By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
When he was a small boy, Creighton Bryan would practice baseball in the backyard with his dad. But he wasn’t the only one.
“I was working with Creighton,” said Jim Bryan, a former professional baseball player with the Orioles and Yankees in the late ’70s, “and Katie came out and started practicing with him. She looked like she knew what she was doing, and I said we needed to get her started with playing ball too.”
Today, the siblings have taken their backyard beginnings to their respective ball diamonds: Creighton as the speedy leadoff-hitting center fielder for the ACU baseball team, and Katie as the captain and power-hitting right fielder for the softball team.
Both Creighton, a senior, and Katie, a sophomore, are standing out as ACU athletes.
Today, the Abilene-native siblings have taken their backyard beginnings to their respective ball diamonds: Creighton as the speedy leadoff-hitting center fielder for the ACU baseball team, and Katie as the captain and power-hitting right fielder for the softball team.
Both Creighton, a senior, and Katie, a sophomore, are standing out as ACU athletes. Creighton, named a pre-season all-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association, is batting .353 this season with eight RBI. Katie, who was named to the all-Lone Star Conference team after last season, carries a .538 batting average with 14 RBI and three home runs.
The two have been at ACU together since last year, when Katie, an all-state player all four years of high school, turned down several Division I offers to play for the Wildcats, something she says has brought the brother and sister closer together.
“I thought it would be kind of weird at first,” Katie said. “We had been close, but not that close. Being at ACU has brought us closer. We hang out and talk more. It’s cool.”
“It’s fun,” he said. “I enjoy it a lot. We both like to push each other to do better, and it’s easy to do that when we both play here.”
Both Bryans excelled at playing ball in their younger days. According to Jim, Creighton was hitting the ball off a tee when he was five. Katie played one year of softball at age six, but Jim realized she was way ahead of the other girls and put her in little league baseball for three years to give her a challenge.
“Her coach would bat her ninth because he didn’t want the other boys’ feelings to be hurt,” Jim said, “but she could hit the ball out of the boys’ park when she was 7 to 10 years old.”
The kids’ dominance continued through junior high, when Creighton’s friends would tease him because Katie was stronger than him.
“They would make fun of Creighton,” said Jim, “but then Katie would go and out-bench press them.”
Creighton and Katie would fine-tune their hitting in the backyard, where they have a batting cage complete with baseball and softball pitching machines.
“We always wanted to use the cage,” Creighton said. “We had to set aside time so that we could each hit.”
After winning two Nebraska state championships at Papillion-Lavista High School, Creighton left for the University of Texas at Arlington, where he struggled for a year before transferring to ACU his sophomore year. He only saw 42 at-bats in the 2001 season before coming on strong his junior year, earning a spot in the starting lineup and batting .402 with 39 RBI and 20 stolen bases.
“I remember telling [baseball coach] Britt [Bonneau] that this wasn’t my baseball team,” Jim said. “I told him that Creighton would need to earn his spot in the lineup. Britt appreciated that.”
“I’m really proud of Creighton,” Katie said. “He’s made some major improvement. He’s so dedicated; his hard work has really paid off.”
Hard work and dedication must be in the DNA. Katie’s easy to spot at softball games because she’s the one sprinting on and off the field.
“No one works harder than Katie Bryan,” softball coach Carol Tabor said. “Her work ethic is second-to-none. She’s always wanting to be better and she wants to do whatever you want her to do.”
Another characteristic the siblings share is speed.
“Creighton’s developed his game to match his speed,” Jim said. “I taught him to bunt, and now he understands why because he can use it a lot to get on base.”
Katie, too, has reaped the benefits of the fast gene.
“If we have two outs and she’s up, there’s a good chance we can score,” Tabor said. “She’ll get on base and run like a deer. She makes difficult catches in the outfield look routine, and that’s really good.”
With both kids playing different sports during the same season, the Bryan family has struggled to balance time between baseball and softball games.
“We’re so busy as a family with sports that we’re on the go all the time,” Patti Bryan, Creighton and Katie’s mother, said. “It got to the point last year where we would literally have the car ready to drive back and forth between fields to see their at-bats.
“When they can, they always try to be at each other’s game, yelling for each other,” Patti said. “When one does something good, the other is beaming.”
Above all, Patti said she is thankful for having genuinely good children.
“As the mom, I’m really proud of both these kids,” she said. “You can raise a child a certain way, but when it comes down to it, they’re on their own with decisions, and they’ve made great ones.”