Last year, to celebrate Veteran’s Day, I took some space here on the blog to tell some baseball-related stories about the veteran closest to my life, my older brother. He was, at the time, beginning his second tour of duty in Iraq. Well, it’s now a year later and Casey is safely returned home and retired from the Army. He started his first non-military job just last month, and we are all quite pleased with that.
Just because he’s safe at home, though, doesn’t mean Veteran’s Day is any less important or worth honoring. With that in mind, I have reproduced that Veteran’s Day post below. It’s personal to me, of course, but I think it’s a story worth sharing. We are thankful everyday that Casey is home safe and no longer in harm’s way. But that isn’t the case for everyone. So, please, take the time today to honor or thank the veterans that you know in some way. They make a difference, and so does your appreciation.
My formative years, in terms of my love for baseball at least, spanned ages 8 through 11. At that time, my family (with five kids) was quite poor, and we lived in apartments. I don’t know the exact reasons – I would guess the annual rent increases – but we would move from one apartment complex to another about every two years. In fact, until I was 15 or 16, I don’t think I ever celebrated more than two Christmases in a row in the same home. Not that I’m complaining. I knew we were poor, of course, but I rarely felt it. Which, for a kid, is great.
My two older brothers and I had plenty to keep us busy, but what we came back to most often was baseball and baseball cards. This was the late ’80s, so packs of cards were still only 50 cents, affordable(ish) even to a bunch of poor kids. We’d make the trek to the Payless Drug Store around the corner every chance we could to pick up a pack or two of the beautifully blue-bordered 1988 Donruss, with it’s Warren Spahn puzzle pieces and wonderfully illustrated Diamond Kings (Kal Daniels! Scott Fletcher! Tommy John!), or the still-classic 1988 and 1989 Topps (how many Gregg Jefferies’ “Future Stars” cards could a kid get?!). Of course, “every chance we could” to us was maybe twice a month. Fifty cents wasn’t a lot of money, but it’s not like quarters were falling out of the sky either.
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One of the best birthday presents I ever remember getting was in 1989. Casey, the brother currently in Iraq, was only 11 at the time, but he had had a paper route all summer, delivering the Fresno Bee to the entire complex (easily 200 units). For my birthday that October, he spent some of his paper-route money on a present, which was pretty special in itself. We weren’t exactly in the habit of buying each other birthday presents. When I opened it, my jaw just about dropped to the floor. He had gotten me a full wax-box of the 1989 Topps set! That’s 36 packs. I probably didn’t even get 36 packs of cards all summer, and now I was getting them all at once! These things were expensive – a small fortune, I imagined – and I was ecstatic. I doubt I hugged him or anything, but I’m certain I stammered “ThankYouThankYouThankYou!” and then spent the next few hours opening packs and admiring and sorting my new stack of cards. I still have detailed memories of those cards because of that one box.
But what I remember most about that time was playing baseball with my brothers. The three of us would take our bat, ball, and glove and hike out to the vacant lot past the set of apartment complexes. It was a nice, mostly green field. To the left was a rarely-used back-street and a big, concrete wall separating the neighborhood from the freeway down below. To the right was the edge of the apartment complex, including the two complex pools. We’d often play ball while listening to everyone swim on a hot summer day. Straight-ahead of us, and what seemed like 1,000 feet away, was the wooden fence that marked the rearline of the neighborhood houses. There was also a chainlink fence/gate deep down the rightfield line. Both of those fences were way out-of-reach for a small kid like myself, though, on a good day, one of my brothers might be able to get close.
The games played out as one might expect a baseball game between three kids would. My two older brothers would represent the opposing teams, and I would float between them. I would usually be “all-time pitcher” so that whichever brother was currently on defense could play the outfield, though I do remember being “all-time batter” occasionally (but I have no idea how that worked anymore). We had a system worked out for when a ball would be an automatic out or when it would be in-play. We ran the bases ourselves on the hits, but resorted to ghostrunners after the end of each play (“One out, ghostrunner on second, four-to-two!”). It was a fantastic time, and I don’t remember ever turning down an offer to play.
Eventually, we moved away from that apartment complex to a house in the country. It was nice to finally live in a house, no matter how old and creaky it was, but leaving that field really put a kink in things. We still played ball in the new yard, but it was a pretty different experience. Plus, my brothers were getting a little too old to put up with their little brother in a silly kids game. Eventually, we stopped playing.
A few years ago, my brother and his family were stationed close enough to everyone in California that we three brothers got to hang out one Christmas. One morning that week, the three of us took a bat, some balls, and a couple of gloves to the ballfield on base. We weren’t playing the same game that we had as kids – no ghostrunners that morning – but it was still a blast to once again have a little batting practice together. I can say with certainty that, if it weren’t for those ballgames and our collective love of baseball cards when we were young, I would not have the love of the game that I have today. And it took all three of us to make that happen.
On this Veterans’ Day, I hope you take the time to remember all of the men and women in the armed services around the world. Whether they’re stationed abroad or at home, in an active military-zone or at a base far from the fire, these are fathers/mothers, sons/daughters, and husbands/wives who are doing what is best for their families and their country and who are sacrificing a lot – more than we can imagine, really – to do so. Please thank them and honor them. And to my brother, Capt. Casey Granillo, we thank you, we love you, and we can’t wait to have you home. Stay safe and we’ll see you soon.