As usual, twins Tyler and Ryan Dritz stood side by side in the outfield during a drowsy Westlake High baseball practice last spring.
Their conversation, however, would precipitate a radical change in their lives, sending one of them back, back, back, out of the park, all the way to another high school 20 miles away.
In twins parlance, the Dritzes were about to "individuate."
In search of separate lives, each now plays baseball and football at a different school.
"We wanted our own identity," Tyler said. "We were always RyanandTyler, like all one word. We wanted to be just Tyler and just Ryan."
On Friday nights this fall, Ryan plays defensive back for Westlake and Tyler plays quarterback at Moorpark High. Each delights in being the only Dritz at his school.
Yet they also feel the sacrifice.
"We don't get to play (sports) together through high school," Ryan said. "That's a big thing. But we both are having a lot of fun. We come home and tell each other stories. We are each other's No. 1 fan."
Twins are sprinkled on athletic rosters all over the region--although in most cases they wear the same uniform as well as live under the same roof. Their presence reflects the increase in the number of twins nationwide, a 35-year trend that according to the National Center for Health Statistics has been accelerated recently by a variety of factors, including fertilization drugs and higher survival rate of premature babies.
Twin athletes provide insight into this growing segment of the population whose relationship is equal parts competition and cooperation.
From the time twins wrestle in utero, there is a danger of upsetting this delicate balance. Going to great lengths to avoid cramping one another's style is key to maintaining equilibrium on the athletic field.
"I sometimes think there is nothing more altruistic than twins," said Judith Landau-Stanton, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester, N.Y., who specializes in twins research. "They will make tremendous sacrifices for each other."
That much Landau-Stanton knows from her own identical twin sons, who were standout high school wrestlers. Rather than compete against each other, one volunteered to diet and drop to a lower weight classification.
The move was characteristic of identical twins, who, research shows, make an effort not to outshine one another. Fraternals, on the other hand, place a greater premium on individual accomplishments.
"With identicals, each twin provides an impetus for the other and tries to stay abreast of the other," said Nancy L. Segal, director of the Twins Study Center at Cal State Fullerton who has written extensively on twin athletes. "If one gets better at an endeavor, that twin might subconsciously back off for the other one."
Many athletes have discovered inventive ways of achieving personal potential while being true to a twin. Others have found the going more difficult, allowing competition or constant comparisons to damage their relationship.
Competing directly in a sport, which by definition produces a winner and a loser, exacerbates problems.
To avoid having one identical twin brood while the other celebrates, nationally ranked 15-year-old tennis players Mike and Bob Bryan of Camarillo never play each other in tournaments. When scheduled to meet in a final, the Bryans alternate defaulting.
Although they train together every day, the Bryan twins have not competed against one another since their father was counseled against it 10 years ago by Tom Gullickson, the current U.S. Davis Cup captain who along with his brother, Tim, are the most prominent twins in professional tennis.
Four years later, Wayne Bryan ran across Tim Gullickson, now coach of Pete Sampras, the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Bryan mentioned to Tim how his sons had heeded Tom's advice and was startled by his response.
"He said it was hogwash, that twins should have no problem playing one another," Bryan said. "I am convinced, however, that had my sons competed, one would have risen and one would have fallen.
"They compete in practice, and my wife and I do not allow them to tell us who won."
Beating one another is central to the relationship of tennis players Gina and Sherry Reese of Agoura Hills. A school counselor recommended last year that the fraternal twins attend different schools because they had grown so competitive.
Gina transferred from Agoura to Westlake High, and although their relationship has improved, their rivalry has not ceased: Sherry defeated Gina twice in hotly contested singles matches this fall.
In contrast, avoiding one another's gun sights has paid off for the Bryans; among thousands of players nationally in their age group, they could not be ranked closer in ability. Bob is No. 3; Mike is No. 4.
Wearing football uniform Nos. 3 and 4 are Brian and Brad Finneran, identical twins and the best athletes at Santa Margarita High. They revel in the evenness of their relationship, saying they would wear the same uniform number if allowed.
The Finnerans provide an intriguing symmetry in two sports; they both play wide receiver and safety on the football team and forward on the basketball team. They chose those positions specifically because two of each are required in the starting lineup.
Where the Bryans must make a concerted effort to avoid battles because of the one-on-one nature of tennis, the Finnerans easily avoid such conflicts by playing team sports.
And they have made Santa Margarita football Coach Jim Hartigan a believer in binary ballplayers.
"I wish I had twins at every position," he said. "Two guards, two tackles, two linebackers, you name it. You take one good athlete and all he offers, then you double it."
Although playing different positions takes the edge off twin rivalry, other pressures come into play. Zack Hernandez, quarterback at L.A. Baptist High, lies awake at night worrying that he won't pass the ball often enough to his fraternal twin, wide receiver Matt.
Zack hears about it not only from Matt but in good-natured fashion from their father and their uncles.
"That's my worst fear in a game, realizing I haven't thrown to my brother," he said.
Well-meaning parents can place pressures on twins that turn out to be destructive.
Chuck Pratt believed that pitting his identical twins against one another in heated contests of all sorts was good parenting. Jeremy and Jason Pratt developed into two of the best wrestlers in the state at Newbury Park High in 1992. But their relationship became painfully scarred.
"When twins impose their own comparisons, that is healthy," Segal said.
"When the comparisons come from outside, they can be harmful. It can be very subtle."
Ray and Rod Singleton, the quarterback and tailback at Grant High, describe in typical twin fashion how external forces pry them apart: They alternate staccato outbursts with head-swimming quickness, yet never repeat one another.
Ray: "People didn't used to compare us."
Rod: "Now it's, 'Can you do this? He can.' "
Ray: "Girls do it the most. 'Your brother is nicer than you.' "
Rod: "Or, 'Your brother is smarter.' "
Ray: "Or, 'Your brother got his name in the paper,' "
Rod: "It's torment."
Ray: "They tease us raw."
The same kinds of problems compelled the Dritzes to separate, a rare occurrence among adolescent twins. Landau-Stanton applauds their arrangement.
"That's an amazingly mature decision for kids that age," she said.
Twins usually wait until after high school to split up. Colleges with top athletic programs balk at extending dual athletic scholarships to all but truly exceptional twins such as the Bryans and Finnerans, who are straight-A students as well as top athletes.
"There is no question they will go to the same college," Wayne Bryan said of his sons. "If a school does not offer two scholarships, it's bye, bye, baby."
The Finnerans, 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds each, said several NCAA Division I schools have talked to them and that Oregon State already has offered dual football scholarships.
More common are the plans of the Hernandez twins. Zack wants to pursue football while Matt has more potential as a baseball pitcher.
"We'll probably go our separate ways," Matt said. "That's gonna be different. The longest we've ever been away from one another is a week when I went to a camp."
The fact that adolescent twins are rarely apart helps explain cases of apparent telepathy.
At Nordhoff High in Ojai, volleyball player Brandi Keeter made a series of blunders midway through a recent practice while her identical twin, Stephanie, was seeing a doctor about a shoulder injury.
"The next day Brandi told me that her problems came at the same time her sister got a shot in her arm," Coach Cheryl Glass said.
There is no question that twins share a bond only they fully understand. As for telepathy, even the experts disagree.
Said Landau-Stanton: "Absolutely, no question (twins have telepathy). I have seen it time and again in my own work, even in fraternals."
Said Segal: "There is no hard data to support (telepathy). Identical twins are genetically the same, and genes underlie intelligence and physical characteristics.
"Add in all their shared experiences, and it is no wonder twins seem to share a finely tuned understanding."
Steeled by years of playing together, that special bond remains long after twin athletes finally part.
The 1989 L.A. City volleyball final marked Coley and Bobby Kyman's last competition together after four years of football and volleyball at Reseda High.
"We walked off the court arm in arm knowing we wouldn't play together again," Coley said. "There is an emotion during and after a game that no one else in the world can feel except your twin."
Coley went on to become a quarterback and All-American volleyball player at Cal State Northridge. Bobby played football at Pierce College and Western New Mexico.
"When we were younger, we'd fight in practice and I'd have to go home with him," said Coley, a Northridge senior. "But we won together and lost together.
"I look around today and say, 'Gosh, I wish my brother were here.' "