Surviving the spotlight

Freshman Ty Koehn has won an ESPY and appeared on Good Morning America, but his 10 seconds of fame can’t end soon enough.

By Josh Towner

Koehn worked on the wad of Big League Chew bubblegum in his mouth as he looked to see who the next batter was.  One more out would punch Mounds View High School’s ticket to the state tournament.

His heart sank as he recognized his longtime friend Jack Kocon step up to the plate. The two had played basketball and baseball together since elementary school.

Koehn and Kocon were both seniors. With Mounds View leading Totino-Grace four to nothing in the last inning, Koehn knew this was likely Kocon’s last at bat. Kocon was the same guy who hit a walk-off just days earlier against Mounds View. Koehn worked to a 2-2 count. Mounds View’s ticket needed one more strike. The catcher signaled for an outside fastball, a pitch Koehn had been crushing all game.

Koehn threw a strike and his team swarmed the mound. Cue the music. Mounds View was going to state.

But Koehn wasn’t on the mound anymore. He wasn’t in the middle of the rabid frenzy of high schoolers in Mustangs’ jerseys. Koehn was at the plate, away from his team, wrapping Kocon in a bear hug.

“This isn’t your fault, there are seven innings in the game,”  Koehn said to Kocon. “Don’t let this moment define your baseball career because you are so much more than that.”

This moment propelled Koehn to win an ESPY, appear in Sports Illustrated, do an interview with Good Morning America and get praise from actors Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. But for Koehn and Kocon, it was just a moment between friends.

After the game, Koehn gave a quick interview to the Shoreview Press and texted Kocon to make sure he was doing OK.

“It was just him being there for me,” Kocon said. “It helped getting over (the loss).”

Two days later, Koehn got a text while he was working for the Arden Hills Parks and Recreation day camp. A video of Koehn and Kocon hugging was going viral on Twitter. Within the span of an hour the video was all over every social media platform. Koehn sat on the couch with his mom and younger brother as they watched the views roll in.

“I was in disbelief. I was already kind of over it,” Koehn said. “It was just a moment between me and Jack. This seemed too good to be true.”

Koehn was fine with the video going viral, but he was concerned about Kocon. “This is Jack’s worst nightmare,” he told his mom. But Kocon recognized the growing attention as a once in a lifetime opportunity. “I don’t focus on [the strikeout]. It’s obviously not the best outcome, but it grew into something bigger. It doesn’t bother me anymore,” Kocon said.

I was in disbelief. I was already kind of over it. It was just a moment between me and Jack. This seemed too good to be true. – Koehn

Koehn called Kocon when it became clear that the video was growing out of control. Kocon was sitting in the airport on his way home from a tour at Marquette University when he got the call. People had already begun texting Kocon about the video going viral.

When Kocon got back from Marquette they went to the Panino’s on the corner of Hodgson and Highway 96. They munched on baked panino fries as SportsCenter played on the TVs over the bar.

“I know you don’t want a low point to be blowing up, are you OK with it or should we shut it down?” Koehn asked Kocon.

As they discussed their growing popularity, people in the restaurant started glancing their way. The video was being played on SportsCenter.

“These guys should get an ESPY,” anchor Scott Van Pelt said. Koehn and Kocon laughed.

The friends appeared on SportsCenter through a webcam interview the next day and on NBC Nightly News later that week, but once camera crews started showing up to Mounds View baseball practice Koehn stopped all national attention while his team prepared for the state tournament. “You’d see with people, like my teammates, they’re great guys but anyone who got stepped on or was living in the shadow… I didn’t want people to get jealous,” Koehn said.

When Mounds View played in state the next weekend, Kocon showed up to support his friend.

After Mounds View was bounced from the state tournament in an 11-2 loss to Wayzata, Good Morning America called to see if Koehn and Kocon would like to come on the show. The friends had agreed not to do anymore interviews, so they initially said no. A representative of the ESPYs called Koehn’s mom with a surprise and an appeal to Koehn and Kocon reconsidering. Koehn didn’t like it, but he’d do it if Kocon was in.

They eventually agreed to the Good Morning America interview, but only because his mom pitched it as a fun, paid trip to New York. Koehn and Kocon had no idea the ESPYs had called. They met Robin Roberts and hung out in the green room before their segment on the show. While preparing, Koehn noticed something odd about the script. Roberts was going to ask if Koehn and Kocon’s difference in favorite football teams caused any problems. Koehn didn’t think anything of it.

“So you’re thick as thieves as friends, and you’re competitors on the baseball field and you also are rivals when it comes to the favorite NFL teams,” Roberts said.

“You like the Packers?” she said, pointing at Koehn.

“And you like the Vikings?” she said, pointing at Kocon.

“How does that work out?” she asked.

“We don’t really focus on that,” Kocon said. “Ty and I just focus on being buddies, and that’s all that matters.”

“Well, the reason I bring that up is that you touched a lot of people, and we have a very special message. Take a look.”

“This is Randall Cobb from the Green Bay Packers,” a voice rang out from the studio speakers. “I just wanna tell you that me and my teammates take inspiration from you in the sportsmanship that you demonstrated in that game. I’m excited to also let you know that ESPN has selected you to be a recipient of an honorary ESPY award. Thank you for being a great example for all of us.”

By the time Cobb’s video message was finished playing, Koehn’s jaw was in his lap.

While news outlets and strangers on social media praised Koehn’s sportsmanship, the budding fame didn’t come without haters. Barstool Sports made an Instagram post ripping Koehn for not celebrating with his team. Self-absorbed. Cocky. Soft. Gay. Negativity seeped into comment sections across social media. “You can’t let them get to you. Those people don’t really know me,” Koehn said. “There are negative things but so many positive ones.”

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Ty Koehn and Jack Kocon appeared on Good Morning America in July. The friends agreed to do GMA thinking it was a free trip to New York. Instead, they won ESPYs. | Submitted photo

The fame got old as quickly as it had come. The constant attention on social media was cumbersome. The ESPY was all anyone wanted to talk about. While the juggernaut of positivity came to Koehn’s defense and pressured Barstool into deleting the post, Koehn was concerned with his reputation now that he had gotten so much attention.

Koehn worried that people would think he was prideful or above them now that he had experienced fame. In reality, few people if any saw it that way, especially Kocon. “This was just him being there for me. He’s been very humble and doesn’t brag,” Kocon said.

Koehn had already been recruited to play baseball at Bethel when the video broke out. “Knowing Ty, the type of family he comes from and the type of guy he is, his reaction didn’t surprise me one bit,” Bethel baseball Head Coach Brian Raabe said.

“I’d never have reacted that way, but it’s also a competitive moment. He went and did his job, which was to strike the guy out,” Raabe said. “His second reaction was compassion. You don’t see this often… You don’t see it ever. That’s why this is so big.”

Despite the reputation that was being built by the fame, Coach Raabe doesn’t think Koehn has any additional pressure from him or the team at Bethel.

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Ty Koehn kneels as he warms up during baseball practice. Koehn was a pitcher and an outfielder for his high school team, the Mounds View Mustangs. | Photo by Jasmine Johnson

As Welcome Week drew closer, Koehn began to open up to his parents. “He didn’t want it to follow him here,” his mom said. Koehn didn’t want to be the famous guy anymore. He wanted to be his own person.

But when Koehn got to Bethel, the recognition didn’t stop. A fun facts list boasted that the incoming class had an ESPY winner. President Jay Barnes mentioned the same thing in his Kickoff Celebration speech.

“I’d rather be another Bethel student or some kid at college. I’d rather have them not remember me as the guy who won the ESPY,” Koehn said. “I want to be remembered for my character not my accomplishments.”

As the Bethel baseball team begins to hold regular practices, they play a traditional game of hot seat with all the newcomers. Ty Koehn sits on the floor of the SRC surrounded by the rest of the Bethel baseball team. It’s his turn on the hot seat, which means he must answer any question asked of him. By now, this many eyes on him is nothing new. Junior Dan Marod’s hand shoots into the air as he asks, “what’s it like being famous, bro?” Laughter springs from the baseball team.

Being some kid at college will have to wait. At least the ESPY is a good conversation piece.  

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