QUINCY — Noah Harbin didn’t bother with a rebuttal.
He just shook his head.
Sitting across the table from his older brother, Alex, while listening to him talk about their relationship in baseball terms, Noah rocked back in his chair and nodded in agreement as Alex explained the advice he was imparting in order to help his kid brother develop the right mental approach to pitching.
That’s when the first little jab was thrown.
“But I know he couldn’t get me out,” Alex said with an ornery smile.
A smirk and the head shake is all the comment elicited from his brother.
Shortly thereafter, with the conversation having shifted to Alex’s adjustment to being back in the batter’s box for the Quincy Gems after not swinging a bat for the first eight weeks of the summer, Noah offered a thought on what he’d throw to get his big brother out.
“Right now,” Noah said, “a slider.”
Alex expected a more spirited response.
“Of course, he’s going to take some shots at me since I’m not getting on base,” Alex said. “But it’s all in fun.”
Nothing is more fun for the Harbin brothers — it’s probably more enjoyable for their parents, Melissa and David Harbin — than sharing a dugout for the first time in either of their playing careers. Noah signed to pitch for the Quincy Gems after enjoying an All-Western Big 6 Conference senior season at Quincy High School, while Alex spent the first part of his summer allowing his body to recuperate following the spring season at Culver-Stockton College.
As the calendar rolled into late July and the Gems in need of some additional bats, Alex gave in to the request of Gems manager Brad Gyorkos and agreed to join the team as a designated hitter/corner infielder with the playoffs looming.
“Every time I came out to a game, he’d say, ‘You ready? You ready?’” Alex said of Gyorkos, who is his coach at C-SC. “I always want to play baseball, but I have a job that I do the first eight weeks of the summer that I couldn’t get away from. So I told him, ‘When this is done, I’ll come join the team. We’ll do it.’”
At the same time, Melissa Harbin was telling him to give it a shot.
“My mom was pushing it hard,” Alex said. “She knows I’m out of eligibility after next spring. So she really wanted this. I was like, ‘All right, if you really want this, I’ll do it.’ It’s been fun. It’s not like it’s been painful for me to come out here every day. Baseball’s fun.”
And the memories they are creating are priceless.
“It’s a pretty cool experience,” Alex said. “With him being so much younger than me, it has always been a thing where we were like, ‘Hey, maybe it will happen at some point.’ You grow up playing in the backyard and all of that, but you never think you’re going to be on the same field.
“So this is pretty cool.”
It happened once before. When Alex was a freshman in high school and Noah was in fifth grade, the younger brother filled in for one game with his older brother’s traveling team. It was a dream to do it again.
“I’ve always watched him play and I’ve always looked up to him,” Noah said. “He’s kind of been my inspiration for baseball. And he’s always been there for every step I’ve chosen. So that’s pretty cool.”
Big brother’s advice is always welcome.
“He always gives me advice, no matter what kind of question it is,” Noah said. “I know he’s not a pitcher, but he knows what hitters are looking for. That’s a good way to look at things when I ask questions about what pitch to throw or something like that.”
Noah has signed with Iowa Western Community College and will head to the Council Bluffs, Iowa, campus later this month. The right-hander won’t pitch again for the Gems to allow an issue with his shoulder muscles to heal, but it’s been a productive summer.
He finished 1-1 with one save in 10 relief appearances, striking out 14 in 17.1 innings. His ERA ended up at 8.31, but he allowed only four earned runs over his final five outings.
All the insight he’s gained from picking Alex’s brain has paid off.
“When I went to school my first two years, I was away and that was a little different,” said Alex, who played at Jefferson College in Hillsdale, Mo., and Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Ill., before transferring to C-SC. “Anytime he had a question or had something come up, I felt like I was the first person he’d text or call. I was always there for him.
“Now that I’m back in the area, I can go watch him play. Whenever he needs something, he just calls me or sends me a text. Now that we’re on the same field, we talk about things like what he would do in a certain situation or how he should throw a certain guy. It’s so he can get that mental approach of how he should attack somebody.”
Alex’s unique collegiate path has helped Noah, too.
“We talked about that in the winter a lot,” Noah said. “He’s been to a junior college and knows what that’s all about. He’s been trying to get me ready for what’s to come.”
At the same time, Alex is getting himself ready for one final swing.
A 2018 QHS graduate, Alex was a mainstay in the C-SC lineup last spring, hitting a team-leading 13 home runs and finishing third with 35 RBIs. His 13 home runs are tied for the second most in a single-season in Wildcats history, and he earned honorable mention All-Heart of America Athletic Conference honors.
Yet, an old knee injury flared up halfway through the spring and he played most of the season with a broken bone in his foot. So some time off following the season was necessary.
“I needed the break,” Alex said.
Noah allowed him that opportunity without suggesting too often they should join forces with the Gems.
“I didn’t try to pressure him into playing,” Noah said.
They both waited until the time was right to create a memory to forever savor.
“When you’re playing the game, it doesn’t really cross your mind,” Alex said. “But when you step away, hang out after the games, sit by each other on the bus, you’re like, ‘This is actually pretty cool.’”
And when the summer ends, they will go their separate ways, but the bond never ceases.
“That will always be there,” Alex said. “I hope he knows that. It’s not just because he’s going five hours away that the phone doesn’t work anymore. He knows he can call me or text me whenever he wants about anything.”
And Noah will.
“Of course I will. He’s my brother,” Noah said.
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