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
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
Funny the things that matter most
sometimes. And yes, God does work in mysterious ways.