By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
In fact, it was her idea to make a vacation out of baseball the way that Kevin remembered it. "We'd always had a hankering to see America without tourist traps and amusement parks," Kevin says.
The initial excursion was in 1996. The Moores loaded up the car and pointed it southeast. The first stop (it would become a regular on future trips) was in Colorado Springs, to savor a Sky Sox game. After that, the family saw, in daily succession, the Wichita Wranglers, the Amarillo Dillas, the Tulsa Drillers and the Abilene Prairie Dogs.
"The trip was perfect," Kevin says. It reminded him of why he'd originally fallen for baseball. In those minor-league parks, he saw a game fueled by excitement and love, not steroids and greed. The peach-fuzzed boys who were playing dreamed of the majors, naturally. But most seemed blissfully content to take the field -- grateful and astonished still to be playing a child's game on a warm summer night.
The next family journey was to Montana's rookie league. The drives were long, but that was part of the fun, too. By sheer chance, it turned out that Sabrina had planned their trip to coincide with one team's schedule. The family ended up following the Butte Copper Kings for more than a week, through Helena, Billings and Great Falls.
Once again, it was Abner Doubleday's creation as Kevin had always envisioned it: beautiful and basic and accessible. One night, with a Billings game rained out, the Moores decided to drive to the local mall -- what else can you do in Billings when it's raining? That's apparently what the entire roster of the minor-league Mustangs thought, too; after all, most of the players were still in their teens, and teens hang out at malls. The Moores passed a wonderful evening wandering around the stores with the players.
Another night, Kevin and the kids ambled out onto the field under the soft lights and mingled with the young team members. Unlike major-leaguers, the guys didn't mind at all. In fact, they seemed thrilled by the attention. One of them gave Kevin's son a bat to keep.
The minor-league life, like baseball itself, was full of endless possibility and whimsy. In Great Falls, the family pulled up to the stadium a few hours early. "While we were waiting," Kevin recalls, "this guy said, 'Can I help you?' We told him we needed tickets. He said, 'I'll set you up.' It turned out to be the general manager. I talked baseball for an hour with him while the kids played in the park." Later, Kevin and the kids chatted with an old guy who'd seen every game for the past four decades. It was heaven.
In 2000, Sabrina decided that the next baseball trip would be to California. The format was the same; the games would begin along the way. First up were the Las Vegas Stars, followed by the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and the Lake Elsinore Storm, and finishing, as always, with the major-league flourish: the Anaheim Angels. It was as the family was pulling into the Las Vegas stadium parking lot for the first game that Kevin's cell phone rang and he learned that his brother Mike had been found dead.
All big families, it seems, have their hero, the person who shines brightly in everything he does -- the one whose words and encouragement brothers and sisters try hardest to earn. In the Moore family, Mike was it. "Mike was my hero," says Kevin. "He was my mom's favorite; I think she'd admit that. He was everything. He was the star."
Still, as the weeks after his brother's death unfolded, Kevin found himself realizing that much of Mike's life had become a mystery. A few years earlier, Mike had followed a girlfriend out to Las Vegas, where he'd found work as a foreman for a cable company. The relationship had fallen apart, though, and a new woman had come into Mike's life. Her name was Jenny, and Mike boasted about her to Kevin and his brothers. She was a wonderful woman -- "a nice Catholic girl," he'd said, shorthand in the Moore family for an acceptable partner.
But when Kevin went to visit a little later, he realized that Jenny was not perfect. She had a police record, for drugs and prostitution. "It was a real eye-opener, at the least," says Kevin.
For his family, Mike's new life was perplexing. It seemed he had somehow gotten caught up in an existence far removed from his personality. Everyone knew he drank a lot. But Mike, in his disarming way, would always point out that booze was legal; besides, it never interfered with his work.
This was different, though. "He was delusional," Kevin says. Mike, he would learn later, had tried to get Jenny clean several times, enrolling her in drug rehabilitation programs. "But I could tell right away that she had no interest in being anything other than what she was," says Kevin. "It was a source of great trouble and angst to us."
Mike and Jenny's daughter, Meraya, was born on October 24, 1998. It was a problematic birth. As Kevin tells it, Jenny's physician, appalled at the level of drugs in her system, ordered an emergency cesarean section. While they were still at the hospital, a state social worker threatened to take the child away. A deal was brokered: Jenny's mother would take custody of both Meraya and Jenny's older daughter, Danielle.