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Cleveland Guardians pitcher Triston McKenzie forms unlikely bond over chess with Northeast Ohio high school

"They don't realize how big of an impact they have on us" said McKenzie

CLEVELAND — Cleveland Guardians pitcher Triston McKenzie is at the top of his game.
He is heading into the playoffs with an impressive 2.96 ERA and 190 strikeouts. 

But his toughest opponent this season? 

Nouh Shaikh and Akshar Patel, seniors at John Marshall High School and members of the school's chess club.

RELATED: John Marshall High School chess team building champions, sense of community

"I never thought I'd be getting worked in chess on a regular basis," laughed McKenzie.

But that's exactly what has happened, high school chess standouts, taking on a big leaguer and going winless. 

But how did this unlikely relationship start? 

According to Triston, chess was being played in the clubhouse by the Guardians earlier this year. After playing a bit, they wanted to see where their skills stacked up. So they called the chess team of John Marshall to see if they would like to meet for a match. 

"Our coach told us, 'hey look, the Guardians want to come on in and play a game'," said Shaikh.

To which Patel replied, "you for real??" 

They were for real. 

"All of us were super excited to interact with someone in our community who does what we do, but at a much higher level than us," laughed McKenzie. 

That's because these students are no joke. 

Recently they were named one of the top chess teams in the entire nation. 

But with this team, the majority of the kids are immigrants or refugees, including Nouh and Akshar, who grew up in India and moved to the U.S. in middle school. For them, chess was a way to acclimate to America. 

"When I came here, I was trying to make new friends because I didn't know the culture," said Patel. 

But in the process of making friends with his teammates, they have become buds with big leaguers.

After playing at John Marshall, the Guardians invited them to Progressive Field to play and take in a ballgame. Patel and Shaikh even play Triston McKenzie and Steven Kwan regularly in chess on their phone. 

RELATED: Cleveland Guardians' Steven Kwan named American League Rookie of the Month; Emmanuel Clase named American League Reliever of the Month

"Hey, Steven Kwan won one game," said Shaikh. "They are playing really good. The competition is getting harder now." 

As much as this big league bond has meant to Patel and Shaikh, it has been equally beneficial for Triston as his Guardians are looking to make history. 

"It goes both ways," said McKenzie. "They don't realize how big of an impact they have on us. Having them out here on the field is a blessing for us."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on Sept. 16, 2022. 

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