Fairbanks, Fleming On Being Pals (www.mlb.com)


#BestBudz: Fairbanks, Fleming on being pals

“,”providerName”:”Instagram”,”providerUrl”:”https://www.instagram.com/”,”type”:”rich”,”width”:658,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.2″:{“data”:{“type”:”id”,”generated”:true,”id”:”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.2.data”,”typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”type”:”oembed”,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbed”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.3″:{“content”:”When Fleming was called up from Double-A Montgomery in early August 2019, Fairbanks was already with Triple-A Durham. The two pitchers didn’t know each other but knew of each other, primarily because they share an agent: Aaron Elking, now with Republik Sports. Walking into the Triple-A clubhouse for the first time, Fleming quickly spotted Fairbanks playing cards with teammates.nn“And the first thing he tells me is, ‘Oh, so you’re the kid who thinks he’s from St. Louis but really isn’t,’” Fleming said. “And I’m like, ‘Gosh, here we go.’ So, that’s how it started.”nnIt wouldn’t be the last time that came up, either.nnFairbanks was born in St. Louis, attended Webster Groves High School in one of the city’s inner-ring suburbs and lives in the city. Fleming is from Columbia, Ill., which is a short drive across the Jefferson Barracks Bridge from St. Louis’ southern suburbs and about 10 miles south of the Cardinals’ downtown ballpark. But Fairbanks won’t abide by Fleming’s occasional assertion that he, like Fairbanks, is _from_ St. Louis.nn“It’s not so much of a big deal,” Fairbanks says during a Zoom call with Fleming and MLB.com. “I just don’t like that people who are from Illinois claim the St. Louis area as theirs.”nn“I mean, we’re 10 minutes from the city,” Fleming responds, continuing a back-and-forth that goes a few more rounds until Fairbanks asks which state is on Fleming’s driver’s license. They banter like this so naturally, entertainingly and frequently that it almost feels professionally written.nnThey quickly became friends. And when Spring Training was shut down last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they became quarantine throwing partners in St. Louis. Their friendship grew during all that time spent together, even if it’s hard to hide their differences.nnFairbanks is intentional in all his work, sticking with any part of his routine that he finds useful unless sufficiently convinced otherwise. Fleming is a little more flexible, a good trait in this case — because he had to be.nn“There’s a lot of benefit to having someone who holds you accountable,” Fairbanks said. “I put a ton of value and emphasis on getting my work in in whatever capacity I have to do it, so I was fortunate to have somebody who is not as regimented — who I could basically force to do whatever I wanted to do.”nnNot that Fleming was just along for the ride. He had abandoned the practice of long-tossing between starts, for instance, when he moved into a five-man rotation for Class A Advanced Charlotte in 2018. But Fairbanks likes to long-toss as part of his program, so Fleming picked it up again and found it significantly improved his arm strength and stamina when he reported to the Rays’ alternate training site.nn“I credit Pete a lot for pretty much making me long-toss every day, because that’s what he wanted to do,” Fleming said. “So I would pretty much be forced to do that, but I enjoyed it a lot.””,”type”:”markdown”,”__typename”:”Markdown”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.4.data”:{“html”:”

n”,”providerName”:”Instagram”,”providerUrl”:”https://www.instagram.com/”,”type”:”rich”,”width”:658,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.4″:{“data”:{“type”:”id”,”generated”:true,”id”:”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.4.data”,”typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”type”:”oembed”,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbed”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.5″:{“content”:”Both rookie pitchers were unlikely success stories, albeit in different ways. Trying to group them together as athletes who overcame obstacles, in fact, will spark another short side conversation.nn“Yeah, Flem, tell me about all your obstacles that you faced as a high-round Draft pick,” Fairbanks says, dryly.nn“It’s not that I’m a high-round Draft pick. It’s how I got there,” Fleming answers, laughing. “Come on, you know this!”nnIndeed, Fleming was the first drafted player in his Division III college program’s history. He was a skinny kid, about 150 pounds coming out of high school, who only drew interest from one school: Webster University. But the underdeveloped freshman turned into a legitimate prospect and, ultimately, the Rays’ fifth-round pick in the 2017 Draft.nnFleming proved himself as a rookie last year, going 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, and he helped keep Tampa Bay’s injury-riddled rotation afloat. The 24-year-old should play an

, too, whether he’s a traditional starter, a bulk-innings pitcher or both.nnMeanwhile, Fairbanks had Tommy John surgery twice before turning 25 — first in high school and again as a Rangers Minor Leaguer in 2017. Once a ninth-round pick out of the University of Missouri, he rebuilt his delivery with a more compact throwing motion and revitalized his career with a fastball that touches triple digits. He flew from Class A to the Majors in 2019, and his power stuff caught the Rays’ attention. They traded Nick Solak to the Rangers on July 13, 2019, and received Fairbanks in return.nnAfter posting a 6.86 ERA in his first big league season, the 27-year-old cemented himself as one of manager Kevin Cash’s most trusted relievers last year by putting together a 2.70 ERA and striking out 39 batters in 26 2/3 innings during the regular season. He picked up three saves in the postseason, and the Rays won every playoff game in which he pitched until Game 6 of the World Series.nn“That’s the good thing about baseball: If you’re good enough, people will find you,” Fairbanks said. “It doesn’t matter the curve that it takes you to get there. If you’re good, somebody’s going to find you.”nnBoth exemplify the Rays’ ability to identify talent and bring out the best in their players. How do they do it?”,”type”:”markdown”,”__typename”:”Markdown”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.6″:{“contentDate”:”2020-09-22T02:53:17.359Z”,”description”:”The Rays threw a bullpen game to outduel Jacob deGrom and his 14 strikeouts in their 2-1 win over the Mets at Citi 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Fantasy”,”__typename”:”Tag”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.7″:{“content”:”Fleming credited their pitching coaches, coordinators and analytics staff for being so knowledgeable and helpful. Fairbanks also chalked it up to the environment the club creates, with “a little bit more freedom” for each player to do what works best for him. It’s a player-centered culture, built around amplifying what they do well “versus putting you into a snowman cookie mold,” Fairbanks said.nn“Pete and I are opposite pitchers. I’m a contact, ground-ball guy; Pete’s a high-velocity, strikeout guy,” Fleming added. “But they take the strengths that you have and turn it into — you saw what we did last year. They’re so good at what they do.”nn**\*\*\***nnTheir public-facing personalities are about as dissimilar as their pitching profiles.nnFairbanks is more analytical when breaking down his craft, more vocal, more intense and more outspoken in interviews, a free speaker who’s quick on his feet. Fleming is more likely to trust the way he feels on the mound and more reserved on and off the field, although he’s more outgoing, more talkative and quicker to clap back around friends.nn“I like flying under the radar, I guess you could say,” Fleming said.nnSo it stood out when Fleming showed up at Globe Life Field before Game 4 of the World Series wearing a T-shirt featuring a photo designed like the poster for the movie “Step Brothers,” only with Fairbanks’ face in place of Will Ferrell and Fleming’s face over that of John C. Reilly.nnTo the left of their likenesses were the words: “BEST BUDZ.””,”type”:”markdown”,”__typename”:”Markdown”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.8.data”:{“html”:”

No wonder why the @RaysBaseball won last night. Check out @JoshRFleming pre Game 4. Too much 🔥 #BestBudz #Platinum pic.twitter.com/BfmnLJhl0R

— Platinum Sports (@PlatinumSports) October 25, 2020

nn”,”providerName”:”Twitter”,”providerUrl”:”https://twitter.com”,”type”:”rich”,”width”:550,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.8″:{“data”:{“type”:”id”,”generated”:true,”id”:”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.8.data”,”typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”type”:”oembed”,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbed”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.9″:{“content”:”Elking, their agent, kept running with it. And the #BestBudz took flight. They now have an Instagram account and an online shop where you can buy apparel with the “Step Brothers”-inspired logo, TGIF (“Thank God It’s FlemDay”), BPE (“Big Pete Energy”) and more designs inspired by the two pitchers.nnFairbanks’ favorite is the narrow photo of his eyes, the famous wide-eyed stare that became the focus of the Fox telecast seemingly every time he took the mound during the World Series.nn“Obviously my genetics, when it comes to the makeup of the ocular devices on my face, was apparently a big hit,” he said. “I don’t know why. Somebody sent me a tweet with a screencap of it where it was just the strip, and I was like, ‘Aaron, put this on hoodies for me.’ I got that one for me.nn“Then, what do you do for a guy who throws sinkers? It doesn’t possess the virality, or the meme-ification is not necessarily as potent. But I think it’s great. I’m glad that we’re doing it.”nnThey’re doing it for a good cause, too. All proceeds from sales of the “Best Budz” gear will go to Urban K Life, a nonprofit organization in St. Louis that provides outreach, fellowship and mentorship to teenagers.”,”type”:”markdown”,”__typename”:”Markdown”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.10.data”:{“html”:”

Spread the word!!! #BestBudz merch is now available with all proceeds going to charity!! https://t.co/uXj1CjEhTq pic.twitter.com/KKDNvvj6wJ

— Josh Fleming (@JoshRFleming) November 23, 2020

nn”,”providerName”:”Twitter”,”providerUrl”:”https://twitter.com”,”type”:”rich”,”width”:550,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.10″:{“data”:{“type”:”id”,”generated”:true,”id”:”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.10.data”,”typename”:”ExternalEmbedContent”},”type”:”oembed”,”__typename”:”ExternalEmbed”},”$ROOT_QUERY.getForgeContentBySlug({“locale”:”en-us”,”slug”:”pete-fairbanks-josh-fleming-friendship”,”type”:”story”}).parts.11″:{“content”:”“We had talked about a couple places, then we found this — it was a sports, faith-based, after-school-type program. I thought it was a very good and apt place for the money to go, given everything that’s been going on,” Fairbanks said. “Anytime you have a place like that that’s so beneficial for kids, there’s no reason to not help out in whatever way you can.”nn**\*\*\***nnShortly after Fleming was called up to the Majors, he got a text from Fairbanks: If he needed a place to crash, Fairbanks and his wife, Lydia, had an extra room and bathroom in their apartment. It sounded better than a 90-minute daily commute from the alternate training site, so Fleming packed one bag for the weekend of his debut, went back the next week for the rest of his stuff and moved in.nnFairbanks and Fleming will soon travel to the Rays’ southern base in Port Charlotte, Fla., where they’ll be back in close quarters again as roommates during their second big league Spring Training camp.nnThey spent even more time together this offseason, working out and throwing bullpen sessions at the Elite Performance Academy near St. Louis. Except, Fairbanks says, when Fleming would skip a session.nn“I don’t skip, man. I have plans,” Fleming quipped back. “It’s different.”nnThey were able to train in a safe environment, with plenty of space and resources and jokes flying back and forth — everything the “Best Budz” needed to prepare for another season together.nn“And Fleming has a plethora of people to tell him what he needs to work on,” Fairbanks said, “myself included.”nn“Mainly you,” Fleming answered, laughing. “Mainly 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29 minutes ago

For about half of last season, there was a spot near the end of the Rays’ bullpen at Tropicana Field that belonged to Pete Fairbanks. When Fairbanks took the mound as Tampa Bay’s opener against the Nationals on Sept. 16, his seat probably should have been left vacant. Instead, Josh Fleming took it.

“I had no clue,” Fleming says, smiling.

On the mound, they’re about as different as two pitchers can be. Fleming is a 6-foot-2 left-handed starter who leans on a 90-91 mph sinker and lives for ground-ball outs. Fairbanks is a 6-foot-6 right-handed reliever who throws one of the game’s firmest fastballs and thrives with strikeouts.

But over the past year, Fairbanks and Fleming have thrown together in quarantine, lived together during the season, reached the World Series together and worked out together in the offseason. In five of Fleming’s first seven Major League appearances, he pitched before or after Fairbanks. And as fellow Rays reliever John Curtiss informed Fairbanks after that game on Sept. 16, “The dude even sits in your spot when you’re not in the bullpen.”

Baseball has a way of bringing people together. Through their experience, Fairbanks and Fleming have forged a strong friendship now branded as “Best Budz.”

“It turned out it was pretty beneficial for the both of us. The time in quarantine, I think, was very beneficial for both of us from a baseball standpoint,” Fairbanks said. “And obviously anytime you can gain a friend, it’s never a bad thing.”

When Fleming was called up from Double-A Montgomery in early August 2019, Fairbanks was already with Triple-A Durham. The two pitchers didn’t know each other but knew of each other, primarily because they share an agent: Aaron Elking, now with Republik Sports. Walking into the Triple-A clubhouse for the first time, Fleming quickly spotted Fairbanks playing cards with teammates.

“And the first thing he tells me is, ‘Oh, so you’re the kid who thinks he’s from St. Louis but really isn’t,’” Fleming said. “And I’m like, ‘Gosh, here we go.’ So, that’s how it started.”

It wouldn’t be the last time that came up, either.

Fairbanks was born in St. Louis, attended Webster Groves High School in one of the city’s inner-ring suburbs and lives in the city. Fleming is from Columbia, Ill., which is a short drive across the Jefferson Barracks Bridge from St. Louis’ southern suburbs and about 10 miles south of the Cardinals’ downtown ballpark. But Fairbanks won’t abide by Fleming’s occasional assertion that he, like Fairbanks, is from St. Louis.

“It’s not so much of a big deal,” Fairbanks says during a Zoom call with Fleming and MLB.com. “I just don’t like that people who are from Illinois claim the St. Louis area as theirs.”

“I mean, we’re 10 minutes from the city,” Fleming responds, continuing a back-and-forth that goes a few more rounds until Fairbanks asks which state is on Fleming’s driver’s license. They banter like this so naturally, entertainingly and frequently that it almost feels professionally written.

They quickly became friends. And when Spring Training was shut down last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they became quarantine throwing partners in St. Louis. Their friendship grew during all that time spent together, even if it’s hard to hide their differences.

Fairbanks is intentional in all his work, sticking with any part of his routine that he finds useful unless sufficiently convinced otherwise. Fleming is a little more flexible, a good trait in this case — because he had to be.

“There’s a lot of benefit to having someone who holds you accountable,” Fairbanks said. “I put a ton of value and emphasis on getting my work in in whatever capacity I have to do it, so I was fortunate to have somebody who is not as regimented — who I could basically force to do whatever I wanted to do.”

Not that Fleming was just along for the ride. He had abandoned the practice of long-tossing between starts, for instance, when he moved into a five-man rotation for Class A Advanced Charlotte in 2018. But Fairbanks likes to long-toss as part of his program, so Fleming picked it up again and found it significantly improved his arm strength and stamina when he reported to the Rays’ alternate training site.

“I credit Pete a lot for pretty much making me long-toss every day, because that’s what he wanted to do,” Fleming said. “So I would pretty much be forced to do that, but I enjoyed it a lot.”

Both rookie pitchers were unlikely success stories, albeit in different ways. Trying to group them together as athletes who overcame obstacles, in fact, will spark another short side conversation.

“Yeah, Flem, tell me about all your obstacles that you faced as a high-round Draft pick,” Fairbanks says, dryly.

“It’s not that I’m a high-round Draft pick. It’s how I got there,” Fleming answers, laughing. “Come on, you know this!”

Indeed, Fleming was the first drafted player in his Division III college program’s history. He was a skinny kid, about 150 pounds coming out of high school, who only drew interest from one school: Webster University. But the underdeveloped freshman turned into a legitimate prospect and, ultimately, the Rays’ fifth-round pick in the 2017 Draft.

Fleming proved himself as a rookie last year, going 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, and he helped keep Tampa Bay’s injury-riddled rotation afloat. The 24-year-old should play an important role for the Rays this season, too, whether he’s a traditional starter, a bulk-innings pitcher or both.

Meanwhile, Fairbanks had Tommy John surgery twice before turning 25 — first in high school and again as a Rangers Minor Leaguer in 2017. Once a ninth-round pick out of the University of Missouri, he rebuilt his delivery with a more compact throwing motion and revitalized his career with a fastball that touches triple digits. He flew from Class A to the Majors in 2019, and his power stuff caught the Rays’ attention. They traded Nick Solak to the Rangers on July 13, 2019, and received Fairbanks in return.

After posting a 6.86 ERA in his first big league season, the 27-year-old cemented himself as one of manager Kevin Cash’s most trusted relievers last year by putting together a 2.70 ERA and striking out 39 batters in 26 2/3 innings during the regular season. He picked up three saves in the postseason, and the Rays won every playoff game in which he pitched until Game 6 of the World Series.

“That’s the good thing about baseball: If you’re good enough, people will find you,” Fairbanks said. “It doesn’t matter the curve that it takes you to get there. If you’re good, somebody’s going to find you.”

Both exemplify the Rays’ ability to identify talent and bring out the best in their players. How do they do it?

Fleming credited their pitching coaches, coordinators and analytics staff for being so knowledgeable and helpful. Fairbanks also chalked it up to the environment the club creates, with “a little bit more freedom” for each player to do what works best for him. It’s a player-centered culture, built around amplifying what they do well “versus putting you into a snowman cookie mold,” Fairbanks said.

“Pete and I are opposite pitchers. I’m a contact, ground-ball guy; Pete’s a high-velocity, strikeout guy,” Fleming added. “But they take the strengths that you have and turn it into — you saw what we did last year. They’re so good at what they do.”

Their public-facing personalities are about as dissimilar as their pitching profiles.

Fairbanks is more analytical when breaking down his craft, more vocal, more intense and more outspoken in interviews, a free speaker who’s quick on his feet. Fleming is more likely to trust the way he feels on the mound and more reserved on and off the field, although he’s more outgoing, more talkative and quicker to clap back around friends.

“I like flying under the radar, I guess you could say,” Fleming said.

So it stood out when Fleming showed up at Globe Life Field before Game 4 of the World Series wearing a T-shirt featuring a photo designed like the poster for the movie “Step Brothers,” only with Fairbanks’ face in place of Will Ferrell and Fleming’s face over that of John C. Reilly.

To the left of their likenesses were the words: “BEST BUDZ.”

Elking, their agent, kept running with it. And the #BestBudz took flight. They now have an Instagram account and an online shop where you can buy apparel with the “Step Brothers”-inspired logo, TGIF (“Thank God It’s FlemDay”), BPE (“Big Pete Energy”) and more designs inspired by the two pitchers.

Fairbanks’ favorite is the narrow photo of his eyes, the famous wide-eyed stare that became the focus of the Fox telecast seemingly every time he took the mound during the World Series.

“Obviously my genetics, when it comes to the makeup of the ocular devices on my face, was apparently a big hit,” he said. “I don’t know why. Somebody sent me a tweet with a screencap of it where it was just the strip, and I was like, ‘Aaron, put this on hoodies for me.’ I got that one for me.

“Then, what do you do for a guy who throws sinkers? It doesn’t possess the virality, or the meme-ification is not necessarily as potent. But I think it’s great. I’m glad that we’re doing it.”

They’re doing it for a good cause, too. All proceeds from sales of the “Best Budz” gear will go to Urban K Life, a nonprofit organization in St. Louis that provides outreach, fellowship and mentorship to teenagers.

“We had talked about a couple places, then we found this — it was a sports, faith-based, after-school-type program. I thought it was a very good and apt place for the money to go, given everything that’s been going on,” Fairbanks said. “Anytime you have a place like that that’s so beneficial for kids, there’s no reason to not help out in whatever way you can.”

Shortly after Fleming was called up to the Majors, he got a text from Fairbanks: If he needed a place to crash, Fairbanks and his wife, Lydia, had an extra room and bathroom in their apartment. It sounded better than a 90-minute daily commute from the alternate training site, so Fleming packed one bag for the weekend of his debut, went back the next week for the rest of his stuff and moved in.

Fairbanks and Fleming will soon travel to the Rays’ southern base in Port Charlotte, Fla., where they’ll be back in close quarters again as roommates during their second big league Spring Training camp.

They spent even more time together this offseason, working out and throwing bullpen sessions at the Elite Performance Academy near St. Louis. Except, Fairbanks says, when Fleming would skip a session.

“I don’t skip, man. I have plans,” Fleming quipped back. “It’s different.”

They were able to train in a safe environment, with plenty of space and resources and jokes flying back and forth — everything the “Best Budz” needed to prepare for another season together.

“And Fleming has a plethora of people to tell him what he needs to work on,” Fairbanks said, “myself included.”

“Mainly you,” Fleming answered, laughing. “Mainly you.”

Adam Berry covers the Rays for MLB.com and covered the Pirates from 2015-21. Follow him on Twitter @adamdberry.



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