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The Bullfrog Brothers

June 24, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

YUMA —There's nothing like the bond between brothers.

When a younger brother needs a helping hand — no matter what the situation, no matter what needs to be done — big brother is almost always there.

When Brawley native Will Howard completed his college baseball playing career at Paine College in Augusta, Ga., last spring, he really had nothing to look forward to.

In his final season at Paine, the 23-year-old Howard hit an NCAA Division II leading .508, yet he didn't have scouts knocking at his door or the phone ringing off the hook with offers from pro clubs.

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With that, it seemed as if his playing career had come to an end.

Knowing his little brother was in a bit of a jam, big brother Tim Howard stepped up to the plate and took it upon himself to do the brotherly thing and take care of Will.

Already a member of the Yuma Bullfrogs professional baseball team and a near 15-year pro, Tim has been around the game long enough and had more than enough contacts to get his brother a shot at furthering his career.

Instead of letting Will go somewhere else around the country — or out of it — Tim decided to get Will involved with the Bullfrogs. Tim got Will a tryout for the team just before the start of this season.

Having an older brother already established in the game didn't hurt Will's chances, but it was his own talent that got him the job.

"You know, this was a situation where I felt I needed to get him in the door. He has a lot of potential and a lot of talent and I knew he just had to keep playing," said Tim, 33. "I mean, look at it. He hit .508 his last year and led D-II in hitting, and he got nothing. With numbers like that, he deserved a chance somewhere."

Will's chance may be in the outfield, where he plays alongside his brother. Although Will's not seeing everyday action, he's making the most of his chances.

His batting average this season — .230 as of Saturday — is a long way from Paine .508, but he is third on the team in runs scored (13), one ahead of Tim's 12. He also is the team leader with three stolen bases.

"It's been pretty difficult jumping from college to this. Here, you have guys that've already played pro ball for a while. They've gone through A, AA, AAA and some have even made it to the majors. These guys have a lot of experience and here I am just out of college," said Will. "Yeah, I would've liked to have been drafted and played rookie ball, but I think this is working out for me pretty well."

Although Will has his brother on the team, he's getting no special treatment. This bottom-of-the-barrel rookie is taking his fair share of grief at the hands of his veteran teammates.

"He's still a rookie. Yeah, he's my brother, but he's a rookie and just like anyone else he still has to earn his stripes," said Tim. "Just like all the other rooks, he has to pick up equipment, carry bags and double up on the bus when we go on road trips."

Said Will: "It's no easier because I'm his brother. If anything, I think I get more (crap) because I am his brother."

While Will knows he's going to get razzed by his brother, he also knows if he has a problem or a question, he can turn to Tim for advice.

Tim is a proven veteran who has seen just about everything in baseball, and he thinks Will at times may not see him as Tim the ball player rather as Tim the big brother.

"When he first got here and started playing for this team, one of the first things I told him was that he better listen to everything I say. And whatever I say, he better do," said Tim. "I've been around this game and I know about how it all works, and he's just getting into it. Yeah, he knows the game and knows how to play it, but there's still a lot of things that he doesn't know — a lot of little things that are very important.

"He's my little brother, yeah, but I think he still looks at me as his older brother and not a veteran on this team."

Will disagrees. He said sees his brother as a proven vet.

However long Will stays with the Bullfrogs, he will be known as Tim's little brother, or "Little Tim" as some teammates put it. With that comes the reminder that this opportunity to play pro ball is due in part to his elder sibling.

"He helped me get the tryout, and I know I probably wouldn't have gotten it without his help," said Will. "Growing up, I always looked up to him and kind of tried to play like him, but I never figured I would end up playing with him. So, this is great just to be playing alongside him."

Tim knows Will still has a lot to learn. He knows Will's still young and will continue to improve and learn more about the game.

While they're teammates, Tim said he'll do everything he can to make sure learning comes as easy as possible.

Tim added he's also enjoying every minute of playing with his little brother.

"At the end of last season, I wasn't sure I wanted to come back and play again. I thought about maybe playing elsewhere or even retiring. But I knew he needed a chance," said Tim. "I'd say 100 percent of me playing this year and playing here is because of him. There's no doubt in my mind I came back just to make sure he got a chance.

"When I was his age, I didn't know anyone in the game so I feel like I'm giving him the opportunities I didn't have," said Tim. "I just felt it was my responsibility as an older brother to give him these opportunities. I've been very happy with the way he's been playing. And I just want him to know that I'm very proud with everything that he's done and has accomplished."

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