ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — When they first crossed paths in baseball, Jake Purl and Easton Fortuna didn’t have any idea the relationship that would develop.
The Park Hill South alums spent four years of high school together and then made the same college decision. Now, Purl and Fortuna have paired up again playing summer wood bat baseball for the St. Joseph Mustangs — potentially their last time as teammates before their paths separate for the end of their college careers.
While not close at first, Purl and Fortuna have grown to be close friends.
“Our freshman year, we weren’t super close but as each year has gone by we’ve gotten closer especially going through the grind together,” Purl said. “Now that we’ve played five years of summer ball together along with school ball, we’ve seen each other almost every day.”
After four years at Park Hill South, Purl and Fortuna both ended up at Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) to continue their baseball careers.
An imposing right-handed pitcher, Purl suffered a fractured orbital bone during a practice in his senior season at Park Hill South but always flashed the potential to be a standout at the next level. He has signed to continue his career at Oklahoma State after serving as KCKCC’s No. 1 starter this past season.
So far with the Mustangs, Purl has pitched in the backend of the bullpen with an 0-2 record but 12 strikeouts in six innings.
Fortuna paved his own path out of high school and currently plays second base for the Mustangs, hitting .276 with two doubles and 10 RBIs in 18 games. He has signed to play at Division II Missouri Southern.
Currently, the Mustangs have a record of 22-8 and lead the North Division of the MINK League.
“Jake and Easton are great community people,” Mustangs manager Matt Johnson said. “They do a phenomenal job in the St. Joseph community and they’re great teammates on the field. Jake has done a phenomenal job switching from a starter to a reliever coming from KCKCC, and Easton has done a phenomenal job at second base. He’s above and beyond what I was expecting from him defensively and offensively so they’ve been really great additions to our team.”
While at Park Hill South, Purl and Fortuna helped the Panthers to the Class 5 District 16 title game in both 2014 and 2015, and they were on the Suburban Conference Red Division championship team as juniors.
Prior to his season-ending injury in 2015, Purl threw a perfect game — the first in program history — against Platte County. Fortuna provided the first RBI in that game, creating a lasting memory for both players.
“They are great young men,” Park Hill South coach Josh Walker said. “We have tried to build a culture of family around here, and they come back to visit just like some of the other guys come back to visit.”
Purl and Fortuna’s friendship only grew after high school during two years of junior college.
“It was special for us because we didn’t start as friends and now we are friends,” Purl said, “and knowing we were going to go to school together the next two years brought us a little closer knowing we had to rely on each other to get through it.”
The lasting relationship shows on the field, even in subtle ways.
Johnson said the work ethic Purl and Fortuna developed while playing for Park Hill South still shows. The manager can also tell how the time spent together benefits them in late-game situations.
“You can just see it in their camaraderie, the relationship they have in the clubhouse,” Johnson said. “You can see it when their on the field when they are coordinating when Purl is on the mound and Easton is on second base. You can see that connection there and it’s nice that we’re able to bring that kind of connection together here.”
Purl has spent the past two seasons with the Mustangs, while Fortuna made his debut this summer.
Now comes the hard part for the pair when the summer comes to an end. While summer ball could bring them back together again in the future, there’s no guarantees, so for now, the longtime teammates, who have enjoyed an opportunity most don’t have at this age to stay together, will cherish what could be the final ride together with the Mustangs.
“It’s going to be different next year going to different places,” Fortuna said. “Definitely going to have to adjust but we’re just enjoying it while it lasts because it’s coming close to an end.”