Let's not flip the pages of the calendar ahead just yet. Why should we? What time, when you think about it, could ever be better than the spring of '88 for Jon Peters—Big Jon, as the 6'2", 190-pounder is affectionately known around town? Why not stop the clock right now, while he is still the soft-spoken star in a jewel of a community, only a junior yet already the author of the longest unblemished pitching record, 36-0, in high school history, a member of the National Honor Society (with a 92 average), apple of a loving family's eye, with the prettiest girlfriend in all of south Texas, a young woman whose eyes shine like the bluebonnets that bloom there in April? Why try to look into a crystal ball and talk about whether he'll turn into the next Nolan Ryan or the next David Clyde (box, page 26) when the present is so satisfyingly rich? Peters is only 17 and still a year away from being eligible for the amateur draft. So what's the rush?
The attention given Peters, who has already been named Athlete of the Week on ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports and has been featured in
, reached its peak the first two weeks in April as he approached, then passed, the national high school record of 33 consecutive wins, set by Mike Pill of West Covina, Calif., from 1975 to '77. More than 1,500 people—the biggest crowd to see a game in Peters' hometown since 1965, when the Brenham High School Cubs faced a kid from Alvin, Texas, named Nolan Ryan—shoe-horned into Fireman's Park on April 12 to watch Peters go after win No. 34 against Oak Ridge. He had been 13-0 as a freshman, and as a sophomore he went 15-0 with 209 strikeouts in 104 innings, two no-hitters in the state tournament playoffs and an ERA for the season of 1.07. The last game Peters lost was in the final round of the 1986 Senior League World Series in Kissimmee, Fla., when Brenham was beaten by Taiwan 3-1.
Brenham, Texas. Seventy-three miles northwest of Houston, in the heart of Washington County, where Texas's Declaration of Independence from Mexico was issued in 1836, this town of 11,000 radiates pride. "We're known for our three B's," folks will tell you, though there is some disagreement as to what the letters stand for. "Beer, Baptists and barbecue," says Jon's mother, Ruth, who teaches phys ed at Alton Elementary School. "Bluebonnets, Blue Bell and baseball," says mayor Dorothy Morgan, an English teacher at Brenham High.
Blue Bell, for the uninitiated, is the best ice cream in Texas, which, naturally, makes it the best ice cream on earth. The creamery is just down the road from the high school, and if the locals are a mite fanatical in their devotion, who can blame them? The company is a darn good neighbor and one of the largest employers in town. Its motto is "The cows think Brenham is heaven."
And so, by most accounts, do the residents—at least in the months before the summer heat wave arrives. The green hills roll gently, the wildflowers splash color along the roadways, and oak and pecan trees offer plenty of shade. "Every once in a while this is a great place to be," says high school principal Richard McCarson, proudly ticking off a list of Brenham High's athletic accomplishments: district girls' golf champions eight years in a row, state 4-A champions in girls' track, back-to-back state 4-A champions in baseball. "And we have the Midas touch right now. It's hard to talk about Brenham without sounding like you're bragging."
The Brenham Cubs have quite a tradition of success in baseball—23 district titles in the past 30 years, plus five state 4-A (for schools with between 800 and 1,400 students; Brenham has 1,140) crowns. Cecil Cooper, the former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman, is the most famous alumnus, but he is just one of 11 Brenham grads to have played professional ball since 1967. "I don't know why God saw fit to put so many good players in the same place, but it's been that way for years," says Jerrell Weir, former president of the Washington County Little League.
"There's a certain chemistry between the community, the Little League, the parents and the kids themselves," says former Brenham High coach Lee Driggers. "They all expect success. They have this mentality that they're champions, and they're not afraid to work to be champions. When you put all those things together, it makes Brenham different from anyplace else."
Peters, then, isn't seen as all that unusual but as just one more piece of evidence that the town is blessed. He isn't even the biggest hero in the community right now. That honor belongs to his friend Jeff Toll, the baseball team's student manager, whose recent battle against leukemia has stirred the town.
The night he went for the record, however, Peters was definitely the center of attention. Five television stations—two of them doing live broadcasts—and dozens of newspaper and radio reporters had descended on Brenham for the event. "Jon had cameras in his face all day," recalls McCarson. "He couldn't even go for a drink of water without someone following him. Most kids wouldn't have been able to hit the backstop. Then, for six and a third innings he throws a no-hitter. We're all watching him with lumps in our throats, thinking, is he really this good?"
Peters struck out 13 of the first 15 Oak Ridge batters he faced. Then, with one out in the seventh, and final, inning, a lefthanded hitter named Billy Hawes hacked a fastball for a single down the third base line. That was the only hit Peters allowed in the record breaker, a masterful 5-0 win that lowered his 1988 ERA to 0.41. Afterward he was carried through the crowd on his teammates' shoulders, and when he got down, he hugged his parents, Ruth and Valgene, a math professor at Blinn College. Later, after the crowd had left, Peters retired to a pay phone in the parking lot and called Toll at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.