THE BEST OF ME: The story of Greg Braley

The first person I ever knew who died was Greg Braley, a former baseball team who was 15 years old when he was accidentally shot and killed by a friend back in our hometown of Orrington, Maine. Thirteen year after his death — which occurred when I was just 12 — I wrote this piece for the Bangor Daily News’ “Midweek” edition which came on Wednesdays. It was written in the year 1991, this I can still see a lot of immaturity in my writing. Though it is sports-related, it appeared as a “Page 2” column in Midweek. I still from time to time think of Greg and that day when I found out he was gone.

• • •

A Friend Remembered

It was while driving through the backroads of my hometown, Orrington, when his name leaped from the file cabinet of my mind.

His name was Greg Braley. He was three years old than I, yet the one bond we shared was baseball.

Farm League baseball, to be exact. The game at its most innocent terms.  No pressure to win. Just pressure to love the game and help build a foundation for your future.

We played our games at a field adjacent to St. Teresa’s Church in Brewer. It’s now a park with swings and slides. It seems like a long time ago.

It was while driving up the twisting and winding Swett’s Pond Road in South Orrington when it hit me. It really wasn’t all that long ago that Greg Braley and I learned to love the game of baseball.

I passed a road sign which stood erect on the side of the road. It was next to a dirt road which quickly wound its way up into the woods. The sign read, “Pine Hill Cemetery.”

I thought of Greg. He is buried there.

The year I played Farm League baseball with Greg Braley was my first year in the game. It was his last year at that level.

To my recollection, Greg was the first athlete I ever looked up to. He was my first sports hero, if you will. He was older. Better. I wanted to be as good as he was.

I turned around and entered the cemetery just to drive by the gravestone and remember — as I had done on my bicycle in the weeks after he died.

I found his headstone and stared at the words inscribed into the granite: Braley, Gregory N. Son. 1963-1978.

I was stunned.

Thirteen years had passed since he and a friend had reportedly been fooling around with a gun. It went off and killed him. Not only was I surprised that 13 years had passed since it happened, but it hit me for the first time that Greg was only 15 when he died.

I was 12 when it happened. After Greg left Farm League for the big time — Little League — I just saw him in passing. I’d occasionally stray to the Little League field in Orrington and watch the games. We weren’t friends by any means, but I still looked up to him.

The day it happened, I was riding my bike by the house where it happened. I saw the ambulance and the police cars. I talked to a man who lived across the road. He wasn’t sure what had happened.

Hours later, I heard. Greg had been killed.

At 12, one does not understand death. Maybe that’s why I was so shocked when it hit me that he was only 15 when it happened and 13 years had passed.

Just like that I went through the whole life-is-short, enjoy-it-while-you-can routine. It is, of course. And, you should.

I believe on this Memorial Day week that has one grows older, the younger a person dies the more tragic it becomes.

In 1978, I was sorry Greg Braley had died. I’m even sorrier today.

 

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