When Ithaca High School seniors Andrew Alise and Holden Lazarus first met around the age of 5, things didn’t go very well.
“We didn’t like each other,” Alise said. “I don’t remember why, but we didn’t get along.”
Fast forward a dozen years, and the two are close enough that they’re jokingly referred to as brothers. What brought them together? Baseball.
“We started playing together when we were 8,” Lazarus said. “We began hanging out with each other a little more and eventually became really good friends.”
During a lively batting practice this spring, Ithaca High modified baseball (and varsity hockey) coach Paul Zarach tagged Alise and Lazarus “The Bash Brothers” for their friendship and ability to hit baseballs a long way. While Alise was familiar with Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, who were dubbed the original Bash Brothers when they played for the Oakland A’s in the late 1980s, the term was new to Lazarus.
“I thought it was funny,” Lazarus said. “I think it’s a good comparison.”
The new Bash Brothers have been leading players for Ithaca High the past two seasons, helping the team to a 14-7 finish last spring and an appearance in the Section IV Class AA finals, its best showing in 10 years.
Alise, a third baseman, hit a team-high .490 with nine doubles, four homers and 28 RBIs in 19 games. Lazarus, a center fielder, hit .351 with six doubles and one homer while stealing 18 bases in 18 attempts. He was also one of the Little Red’s top pitchers, posting a 1.86 ERA while striking out 53 batters in 41 1/3 innings.
Alise and Lazarus have also spent time together playing for the East Coast Sandhogs, a travel team based in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The two were recruited by the Sandhogs coach after his team played the Ithaca Raptors travel team a few years ago.
Players live throughout the Northeast, so the team rarely practices. Players are responsible for getting themselves to game sites as the team makes the round of high-level events, including tournaments in Nashville, Atlanta and Maryland, which have provided the two far better competition than they see during the spring high school season in upstate New York.
“Almost every pitcher we see in the summer throws in the 90s,” Lazarus said. “And the pace of the game is faster as well.”
The change has not affected either player much at the plate. Alise went into the week hitting .421 overall for the Sandhogs and .400 with runners in scoring position, while Holden was .420 overall and .520 with runners in scoring position.
The higher level of play and exposure to scouts has paid dividends for the Little Red stars. Lazarus has made a non-binding verbal commitment to join the University of Michigan baseball team in the fall of 2020. The Wolverines shocked the college baseball world this past spring by reaching the finals of the NCAA College World Series, the farthest a Northern team has advanced since Ohio State won it all in 1966.
Alise still hasn’t settled on a college choice yet. He will spend some of August visiting two-year colleges in Florida that have produced a steady stream of major league players, including Gulf Coast State College, Northwest Florida State College and Pensacola State College.
Although both have seen double duty for the Little Red, they see their futures as position players, not pitchers. Both are hoping to hear their names called during the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft next June. But unless they are picked early on in the proceedings, they plan to stick with their college plans because signing bonuses outside the top rounds are typically fairly small.
“It would be great to be drafted,” Alise said. “But I think I’m better off going to college for a few years and developing more before looking at going pro.”
If Alise does end up at a junior college, under Major League draft rules, he would be eligible to be selected again after two seasons or he could transfer to a four-year school. As an NCAA player at Michigan, Lazarus would not be eligible for the draft again until after his junior season.
Any thoughts of being drafted - or even playing for the high school team - were a pipe dream when the two started playing baseball as youngsters.
“We were horrible,” Lazarus said.
The two kept practicing and working on their skills with a lot of help from Andrew’s father, Jim.
“We kept improving when other kids began levelling out,” Andrew Alise said. “We were working hard and hitting all the time.”
The highlight of their youth career was a trip to Jamestown for the 2015 Babe Ruth World Series, where the team finished fifth. Lazarus joined the Ithaca High varsity team the next spring, while Alise elected to stay with the junior varsity squad to get more playing time before moving to varsity as a sophomore.
Now, they have one final spring together before going their separate ways a year from now.
“It’ll be a little weird, but I know we’ll stay in touch,” Alise said.
They’re getting a small taste of what the future holds this week. While Alise is in New Jersey for a week-long tournament with the Sandhogs featuring nearly 200 teams, Lazarus is in Long Beach, California, for the Area Code Games, which brings together the top 200 or so recruits from across the nation. Scouts from every Major League attend, and the event is considered the beginning of the annual draft process.
“I’ll miss those guys,” Lazarus said of his Sandhogs teammates. “They’re a great bunch of guys, and I love playing with them.”
After returning to Ithaca, Alise and Lazarus will play in some more tournaments for the Sandhogs while getting ready for the spring high school season.
“We’re constantly working on our hitting, at least six days a week,” Alise said. “Some of it’s off a tee and some is off live pitching, but we’re always hitting.”
And they’ll be doing it together.
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