Occasionally, after a game at Sam Lynn Ballpark, a fan will approach Bakersfield Blaze first baseman Justin Seager and feed him a familiar line:
“Man, we love your brother!”
This presents a conundrum for Seager, who says he finds himself asking, “Well, who exactly are you talking about?”
That’s because Seager has two Major League brothers: Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager.
Corey, the rookie phenom, has taken Los Angeles by storm. The 22-year-old is hitting .296 with 17 home runs, made the All-Star team, competed in the Home Run Derby and is the favorite for the National League’s Rookie of the Year award.
Kyle, the oldest brother at 28, has been an All-Star in the past (he was snubbed this year despite the best first-half numbers of his career) and is an established star with the Mariners, who signed him to a multi-million dollar contract in 2014.
“I’m extremely proud,” Justin Seager says. “It’s still surreal to me. To see my little brother making the All-Star Game, and Kyle’s been up there for a couple years, I mean, I’m just so happy for them.”
Justin, 24, is the middle brother, and he’s in Bakersfield, waiting for the sun to go down at Sam Lynn Ballpark or sitting on a bus rolling down a dusty California freeway so he can play in another obscure minor league ballpark.
But while it’s easy to think of this as the “other” Seager brother, there’s no unhappiness or jealousy to be found here. In fact, Justin asked the Blaze for a day off last week so he could drive to San Diego for the All-Star Game, cheer on Corey and watch father Jeff Seager throw batting practice to him in the Home Run Derby.
“Your heart kind of goes out to him, because he gets it from both ends and does extremely well with it,” says mother Jody Seager. “He congratulates them and celebrates with them. You know that he would like to be in a similar situation, but it’s incredible at how well he handles that.”
The three brothers grew up in Kannapolis, N.C., outside Charlotte. They played plenty of baseball, yes, but also enjoyed the outdoors in general and dabbled in other sports.
“We have a little bit of land at my house, so we did a little farming, had some crops, a little garden; we were always outside doing stuff,” Justin Seager says. “Baseball was a main focus, but it was sports in general. We played basketball, a little football, some soccer, went hunting and fishing. We tried out everything.”
Justin pursued basketball for an extended period, even giving up baseball for a short time. He also broke his back lifting weights in high school and missed his junior season. Those two points, his parents speculate, might have put him behind his brothers’ rocket-fast baseball development pace.
While Kyle went to the University of North Carolina (the Dodgers later drafted Corey straight from high school), Justin received a scholarship from UNC Charlotte and starred for the Knights, earning Atlantic 10 Conference co-Player of the Year honors in 2013. The Mariners drafted him in the 12th round that year, and he rose through the Seattle system’s ranks — until stalling after hitting .191 with 88 strikeouts in 83 games in Bakersfield last year.
Justin started the 2016 season as an injury fill-in at Class AA Jackson, but after just two games, the Mariners sent Seager to extended spring training and then back for another season in Bakersfield, where he’s been marginally better: Through Friday, a .213 average with fewer strikeouts and seven home runs.
“I feel a lot better,” Justin says. “I’m having much better at-bats, I’m hitting the ball a lot better, more consistently.”
Still, Justin is, at best, probably three years away from the Major Leagues, and it’s possible he never makes it that far. But by no means does that make him the lesser of three brothers, at least not if you ask them.
“Justin is absolutely a part of it,” says Kyle Seager, who is hitting .289 with 18 homers and 61 RBIs. “He works out with us in the offseason. We communicate regularly, almost nightly, about hitting, position stuff. Justin knows everything there is to know.
“We check on each other every night. He’s one of the first people to text me. When Bakersfield’s at home, he watches video from the clubhouse. We’re constantly talking about hitting, and it’s a two-way street. He knows as much as I do.”
And the Seager parents say Justin is actually the king of the weight room.
“Somebody at (Mariners) FanFest asked Kyle who he would save from a burning building, if he could only save one brother,” Jody says. “He said, ‘The two of us would jump on Justin’s back and he’d carry us out.’ He knows how hard Justin works and how strong he is.”
The brothers hold daily competitions during offseason workouts in North Carolina, lifting, running, throwing, and Justin wins his fair share.
That underscores a point Kyle is quick to make: Just because he’s not quite at the level of his brothers doesn’t mean Justin Seager isn’t a darn fine baseball player.
“I don’t think people really put in perspective really how good he is,” Kyle says. “He’s grinding, working his way up the ladder, and that’s what the minor leagues are about.”
Jeff and Jody, who make two West Coast trips per year to see all three brothers in person, normally follow along digitally. They have two 55-inch television screens stacked in their living room, one for the Dodgers and one for the Mariners.
Next to the TVs sits a laptop logged onto the Blaze’s audio feed. And if Justin comes to the plate in Bakersfield, or Modesto, or Lancaster, both TVs go mute — even if Kyle or Corey happens to be at bat at the same time.
“If all three of them are up at the same time, we watch the other two and listen to Justin,” says Jeff Seager, who played baseball at Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey before injuries derailed his career. “You support all of them the same.”
And so it is that in the Seager family, there is no “other” brother. And Justin wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Honestly, I really don’t have any regrets,” he says. “Even to say I’m the third wheel or whatever, just to be in the conversation with those two is pretty special. I’m just so proud of them both, there’s no way I could hold anything against them.”