Chris Rice and Jake Varcie are both driven to develop as pitchers, they're both sophomores at Mott Community College in Flint and they both have an unbridled passion for the game they love.
And that's about where their similarities end.
As roommates, Rice and Varcie share a close personal bond. Rice is more outspoken, vocal and anxious, while Varcie opts for a calmer approach.
Both effective in their own right, the pair of second-year Bears bring stability and consistency to their team's rotation.
They feed off of each other's momentum, and that's a plus for the Bears -- but not so great for the other guys facing them at the plate.
"We know that we're the two guys, but we also know that there is a lot of room for improvement," Varcie said. "We just have to keep working."
And that's what they've done -- worked.
Varcie was used to being the go-to guy in high school, but he's since been humbled in college. He's still a crafty righty with dominant qualities, but he's not afraid to learn from mistakes. He's taken a great deal of pride in morphing into a "real" college player.
Having Rice as a safety net is "so much help" and "relieves a lot of stress" for Varcie, who seldom is roughed-up by opposing hitters and has topped out at 89 mph during workouts.
Developing and moving onto the next level is part of the collegiate process, and Varcie embraces the responsibility that comes with being a top-end starter.
"Last year, I came into the year as being a 'high school pitcher,'" said Varcie, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound former New Boston Huron High ace. "Now, I feel like a college pitcher... (the transition) has been great. I like being surrounded by great players. If the ball is hit into play, you know it's going to be caught. It's a great feeling knowing that I have great players around me.
"It makes me push myself harder."
Serving as a catalyst for the newcomers adds to Varcie's duties, but he knows that he has to set an example in order for the Bears rotation to mature -- just like the sophomores did for him a year ago.
"I know from experience that the freshmen look up to the sophomores," Varcie said. "I try to be a positive role model for them. I've made huge steps mentally in being able to prepare and lead this year."
Like Varcie, Rice has caught the attention of Major League Baseball clubs. The 6-2, 160-pound former Taylor Gabriel Richard standout southpaw has been clocked as high as 94 mph during training sessions and recently received a letter from the Baltimore Orioles.
As the co-No. 1 starter with Varcie, Rice is primed for a phenomenal year with Mott. However, unlike Varcie, Rice thinks about the pressure on a more regular basis.
"I feel a lot of pressure, actually," said Rice, who hasn't pitched on a consistent track since the spring of 2010 . "I'm trying to impress these new kids coming in -- I feel like I have a lot of pressure on me... I expect big things every year (from myself). I've had the jitters coming back to the mound. I was shaky in Florida (spring trip in 2013)."
A challenging inning here and there has hindered Rice from reaching full speed. He's untouchable at times, but there are stretches when he disappoints himself with below-average pitching.
However, he's quickly regaining confidence and looks to be in great shape for the MCCAA season. It's not always Rice versus the other team, it's sometimes Rice versus Rice. And that can be difficult to overcome.
"I'm hoping to get everything together and dominate for a whole game," he said. "Mostly, I feel (nervous) in the first inning. That's usually my shakiest. But if I have a really good first inning, I know I'm going to have a good game."
The Bears have enjoyed great talent on the mound during recent years. Brent Faber, Trevor Cousineau and Garrett Lovik are just a few former Bears who took their careers to four-year institutions.
Rice and Varcie want to be next in line. And now that the Bears have solid freshmen arms in lefties Devon Jones (Wyandotte Roosevelt) and Corey Lewandowski (Hartland), among others, their road to their next stops is a little smoother.
Less pressure equals success.
"We have a very strong pitching staff," Varcie said.
"We have a lot more arms and we're healthy," he said. "We should be a lot stronger this year."
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