation and use prosthetic limbs.
“I was 12 at the time and those were my choices,” Jared said. “I wasn’t going to stay in the wheelchair, and the surgery would have had me walking like Frankenstein. I asked the doctors about amputation and they said I would be able to do anything I wanted to do with the prosthetics. I wanted to go back to playing baseball.”
Jared was convinced. But Charlie and Cindy Brentz weren’t prepared for such a radical solution for their son right away. It wasn’t until he was 13 that the amputation was done after countless hours of prayer and soul searching.
“They wanted to make sure I knew what I wanted,” Jared said. “But I knew. Once I had the surgery, I was lucky. I was able to keep more of my legs than they thought.”
Jared, free of his wheelchair, became a varsity golfer and wrestler at South-Doyle High. He could stand at the plate and hit a baseball over everything.
“He had a walk-off homer to win a game once and it took him five minutes to get around the bases,” said Bryce. “We all went crazy.
“He was a better hitter than I was. I honestly think he could be playing for somebody right now.
“Football was my sport when I was a kid, and baseball was his. He had a natural affinity for it. The only thing he couldn’t do was run. I can’t tell you how many times he crushed a ball off the fence and got a single.”
Over time, as Bryce made baseball his sport, Jared turned to golf. He won the national Amputee Long Drive Championship last year with a 367-yard shot. He won another event in Nevada and is training for a competition coming up in May.
Dean Jarvis, who organizes the events, said Jared quickly became a star in a growing segment of golf. He even has equipment sponsors.
Just like his brother, Jared is a power hitter.
“It’s the same swing on a different plane,” he said. “There’s technique but also strength. Bryce is a pretty good golfer and he thinks he can outdrive me. But that’s comical.”
Bryce, who routinely hits baseballs 450 feet, ducked his head and admitted defeat.
“My brother is a monster,” he said. “He’s 6-4 and he can bench 405 pounds. The guy can’t go to a normal driving range because he hits it out on the street.
“I never saw him as handicapped person. Even in high school, he didn’t want to park in the handicapped space. He’d rather walk no matter how hard it was. He was a tough guy and still is. You would never look at him and consider him disabled.”
During his struggles last season, Bryce drew strength from his brother’s triumphs.
“It would motivate anybody,” he said. “My brother would give anything to have two normal feet. How can I get upset about striking out? For him to be that strong and such a good athlete, that drives me. He inspires me.”
Jared lives in Nashville and is a regional manager for a security company and engaged to be married. He tries to practice his driving at least a few hours every week. Around Nashville, he is in high demand for best-ball tournaments.
Jared also follows Bryce’s career, catching games in person when he can or looking up box scores on the Internet.
“I can’t wait for him to get called up,” Jared said. “I told my boss that I’m going to be getting on a plane to go see that game.
“Bryce and I were always competitive with each other and fighting all the time. We made our parents crazy. But I’m proud of him.”
The brothers who wrestled in the yard are now better friends than they ever imagined.
“I love the guy,” said Bryce. “I may want to wrap that golf club around his neck sometimes but I admire him.
“I’m here chasing my dream and he’s chasing his. It worked out the right way.”