FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 24 -- The most discernable landmark in rural Hurley, Mo., an old wooden sawmill dried out from many years of neglect, burned down almost three years ago, leaving only one cafe, a post office, a livestock feed store and a pair of Stockstill brothers as the town's identifying features.
The Stockstills, David and John, are executives for the Baltimore Orioles who were reunited last year when John, a former director of scouting for the Chicago Cubs, joined the Orioles as the team's assistant general manager and director of professional, major league and international scouting. David has been the team's director of minor league operations since November 2004.
Prior to that, almost 30 years had passed since David, 49, and John, 47, had spent so much time together chatting about baseball. To revisit the last time these brothers regularly walked side by side on a baseball field would be to travel back in time and more than 1,000 miles away, back to Hurley, back to that sawmill and to the old farm where it all began.
"Where I'm from and my family have everything to do with the person that I am," David Stockstill said. "It was an incredible experience. There were not the pressures a lot of kids have to face coming from the city. A person was allowed to make their own decisions, and it allowed me to strengthen my beliefs and be more solid when I went out into the world in even tougher situations."
Alvin Stockstill was a farmer and a good-hitting shortstop when he was discovered by a baseball scout at age 18. Back then, the amateur draft did not exist, and major league farm teams were stocked with players such as Alvin, who were discovered in small towns. Right before he was to report to the minors, Alvin was drafted to fight in Korea.
"I was supposed to go to spring training with the New York Yankees," Alvin said. "But the Army took me first."
Alvin Stockstill, who lived with that regret for a long time, passed on his love of baseball to his sons. When Alvin, who tended to his farm all day, didn't have time to play baseball with the boys, an elderly neighbor named Frank McAnally would play catch with them. The boy's mother, Edna, also took a special interest in the boy's athletics.
"It's a small town, we didn't have a lot of players, [so] my mother would drive the pickup and pick up people at their houses until we had enough people to play a game and then she'd drop everybody off at home," David said.
At age 8, David was old enough to play in organized leagues. On the first day of practice, Edna and John sat in the stands to watch David. Soon though, John, then 5 years old, became so frustrated that he wasn't on the field with his brother, he began to cry. Eventually, the boys let him onto the field. From that day, John and David played on the same teams until David graduated high school.
"That's probably accurate, but I'll deny ever remembering that," John said of his crying episode.
Though the brothers were close, they were not alike, and slowly they began to drift apart. David always was interested in farm work, while John liked to play musical instruments. Eventually, David left to go to college and John signed immediately after being drafted by the Cubs.
Before her sons left, Edna Stockstill warned them, "It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, but it takes only one incident to tear it down."
While in college, David also signed with the Cubs as a free agent. Both he and his brother were signed by Negro leagues legend Buck O'Neil, then a scout with Chicago. Both Stockstills floundered in the minors for several years before retiring and taking front-office jobs, David joining the Orioles while John signed on with the Cubs. John quickly took the opportunity to interview with the Orioles after the 2005 season, partly because of David. Shortly afterward, John joined the Orioles, thereby reuniting the brothers.
"We've been very pleased that they've been able to accomplish what they have," Edna said. "They're our children and I can't say that there's anything I could be more pleased about."