For all the people planning on making the trip to Detroit for Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday, I know one person who isn’t.
Shoot, he won’t even be able to watch the game on TV.
But trust me. It isn’t because he doesn’t like Detroit.
No, it’s because my good friend, Brandon Malling, died more than four years ago at 9.
As the Tigers continue to make their unbelievable run in the postseason, I couldn’t help but stop and think about one Detroit fan that won’t be able to see it.
Growing up, I never thought I’d meet anyone with as a strong competitive drive as I’ve until I met Brandon. Even though I was seven years his elder and more than twice his size, he never once turned down a challenge.
With him, winning was it. I can remember the countless times when we played a sport and he came out the loser. It never sat well with him. You always knew what was coming. Sometimes a pouting session, sometimes a temper tantrum.
We played the simple game of wiffle ball more often than not. When our two families got together, a heated game always broke out.
One game sticks out in my mind. The summer before he died, and we were playing at a family friend’s house. The way the teams usually work would be that I would take Brandon and his younger brother (because I was the oldest) and my brother would field a team with Brandon’s older brother and sister.
Trailing (as was usually the case) by one run in the final inning, I stepped up to the plate. Brandon stood on second waiting for me to drive him in. But I never did. Instead, my brother struck me out to end the game.
And wouldn’t you know it, Brandon collapsed to the ground in tears.
I can still hear his pleading voice asking me why I had to strike out. I had no answer.
Then, the next summer rolled around. One day in August, I left work early. I wanted to get home in time to leave with my family for a get together with the Mallings. As I walked in the front door, my mom sat at the kitchen table crying softly while my dad was standing over by the counter.
“Kevin,” my mom said. “Brandon died. He was hit by a car.”
On the street where the Mallings lived, all the mailboxes were at the end of the private drive across the main street. Brandon and his older brother had biked down to get the newspaper, probably to read up on the Tigers. When they got to the end of the street, a car was about to pull onto the private drive. But recognizing the boys, the driver waited until they had crossed. Unfortunately, the car behind her didn’t. Instead, he moved into the passing lane, and by the time he saw Brandon, it was too late.
But reality didn’t really sink in when I first found out. It was too much for me to handle and process. I still thought the next time I saw the Mallings, Brandon would be right there with them, waiting with a smile on his freckled face, a bat in his hand and donning his Bobby Higginson T-shirt.
The next Sunday, as I sat in the pew at church, it finally hit me. Watching the Mallings file in across the aisle, I knew Brandon was gone. I would never be able to make up for that disappointing strikeout. I would never be able to help Brandon win when we played wiffle ball.
That day was the last time I cried.
In the immediate weeks following his death, I didn’t think I’d be able to visit with the Mallings knowing that he wasn’t there anymore, that such a void had been ripped open in their lives.
Every time I talked to his brothers, I could see Brandon’s face. I was half-tempted to turn around and see him come running out of the door ready for a game of wiffle ball.
As the years have passed, I’ve found my peace with his death. Sure, I still remember the good times, like when he and I would sit in the gazebo with a bowl of ice cream and pretend to be Josh Lewin and Kirk Gibson broadcasting Tigers games. But I know he’s in a better place now.
Tomorrow, I, along with Tiger fans everywhere, will watch the Detroit game, but in the back of my mind, I’ll still see Brandon.
I just hope that my memory of Brandon won’t fade as much as that Bobby Higginson T-shirt his younger brother now wears.