Family business: Horner brothers exemplify unity at New Life Academy
In the dugout before its games, the New Life Academy baseball team breaks its huddle with a cheer of “family.”
“We try to preach that we’re a family,” Darr said. “If one person in our family is successful, everybody is successful.”
The concept of unity at New Life is likely embodied best by brothers John and Sam Horner.
John Horner is a senior shortstop who also pitches and bats third in the Eagles’ lineup. Sam Horner is a junior who plays second and third base, pitches and bats in the No. 2 spot, just ahead of his older brother.
“Playing on a team, in general, guys start to treat each other like brothers,” Sam said. “But actually having your brother on a team is something special. We cherish the time together.”
The Horner brothers had never played on the same team until they attended New Life Academy. After playing youth baseball growing up in Woodbury, both began their varsity careers at New Life as eighth-graders. The two first took the field together when John was a freshman and Sam was in eighth grade.
Though baseball is their first love, they also played basketball together at New Life and play a lot of golf with their dad, John Sr., in the summer.
“It’s been great,” John said of taking the field alongside Sam. “It’s been a lot of fun. I love playing with him. He’s a great brother.”
Darr said both John and Sam Horner are five-tool players — they can throw, run and field pretty well, while hitting for average and with power.
“They’re probably our two best hitters,” Darr said. “They’ll have days where they don’t get a hit, but I think consistently they’ll be our top two producers at the plate and in the field.”
Last season Sam Horner led New Life in batting with a .464 average, a .584 on-base percentage and 34 runs scored. John Horner batted .439 with a .565 on-base percentage and led the team with 15 extra-base hits, including two home runs, while driving in 19 runs. On the mound, John Horner was 2-2 with a 2.30 ERA and three saves and Sam Horner was 2-1 with a 3.25 ERA. Both Horner brothers earned all-conference.
“They’re going to be, statistically, our leaders and they’re going to have to be for us to be really competitive,” Darr said. “For us to be successful we’re going to have to have pretty good years from both of them.”
The brothers are leaders on and off the field for New Life Academy. Both John and Sam are team captains, along with senior centerfielder Sam Mazon.
“I don’t have to worry about those two, ever,” Darr said. “They know where they need to be and what to do. It’s nice. They’re also really good about teaching the other guys. Besides the three coaches I have those two that sort of serve as coaches as well.”
Both John and Sam said they have played baseball ever since they could walk.
Growing up they’d recruit two buddies and go play 2-on-2 baseball at the 200-foot fence field at Bielenberg Sports Center in Woodbury. They also would often go to a park near their house and have their dad hit them grounders and throw batting practice.
John said his uncle Ed gave him his first glove.
“I still have that glove in the basement,” said John, who will play ball for Bethel University next year. “I’ve loved baseball ever since I can remember. I just have a great time playing it.”
Despite a number of similarities Darr said the Horner brothers have fairly different personalities. Darr said John is more of a “quiet, stoic guy,” while Sam tends to speak up more often.
“John is really funny at the right times, but he’s pretty quiet,” Darr said. “He just comes out, does his job and leads by example. Sam is a little more fiery and tries to light fires under guys. Both ways are good.”
Darr said the Horner brothers are close, but they are also competitive and motivate each other.
“They don’t say much about it, but I think they both pay attention to how the other one is doing and they want to one-up each other,” Darr said. “Brothers that age who are competitive, you have to think it has to push them.”
Historically John has hit for more power than Sam in the past. Last year Sam edged John with a slightly higher average and on-base percentage.
“There was a little competition between the two of them,” Darr said. “It’s nice to have that competition with each other. John has a bit more power right now. I think in the end Sam could hit with more power because of his frame. John can really put it in the gap. John is a little quicker side-to-side, but Sam is probably faster. I think in a spring Sam would win.”
This season New Life brings back all but one player from last year’s squad, which went 14-6 overall and had a nice playoff run.
Last year New Life went 7-2 to finish in second place in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association behind 9-0 West Lutheran. The Eagles’ season was highlighted by nine-game win streak in May. NLA played five playoff games, but had its season ended by St. Agnes 7-3.
The Eagles have started the year 1-1 with a 5-4 loss to St. Agnes in the season opener and a 10-2 win over Concordia Academy on the road.
Unlike its softball team, New Life Academy has never sent a baseball team to the state tournament. The Eagles softball team is attempting to set a state record this season with a ninth-straight state tournament appearance.
“We got to start catching up to them,” John Horner said. “I hope we can go all the way. I think we have the talent this year. Our team is really good. Hopefully we can win the conference then the section and go on to state.”
The Horner brothers think their team has what it takes.
“I want to end the season on a win,” Sam said. “Only one team gets to do that. It’d be nice to do that once. I think this is our best chance for it.”
New Life has a handful of underclassmen on the roster providing contributions, but the team will likely be led by its nine juniors and seniors – including the Horner brothers.
“That older junior and senior group is pretty close,” Darr said. “We’re not a big school and these guys have been playing basketball and baseball together a long time. They are a very close-knit family. That’s what we preach and they take it to heart.”