AS THE Mounds View High Mustangs raced toward the pitcher's mound to celebrate clinching a berth in the Minnesota state championship, the young man whose arm got them there ran toward the plate.
"I love you," Ty Koehn told the player he'd just whiffed, Totino-Grace High outfielder Jack Kocon. "There were seven innings in this game, and one at bat wasn't the deciding factor. I hope you remember our friendship longer than this game. Don't hang your head—you've done a great job."
"Thanks," said Kocon. "Congratulations."
The boys, both seniors, had been friends since Little League. Koehn's heart sank when he realized he could end Kocon's high school career. "I was rooting for him a little bit," Koehn admits now. "No one wants his last at bat to be a strikeout. But I've gotta work for my team first." Kocon's walk-off single in the semifinals had knocked Mounds View into the losers' bracket, forcing the Mustangs to win two more games before facing Totino-Grace in the championship. This time Koehn sealed his complete-game, 4--0 win with the K. He hugged his friend and joined his jubilant teammates.
In the days that followed, a clip of the moment went viral: Koehn and Kocon appeared on Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News and SportsCenter. The fame astonished the boys. (At their graduation parties later that week, they teased each other about needing a hug.) Mounds View lost in the first round of the Class AAAA state tournament, but the lessons imparted by Koehn and Kocon—Mustangs coach Mark Downey often reminded his players that they can be great competitors and great human beings—remain. Koehn is playing football and baseball for Bethel University in St. Paul, and Kocon is now a student at Marquette. "In a few years I'm not gonna remember the score of the game," says Kocon, "but I'll remember that moment."
Downey has watched videos of the hug hundreds of times, and he always comes away thinking the same thing: That was really beautiful—but you know, the kid pitched the game of his life too.
"I HOPE YOU REMEMBER OUR FRIENDSHIP LONGER THAN THIS GAME," KOEHN TOLD KOCON AS THEY EMBRACED AFTER THE FINAL OUT. "DON'T HANG YOUR HEAD. YOU'VE DONE A GREAT JOB."