CHICAGO — Over three days in June, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop was as close as ever to fulfilling a long-held dream in his flourishing baseball career that had nothing to do with what he'd accomplished on the field.
Schoop's older brother, Sharlon, was summoned to Baltimore from the Orioles farm system to be on the taxi squad, just one front-office decision away from being activated to the major league roster. The brothers grew up in Curacao dreaming of such a day, and in the Orioles organization they're not alone.
Schoop, pitcher Dylan Bundy and catcher Caleb Joseph all carry their brothers' fates in the Orioles minor leagues on their conscience as they navigate their own major league careers — a rare dynamic that could place them among the estimated 100 brothers to play together on the same major league team but is fraught with complications.
Sometimes, little brother takes on the role of motivator. Other times, big brother takes on the role of difficult truth-teller. Every time, they have to put up some kind of wall to separate their own life from the person they've shared everything with.
"One sibling being up and the other not, it's as tough on the sibling that's up as it is on the sibling not being up," said Joseph, whose brother Corban is an infielder at Triple-A Norfolk. "The sibling that's not up is being heavily encouraged by his family members — 'Wouldn't this be awesome?' The what-ifs. The sibling that's already up, there's … I'm not going to say a guilty feeling, but you just really want him here just to make it easier. Just trying to navigate those waters, it can get hairy sometimes."
So close, so far
Those three days Sharlon Schoop spent at his brother's Baltimore home waiting for a major league call a dozen years in the making were tough for both Schoop boys to take. As Jonathan went on a month-long tear, manager Buck Showalter said the only thing that deterred him the whole time was his desire to have his brother activated.
At the time, Sharlon was batting .240 with a .647 OPS for Norfolk, but the Orioles had some roster decisions to make with infielder Paul Janish and wanted to make sure they were covered.
"He probably was a little bit [anxious]," Sharlon said. "He wants me to play with him, but I don't think it's going to affect him. He's going to keep doing his job, and I'm going to keep working hard. And if I make it, that's great."
The elder Schoop, 29, was signed by the San Francisco Giants in 2004. He reached Double-A by 2009, but ultimately missed most of two years with shoulder surgery. He returned in 2012 in the Kansas City Royals organization, didn't play again in 2013, then resurfaced in the Orioles system in 2014 — right around the time his brother became the team's regular second baseman.
"It's something that I'm still chasing," Sharlon said. "He's in the big leagues, and I'm still chasing my dream. I want to make it in the majors, and if I get a chance to make it with my brother, it's something special for myself, my family, and especially Curacao. Curacao has never had two brothers make the big leagues, so if we did, it's going to be something special."
That dream took a recent setback this season when, three weeks after that tease of a call-up, Sharlon was demoted to Double-A Bowie. He hit .216 with five extra-base hits in his first 19 games with the Baysox, sharing a clubhouse with former major leaguers and ascendant prospects alike. And at night, when the Baysox are home, he shares a Baltimore home with his brother, just like back home in Curacao in the offseason.
Jonathan likes having his brother around, even if it means Sharlon is further from the majors than he was in Norfolk. And he's happy to see their fraternal roles shift if it means a second Schoop's on the Orioles roster.
"I want him to make it, but I've got to concentrate on getting my job done, going out there and play hard and win," Jonathan said. "I help him out if I can — whatever question he has — and try to make him better. And he makes me better. That's how he is. … Since we were growing up, he encouraged me. He was the big brother. But now, I'm here, and if I can help him — whatever I can tell him, whatever I can say to help him out — I do it."
The little things
Caleb Joseph has heard the woe-is-me tales of being passed over for major league promotions for as long as he can remember. Before his debut, he was the one making them.
So whether it's Sharlon Schoop's flirtation on the taxi squad or any other addition made by the Orioles, he tries not to feed into that with his brother. Instead, like any older brother, he's tough but fair: "Focus on what he can control, and what he can control is continuing to play very hard, hard-nosed, grind-it-out style play," Joseph said.
A fourth-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2008, Corban Joseph, 27, made it to the majors faster than his older brother. He spent a few days there, playing both games of a doubleheader on May 13, 2013, but was released in August 2014 and had washed out with the Atlanta Braves when he caught on with the Orioles last summer.
He played well at Bowie in 2015, and hit .349 there this April and early May, but entered Saturday batting .259 with a .684 OPS and four home runs at Norfolk. That he has already made it to the majors is a badge that Caleb knows Corban can always be proud of, even if that was it. That a return to the big leagues would fulfill a family dream is only an added bonus.
"It's a very exciting dynamic, but a very tough dynamic in the same sentence," Caleb said. "Because with one of the siblings already being here, you desperately want the other one here. It's more difficult on the family, just because they obviously want the other member up as soon as possible. But there's really nothing the other sibling can really do, other than hope and pray and encourage."
Later, Caleb corrects himself. That's not entirely true. He has been able to help his little brother in a simple, significant way.
"I think the best part, currently, is we wear the same-sized batting gloves, same-sized shoe, we swing very similar models," Caleb said. "So where I was in the big leagues and he was with the Yankees, I couldn't really send him extra stuff I had. Different colors. Now, I can send him different stuff I don't need or use, and stuff like that is super important in the minor leagues. For him to feel like a major leaguer I think is something I take great pride in being able to help provide him."
Other than spring training games, the Joseph brothers and the Schoops haven't played together since they were kids. Dylan and Bobby Bundy have fulfilled that dream of spending a lot of time in their professional careers together, just not in a way they expected.
There was nothing but joy when, walking off the mound in the middle of a start for High-A Frederick on a June night back in 2011, Bobby was told the Orioles had selected his younger brother, Dylan, fourth overall. The night before, someone in the organization had told him Dylan wasn't a fit.
"It was a sigh of relief," Bobby said. "He got taken where he thought he should have been taken, top five picks, and it just happened to be with us. That was just a special moment for our whole family really."
Dylan proved to be a phenom, and the Orioles strapped a rocket to him the following season. He began it at Low-A Delmarva, and ended it in the Orioles bullpen. By the time Bobby got to Bowie, he started dealing with arm trouble.
A year later, they'd both be in Sarasota, Fla., rehabilitating from Tommy John elbow reconstruction that occurred about three months apart.
"It's kind of a blessing in disguise, really," Bobby said. "Whereas he could have been hurt one year and I hurt the next and had to do it all alone, we got to kind of do it together. Unfortunate, but at the same time, kind of fortunate, just to kind of keep our sanity and kind of go through our process together and bounce ideas off of each other, what we were feeling. We had the same surgery and the same things going on."
Neither took a linear path back from surgery, though they both began 2015 at Double-A Bowie. Dylan was shut down with shoulder stiffness in May, the same month Bobby tore his ACL and ended his season.
Through it all, they enjoyed the little things — the daily catches when they were together, the wrestling match to knock the other out of the shade under a Sarasota palm tree, the conversations about health, baseball and life that can only be shared with a brother.
"You think you're going to be in the same organization and it happened the way it did, and you think you're always going to play together, but we've only played together for what, two months?" Dylan said. "And even when we were, it wasn't a huge change. … It was just cool to have him around."
This year, Dylan is living both of their major league dreams, first as a reliever and now as a starter. He has his own problems, but plenty of time to deal with his brother's back in Bowie. He seemed to stew when Bobby was paper-moved off the roster to get his mechanics right, though that has proved successful. He keeps track of each of Bobby's outings, and is happy to talk about it. And Bobby doesn't exactly mind his brother's increased profile, either.
"You have everybody in the same front office who knows both of you — so it's great to have your name out there at all time," Bobby said, smiling. "Even if it's not my name, it's my name."
View from the other side
Zach Britton is past it all, since his brother Buck moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers organization last year, then the Minnesota Twins system this season. But as Zach, a 2006 third-round pick, climbed through the Orioles organization and eventually grew into the most dominant closer in baseball, his younger brother was trying to make it as a 35th-round pick two years later.
They played together twice — once in Frederick in 2009, and again in Norfolk the following year. Zach broke through into the majors soon after, but his brother plateaued at Triple-A.
"With us, he played really, really well — kind of did everything he could do at times," Zach said. "But the organizations make their decisions, and obviously they don't tell us what they're going to do. We talked about it, but it wasn't something we'd do every day. It was just a matter of hoping that we both played well, and if it worked out that way, it'd be pretty cool."
Buck shuttled between Bowie and Norfolk from 2012 to 2014, and by the time he was a minor league free agent, the brothers had let go of their joint Camden Yards dream.
"He had played well here at Triple-A and never got an opportunity, so he had asked me about it and we both felt like going somewhere else was probably his best shot at getting to the big leagues," Zach said. "I think it was good for him to kind of see other organizations and stuff like that. … It was difficult at the time, but I think we both knew that was probably the best for him."
Zach has had plenty of time to reflect on that dynamic, and like Caleb Joseph sees both sides of the situation. The high ceiling — being one of around 100 sets of major league brothers on the same team — and the low lows of familial disappointment.
"It's a process," Zach said. "[Caleb's] brother, it's kind of the same story. He's definitely played well to get to the big leagues, but it's just opportunities. Sometimes guys get them, sometimes guys don't. You never really know the real reason why. If anything, that's the frustrating part. You play with guys in the big leagues and your brother asks you, 'Is it that much different?' You say, 'Well, I've seen guys that you're probably better than get to the big leagues, and you're not there.' I think that's probably the most difficult thing for them to hear. They don't want to hear that. You just try to talk them up a little bit and make them feel good about the situation."