Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories about legendary Brenham baseball pitcher Jon Peters and his memoir, “When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs: Finding Happiness in Life’s Changeups.”
In spring of 1989 I was 12 years old. I was obsessed with baseball and had a subscription to Sports Illustrated, complete with the landline phone shaped like a football that came in the mail just for me as a thank-you gift for being a loyal customer.
I grew up about 40 miles away from Brenham, where Cubs pitcher Jon Peters was a high school senior taking the world by storm. When he hit the mound for that record-breaking game, he was facing my school, A&M Consolidated.
Peters, who now lives in Sugar Land, still holds the national record for most consecutive wins, going 51-0.
He was the first high school athlete to ever be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and I just about lost my mind when it arrived in our mailbox on Merrimac Court almost 30 years ago. When I met Jon Peters recently, he told me that magazine now goes for about 86 cents on eBay. He’s always trying to make people laugh, and I get that.
But back to that night in 1989. The Cubs were playing the A&M Consolidated Tigers at Fireman’s Park in Brenham. Coach Rex Sanders, my high school history teacher, was coaching the Tigers and said the ballpark was like a circus, with reporters from ESPN and every major network affiliate swarming around.
“I know a lot more about Jon now than I did at the time,” Sanders told me when I called him last week. “He was an outstanding pitcher. He was head and shoulders above other high school pitchers at that time. He always looked like he was having a great time.”
But Peters really wasn’t having a great time. He’d tried to kill himself the night before and had broken up with his girlfriend because she went on a date with his buddy. But no one knew any of that. He was the hero on the mound.
Coach Sanders, now 69 years old, still lives in College Station and heads up the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association.
What I always liked about Coach and his wife Judy – who was my high school English teacher – was that they prayed with us. They talked about Jesus. I don’t know if teachers are allowed to do that anymore but gosh, when you’re a teenager you sure do need to have faith in something, and it’s gotta be more than faith in baseball.
I was the only girl to go to Coach Sanders’ baseball camp two years in a row – there wasn’t a softball program at the time – and I fainted on the first day of practice two years in a row. On one of those days, the A&M Consolidated superstar catcher Brian Johnson, the son of longtime Texas A&M baseball Coach Mark Johnson, actually had to pick me up and carry me off the field.
Super cool, Towery. Way to make your gender proud.
I was a crappy softball player, but I loved the game. Maybe that’s why I relate to Jon Peters’ insecurities and the pressure he was under – even though he was a champion and I was not.
It’s funny now that something like baseball mattered so much, but it did.
And when Sports Illustrated rolls up to Brenham, Texas, well, that’s a big deal.
“That year we played Jon in ’89 we knew that was going to be a tough game,” said Sanders, whose son Kyle was on the team at the time. “We knew Sports Illustrated was going to be there. I wanted our guys to go out and play as hard as they could and let things happen as they are supposed to happen. When I came here in 1980, our goal was not to win a state championship. It was to beat Brenham.”
Jon Peters won that game in 1989. He threw a bunch of strikes and he hit the game-winning RBI. He went on to Texas A&M on a scholarship, but he got hurt. Then he got drunk. He got married and divorced. Then he got drunk again.
“That was my [modus operandi],” he said. “Instead of facing things and working through them, when things got too difficult, I wanted to quit.”
Then he got help.
Raised Lutheran, Peters said he realized “what a personal relationship with Christ was” at age 40, when he went to rehab for alcohol addiction.
“Before then I was trying to put everybody’s God in my box,” he said. “It wasn’t working for me until it came to the personal part. This is my God and this is my best friend. It became personal and that’s when the freedom came.”
And there’s no question he’s got the support of Coach Rex Sanders, who ironically was leading the team Peters beat for his national record.
“I still don’t know how he did what he did that night,” Sanders said. “I’ve gotten to know Jon pretty well in the last year or so. He shared a lot about what he went through. I’m just so happy that he found the Lord and let God take over his life and is setting an example for other players. Jon had a lot of pressure put on him in high school. It’s just a shame that he was not able to express himself. People just wanted him to get on the mound and pitch and win.”
Sanders read Jon Peters’ book “When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs” in two days and then sent it to his son Kyle.
Available for order on Amazon, the book digs deep into Peters’ struggles. Though he didn’t quite make a comeback on the baseball diamond, he made a comeback in life.
“I have a lot of admiration for Jon as a player, but even more admiration for him as a man,” Sanders said.