Jersey number has special meaning for Astros’ Hoes

HOUSTON (AP) Kelly O’Bryan Hoes was just 15 when he was killed by a drunk driver while crossing the street.

Houston right fielder L.J. Hoes never met Kelly, the uncle with whom he shares a middle name. Kelly died after being struck in front of L.J. Hoes’ father Jerome, then 17, on May 22, 1976, almost 14 years before he was born.

But the elder Jerome (L.J.’s name is also Jerome – L.J. stands for little Jerome) made sure his only son knew all about Kelly and the special person he was. When the brothers played high school sports together Jerome wore No. 82 and Kelly wore No. 28.

On Tuesday when Houston hosts the Yankees, L.J. will make his opening-day debut and he’ll proudly wear Kelly’s No. 28 when he starts in right field for the Astros.

”I wanted to meet him and be able to talk to him, but I didn’t get that opportunity,” L.J. said. ”My way of honoring him is being able to wear his number and you can’t do any better than honoring someone you love.”

Kelly was a talented baseball player and played a game the day of the accident. Jerome had a track meet and the pair along with several other friends met up afterward to hang out. It was a great night filled with talk of future plans set to music by Parliament Funkadelic.

Soon someone had the idea they should all go pick up their girlfriends. Kelly stepped out of the car to walk over to the house to get his and never saw the speeding car without its lights on coming over the hill.

”It hit him as he was in the crosswalk and carried him on the grill of the car for several feet and then slammed on its brakes and Kelly was thrown into the street,” Jerome said.

Jerome waited with his dying brother until the ambulance arrived. He would live until he got to the hospital, but only for a short time. Jerome said the driver was a 16-year-old, who just got his license and was drunk and high at the time of the crash. Jerome said he was charged as a juvenile with vehicular manslaughter but isn’t sure how much time he served.

Years later when L.J. was born he gave him Kelly’s middle name and made a conscious decision to make sure he knew about the uncle that was taken away far too soon.

”I wanted to pay tribute to him too so that Kelly could continue to walk in this life and be memorialized through my child,” Jerome said.

From a very young age he regaled his son with stories about Kelly and L.J. quickly developed a bond with him.

”I think of my uncle every day,” L.J. said.

And each day, L.J. makes Jerome think of his lost brother.

”He shares his mannerisms,” Jerome said. ”The way he smiles, the way he carries himself, the confidence that he has all remind me of Kelly.”

Beneath the jersey which will cover his back on Tuesday, L.J. has a second tribute to his uncle. A tattoo of his last name is high on his back with Kelly’s No. 28 underneath and large angel wings emblazoned across most of the rest of it.

On Tuesday when takes the field at Minute Maid Park, L.J. will certainly be thinking of Kelly, but he won’t be the only departed relative on his mind. His thoughts will also be filled with his grandfather Charles, one of the biggest supporters of his baseball career, who died of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2012.

It was his dream to see his grandson reach the majors, but the debilitating affliction also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease killed him before L.J. made his debut for the Orioles in September of 2012.

”I think they’re watching over me every day when I step on that field,” he said. ”It’s an opportunity to impress them, to show them something they don’t know about me.”

The 24-year-old has the childlike excitement when talking about finally starting in the majors. He played just three major league games over two seasons for the Orioles before he was traded to the Astros for Bud Norris last July. His debut for Houston came against his former team and he excelled in his first extended major league work, hitting .287 in 46 games.

Now he’ll get a chance to build on that success.

”I’m going to be nervous,” he said. ”Tuesday I’m going to cry. This is something I’ve worked for every day of my life since I was eight or nine years old to get to this level and get this opportunity.”

There may also be a few tears from Jerome when he sees L.J. trot out of the dugout wearing No. 28.

”It’s going to be a bittersweet thing for me,” Jerome said. ”It’s a reminder of the tragedy that happened to my brother, but at the same time sweet that my son, through the efforts I made letting him know who his uncle was, who my brother was, will make that tribute.”