John & Me & The Game

        My older brother, John, was big for his age.  When I was in fifth grade, I was not yet 5 feet tall, but my brother, who was in seventh grade, was already 5 feet 10 inches -- man-sized in terms of height.  This difference created a further gap between two boys who were competing with each other in every way imaginable, and in ways we could not imagine, too.
        In a year sometime in the '50s, John and I were placed on the same Little League team by some committee that wanted to see me dead.  To place me, a small, sensitive, innocent child, on the same team with a person who's sole reason for existence was to make my life a living hell was an incomprehensible twist of fate.  It began my search to understand the nature of The Deity who would allow such things to happen.
        When we began practicing, I was automatically known as John's "Little Brother."  I knew I was small, but why did I have to wear a label?  When we sat on the bench in the dugout, John, being a senior kid, picked his spot where he wished.  I could be pushed to whatever spot remained.  The concept of a "pecking order" was being demonstrated.
        As the season developed, our team, The Halton Tractors (we were known by the name of our sponsor in those days, and it's a good thing that Dairy Queen wasn't a sponsor in our league) began to put together a perfect record.  We had a terrific pitcher (the coach's son) and several players of my brother's size and age who could hit well, and everything began to click.
      Most delightfully for me, my coordination began to improve, and I discovered that I could throw accurately.  At first, I became an infielder, and then, later on, a relief pitcher.  My brother, who had size but no finesse, was a perfect center fielder.  His long legs could carry him all over the outfield, and since a number of ground balls would escape the miniature hands of the infield, it was important that someone back there could get to a ball in a hurry and then heave it in the direction of home plate.  John could do that marvelously.
        Where my brother really glowed was at the plate.  That tall, skinny kid could hit a ball a mile sometimes, and even if he didn't connect solidly, the ball would always leave the infield, and then pandemonium would begin.  John didn't know how to stop on the bases, so he just kept running, no matter what or who was in the way.  Opposing infielders couldn't look at the ball because this giant bully of the playground was running directly at them with a look in his eye that said: "You are going to feel pain!"    My brother probably set the league record for inside-the-park home runs -- if anyone was keeping such a statistic.  
        I couldn't hit that way.  I gradually became a lead-off batter, because my tiny strike zone usually meant a walk.  If the pitcher was accurate, then I could usually hit the ball hard enough to get a single, and then I could be what I most loved to be:  a base stealer.  It was great to watch a pitcher and a catcher and choose the perfect moment to take off for the next plate.  Then there was the slide and the cheer and the dusting off of the pants.  Oh, it was such a sweet feeling.  I wonder how many little boys began a life of crime after tasting the joy of a successful base robbery?
        The season ended, as all seasons do, and John and I never played on a team together again.  From that point on, our lives separated for the most part, joining only occassionally for a wedding or a funeral.  I think this happens to brothers quite a bit.  
        But every once in a while, I'll be listening to a ball game on the radio or TV, and a bat will crack, and that delicious sound brings back the memory of a ballpark and a tall kid heading for first base and a feeling that says:  "Hey!  That's my big brother!"  
        Funny the things that matter most sometimes.  And yes, God does work in mysterious ways.