Well this definitely isn't the story I thought I'd be writing 24 hours before our baseball season opener. I thought this would be a proper way to respond to you after you wrote me a letter when you were at college in Houston and you thanked me for driving across the country with you. The fact I'm talking about it now should tell you what that letter meant to me. Thirty-five years later, here's my return letter. Better late than never, right?
I've got a few "thank you's" of my own that I've been meaning to tell you over the years, but unfortunately, I never got around to telling you. So ... this will have to do, I guess. First and foremost ...
THANK YOU for being my big brother. For most of my young life, you were there, setting the pace that I had to try and keep up with. To say that bar you set was rather high is putting it mildly, but I guess I needed to have that type of example so in the event I came within a country mile of that expectation, I'd be well ahead of the rest of those around me growing up. Did I mention it wasn't easy ... I mean REALLY John?? With all of the nitpicking of my lawn-mowing and car-washing skills?? Who are we trying to impress, anyway?? It was like growing up with a real-life Ken doll and you know and I know and our five other siblings know ... YOU were the favorite. We were all loved, don't get me wrong, but we all knew the lineup. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Fortunately, I was No. 2 (or 3 at worst), so I didn't complain too much.) Being so much younger than the rest of the siblings, I really turned to you for that family connection and you were always there for me. Some of our siblings are still not 100% convinced you were actually one of "us", but we loved you all the same. HA HA!
THANK YOU for letting me be the annoying little brother and allowing me to join you on most of your older brother adventures. I'm sure Mom and Dad had something to do with that ("take your brother, John ..."), but I never felt like the third wheel with you on your teenage beach dates or "in the way" when you were hanging with your high school baseball friends. I probably saw more PG-13ish stuff than I should have in those early years and the fact I had memorized movie classics like Caddyshack and Animal House because of you, only made me appreciate you more. I wonder if your HS teammate Vince Cook remembers you, me and him, dancing around the coffee table during the toga party "Shout" scene in Animal House with the volume up to ELEVENTY?? The two years we drove out to Houston together for your college experience were some of the best memories I have. You and me, cranking out awful 80s music and just rocking out to it the entire drive out there. Every song you liked, I liked. It took me a whiile to understand your switch to country music, but I finally got there. Everything you were doing, I wanted to do too. Oh and sorry I ratted you out and told Mom you just dropped me off at the Houston International Airport when I was 14 and didn't go in with me. She was NOT happy.
THANK YOU for the sports contests in the front yard. I know I wasn't much of a competition being eight years younger than you, but I still enjoyed just hanging with my big brother, shooting hoops, playing whiffle ball, playing catch in the street, throwing the frisbee around, shagging fly balls in the outfield while Dad threw you batting practice. So many simple activities still resonate in my head and those are some of my favorite memories. Oh and when you smashed your leg through the garage door during our game of "HORSE" ... priceless. You standing there, leg THROUGH the garage with blood running down your leg and both of us laughing hysterically. We didn't finish that game, but I was leading so I'm counting that as a victory. Shooting pool, playing ping-pong (excuse me ... Table Tennis), Atari video games ... we did it all and I loved every second of it. I appreciated you making time for your kid brother.
THANK YOU for helping me reach my maximum in baseball. Again ... WE ALL AREN'T JOHN ... so following him through the baseball ranks in my baseball-crazed family was like a kazoo player following the Beatles, but I did the best I could. You helped me get better with hours of time in the batting cages and hitting countless ground balls. Little did I know those habits would be come lifelong for you. One of my best memories with all that came my senior year in a summer league game. I had spent the previous several months in the cages with you and in the weight room, trying to get bigger and faster and stronger (I managed to get all but three of those things). Well, my first at-bat in a game at UC Irvine, the infield was drawn in and I hit this GORK pop-up that didn't even roll past the infield dirt when it landed, but it plopped over the second baseman's head and it scored two runs. You looked right at me with this "are you kidding me" grin and flexed your muscles at me as to say, "way to power THAT one." I remember it like it was yesterday. Another fun one ... you actually came out to "scout" me for UCI when I was playing at Newport Harbor and my first two at-bats, I struck out looking both times. I came out for my third at-bat and you were GONE. I asked Dad where you went and he said, matter-of-factly, "I guess he saw enough." OUCH! I was so mad, I ripped two doubles my next two at-bats and drove in four runs. So ... thank you?? HA!
THANK YOU for NOT being perfect. Contrary to popular belief, the mighty "Alto" had some flaws and as his younger brother, I got to witness them all. Never ashamed to make mistakes, you always owned up to them (well ... 99% of the time) and without you even knowing it, you were showing me what it was like to be an adult and to accept responsibility for your actions. We had a moment where I wasn't being considerate to others (according to you) and you let me have it in front of everyone at the dinner table. Mom and Dad read you the riot act after I left the table and I didn't see you the rest of the evening. When you finally came home, you walked back in the house later that night, you simply walked by me and gave my shoulder a little squeeze, which was your way of saying, "Sorry about that." I knew exactly what it meant and it meant the world to me. And the best part about that incident ... we talked about it for YEARS after it happened and laughed about it each time.
THANK YOU for sharing big moments with me ... I was in your wedding party (bachelor party at 14 was a game-changer ... HA HA) and you were in my wedding party (fantastic family/friends Vegas trip) ... when Mom wanted me to go through my confirmation at a much older age, I asked you to stand up there with me for the ceremony and you didn't hesitate. When I was in the early stages of divorce, I went to your office and we had a heart-to-heart talk because I know you went through one too. You were open and honest and you simply listened and were there for me.
Mindless Stat of the Day ... do you know why I always called you "John" and not "Alto" like the rest of the planet? All of the boys in our family (including my Dad) were called "Alto" in our lives. I still have one friend who calls me Alto, but for the most part, it's not a name I answer to. Alto is YOUR name that everyone calls you. I didn't want our relationship to be like everyone else, so I always called you John your whole life. I'm not sure I ever told you that.
THANK YOU for sharing your baseball team with me. The term "Pirate Family" is a term that is used up and down the athletics department, but with the baseball team, it's really emphasized and success is shared with everyone involved with the program. If there's a state championship, you always made sure I got a ring. Every year, there always seemed to be some type of Pirate baseball swag that made its way to my office without any request or expectation. Everyone sees "big, bad, loud, cranky Alto" but that's just one small fraction of the person you were. The funny, outgoing, caring, giving parts of you far shadowed all of the volume you displayed on the baseball field (contrary to what the umpires may think). The fact that you allowed me to be a part of your program beyond that of just "the stat guy" or "the PA guy" or "the music guy" was not only appreciated, it made me want to be the best possible SID on the planet for you. Again, you led by example on the field and I tried to match it in the press box. Even when family life wasn't always the best between us (what family DOESN'T have that, right?), you managed to separate our work relationship from whatever we were going through and we made it work. My favorite moment in my 14 years of doing this for a living occurred last year when I was able to introduce you as the winning coach at the State Final Four. To me, that was both of us at our absolute best, doing what we loved and it was a moment we got to share. Hearing later from Keri that it meant something to you to hear my voice made it even more special for me. The fact that this will be our final moment on a baseball field absolutely breaks my heart, but also makes me happy beyond belief. Nothing like going out on top, John! And now, you'll get to share all these stories with Mom -- just please be sure to hype up my Anthem singing on Day 1.
Well, brother, I'll wrap this up, but not before telling you that I love you and I already miss you. Take care of Keri and Alyssa and we will keep a good eye on everything and everyone down here for you. As I told the reporters about you on Sunday, "You lived your life the way every human being should live their life. Your spirit and legacy will never be forgotten." And, as long as I'm around here, you can make sure I'll do my best to keep your spirit alive for everyone to understand and follow around here.
You left a lasting impact on thousands of kids and you left a mark in the collegiate baseball world that will never be forgotten. You made a difference, John -- what more can anyone ask for?
THANK YOU for keeping the bar high, John. Give Mom a hug for me.