Today would have been my brother's 62nd birthday. I think about him everyday and especially today. My older brother was my best friend and like most younger brothers, I idolized him in many ways.
It's been over nine years since he passed. My brother battled failing kidneys and despite being a finalist several times for a transplant, was never the candidate chosen. He was on dialysis for about a decade. He never met his four grandchildren and never got to enjoy many things he should be today. But I am grateful for much when I think of my brother.
I've talked and written about how I would call my brother every Saturday morning, no matter where I was, while he was connected to a dialysis machine for about 4-5 hours. We talked about the football game, stadium and town I was in or the basketball arena or baseball stadium where a game was to be called. We talked about sports, trivia, life and nonsense and I miss those talks.
My brother and I are connected in so many ways but nothing drew us closer than a love for baseball. My dad taught both of us how to play the game but my brother taught me about the history of the game and made sure I appreciated it. Oh sure, we played catch, streetball, broke windows in the backyard and broke a lot of things inside the house playing thousands and thousands of games. But my brother gave me a degree in baseball and its history.
My brother used to make me...I mean make me- memorize rosters of Major League Baseball teams. I don't mean just the teams of that current season. I mean teams from the 40's, 50's, 60s and so on. And I didn't just memorize rosters. I learned about the pitching rotations and managers and all the important stats of that team. The problem was we started doing this when I was like six years old. The attention of a six year old is not that great and the interest level in the 1961 New York Yankees roster is not high(Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard was the starting lineup). But my brother made it fun. We played trivia games and before I knew it, I could tell you how former Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was the starting center fielder for the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969.
We played the famed baseball board game, Strat-O-Matic, using the 1973 Oakland A's and the 1974 Chicago Cubs for a 162-game season because we wanted to see how accurate the stats were. For the record, Reggie Jackson hit 32 home runs that season. He hit 38 in our league. We kept stats and a scoresheet for every game. He made it fun to learn how to keep score and do stats- which brings me to something else he taught me...how to read the box score.
The Sporting News(kids, that used to be a newspaper style weekly magazine that was mailed to your house and covered all sports but especially baseball) used to print every box score from the previous week's games. It was a baseball bible. We studied every box score and it's how I learned starting lineups and pitching rotation. You see, there was no Baseball Tonight or SportsCenter to break it all down. We would try and guess how many games from the previous week had teams use no one from their bench. Just use nine players and no reserves. How many pitchers threw a complete game? How many players would hit two homers in a game?
We saved every Sporting News and if it was mid-September and we needed to look back at a series in early May that was how we did it. Didn't have Google to check for us.
Every Sunday we loved going to the sports section of the newspaper where they posted MLB stats and the long list of batting averages scrolled from the top to those hitting below .100. Man, I miss those days.
My brother was a power hitting first baseman. I loved watching him bat and hit home runs. I was his biggest fan. I was a shortstop and pitcher and he loved watching me play. He was my biggest fan. After every game, we wrote down our stats and kept a season tab. Somewhere in my parent's garage there was a box that had the stats of all our youth baseball seasons. My brother could truly tell you my lifetime batting from my rookie Little League season in 1972 all the way through my senior year in high school, 1985.
I miss the Sporting News, I miss reading box scores and I miss my brother. I wish I could call him today and tell him Happy Birthday. I wish he could see his grandchildren and how beautiful they are and how proud he would be of his son and daughter and what great parents they have become. I wish I could call him Friday night before UCF kicks off against Louisville and I wish we could both complain how the Yankees are blowing a big division lead. But I will spend today and a portion of every day grateful for the memories and know that the 1979 Baltimore Orioles pitching rotation was Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan, Steve Stone, Scott McGregor and Jim Palmer...Happy Birthday Bro.
Final note: Henry Chadwick invented the baseball box score in 1858. Chadwick also convinced the powers who ran baseball to change the rule where a ball that bounced once and was caught be recorded as an out.