The Brothers Giles
I BOUGHT EACH OF THEM a fishing license on the day he was born. As a devoted shotgunner, I would have preferred to purchase hunting licenses, but laws requiring firearm safety training made that impossible. Besides, I was determined fishing would be an important part also of the upbringing of my two grandsons.
Brian Giles, right fielder for the San Diego Padres, was born January 20, 1971. His brother, Marcus, formerly the second baseman for the Atlanta Braves, was presented with his first angling license May 18, 1978. The Padres recently signed Marcus, and the brothers will take the field together this year at Petco Park.
I lived closely with these boys—they in El Cajon, I in La Mesa—throughout their young lives into adulthood. I could fill pages of this magazine with their baseball experiences, both dramatic and traumatic, through Little League, high school, the minors and into the majors. In past years, the viewing of thousands of hours of competitive effort seemed important, but more recently, with the passing of time, what I remember most are the intimate days we shared with rods and guns, before and during their climbs to success.
Their father was more an athlete than a sportsman. Happily, it fell to me to outfit them properly and ground them in the aesthetic ethics of hunting and fishing. Brian, for instance, received his first rod and reel before he was physically able to handle it. And when he was barely old enough to negotiate my favorite quail habitat, I bought him a cork-firing “shotgun” and a tiny hunting jacket, and took him on my forays. Many times, I deliberately walked past a quail I had downed, so Brian could make a miraculous find, validating his full partnership in our outing.
I bought him his first real shotgun at age 9, a beautiful little 20-gauge youth model, the Remington 1100. I hadn’t planned to pay that much, but Brian, with me at the gun club when I opened the factory packing case, handled the little gun as if it were made of gold. Ol’ Granddad had no choice but to write a check.
That gun, however, brought us together for many glorious days afield. It bagged Brian’s first dove, quail, chukar partridge and band-tailed pigeon. We even entered a few skeet tournaments together, and had it not been for Bri’s exceptional athletic skills pulling him away from gun clubs to baseball diamonds, he would have excelled at the clay target sports.
From the first, I was somewhat puzzled by Brian’s easygoing, almost lazy approach to hunting. Though he showed occasional sparks of enthusiasm, it was as if he could take it or leave it. To accompany this lack of zeal, his timing seemed impeccable: Each time we returned home with a pile of birds to clean, my baseball hero would have to rush off to a scheduled team practice.
Strangely, Marcus proved to be exactly the opposite. Nervous, excitable, almost hyper from day one, this dynamic little package entered every new endeavor at a dead run. And besides having his own generous portion of God-given talent, this youngster had a big brother to look up to. Marcus knew instinctively, I think, that to equal Brian’s accomplishments, he had to try to be even better at everything.
By nature, Marcus was more interested in hunting and fishing than his brother. He pushed continually to enter phases of the outdoor sports for which he was not yet old enough. Marc had a toy fishing rig and caught fish with it before he was completely finished with his pacifier.
Though Marcus campaigned long and hard for an earlier date, I managed to delay the gift of his own first shotgun until his ninth birthday, the same age his brother had been. I bought him a neat little American Arms 20-gauge over-and-under, in full size. I had the stock shortened to fit his young arms, and made the mistake of purchasing at the same time a rubber pad, which sometime in the future would be added to the butt to bring the firearm back to adult dimensions.
But Marcus, in his passion for trying, changing and doing, just couldn’t stand to see that perfectly good pad being wasted. For three long years, while his arms were growing, he pestered me constantly to have his pad installed. When the great day finally arrived, I was about as happy from relief as Marc was from having a new toy.
With this natural enthusiasm for hunting, it was much easier to work shooting trips around Marc’s athletic demands. At various times from ages 9 to 17, he and I drove from San Diego to New Mexico for Canadian geese, to Texas for sandhill crane and bobwhite quail and to Arizona for doves and two more types of quail. These last two varieties, by the way, completed Marc’s goal of bagging all six species of huntable quail in the United States. He well may be the youngest person to ever have done this.
During these adventures, Marcus was always the consummate con man. Easily and smoothly, often without my even realizing it, things were arranged to his liking. As an example, on our first dove hunt, I was supposed to field-test a dainty little .410 shotgun for Navy Arms. But days in advance of this outing, I started hearing remarks like “I’ll probably have to shoot a lot of shells to get my first limit, huh, Granddad?” Then later, “A .410 probably kicks a lot less than my 20-gauge, right?” And the clincher, “I sure hope my shoulder doesn’t get too sore before I get my limit!”
By opening day, it seemed quite reasonable to ol’ Granddad, completely duped, that Marcus should use this diminutive firearm. And I must say he handled it quite well, eventually bagging his 10-bird limit, with no shoulder pain. I’m sure the success of this scam made his next con game even more effective.
MEMORIES LIKE THESE, to a grandparent, are priceless. The ones I cherish most, however, are of the times when the three of us hunted or fished together. For a few years, the hills around our homes in the San Diego suburbs provided the doves, quail and wild pigeons for hunting ventures, and the stocked lakes of the area brought memorable days of trout fishing. When Brian signed his minor-league contract with the Indians in ’89, it almost brought this era of our threesome to a close. But not quite.
For five years, I physically followed Brian’s progress through the minors, living in RV parks near his stadiums and missing only three home games during that entire period. As often as possible during school breaks, Marc and I would watch his brother’s heroics on the field together. Between games, though, the three of us would string up fly rods and pursue bass and bluegill on nearby park ponds.
Once, while Brian was playing winter league ball around Phoenix, Marcus visited for a longer period. The schedule was demanding, and as always, baseball came first. But occasionally we would get enough hours off for a dash into the surrounding desert in pursuit of the elusive Gambel’s quail. Those days of laughter, camaraderie and shared sunsets are among my best memories.
Those who follow professional baseball know about the success that has propelled these two brothers to celebrity status. Even to a grandfather who believed in their abilities, it seemed a little unreal that both boys should beat the overwhelming odds and achieve their lifelong dreams. I must admit to a few tears of pride as they became recognized, valuable assets of their respective teams. It would be a bit corny, I suppose, to say that my own fantasies were being fulfilled.
But slowly, over a long period—and unbelieving, for a time—I came to realize their ascension to celebrity stature had changed my life. These boys, in whom I invested so much of myself, now live in a world I can’t comprehend. They still enjoy hunting and fishing, but on a much higher scale, and with companions who can match their pace. I continue to see them both as often as possible, but now only through the glare of a TV screen, inside the chalk lines of their universe.
Especially during moments of halfsleep or while hunting alone, I miss my grandsons. And I would like to hunt with them again. Not with the celebrities they’ve become, but with the quiet, cleverly lazy kid who never cleaned a bird, and with the energetic buzz-bomb who wants to do everything today, with equipment he can’t yet handle but does.
Intellectually, I understand the correct order of things. Enjoying life to the fullest extent we can afford is the American way. And with the graying of hair comes wisdom. I’m sure there are countless grandparents reading this right now who have found that we are not nearly as important as we once thought. Perhaps it should be enough just to know that we were there when needed.