Kyle Gaedele still only can dream of viewing baseball from the vantage point of his late great-uncle, Eddie Gaedel.
First, Gaedel (the final "e" dropped for business purposes), took four pitches for a walk in his only plate appearance in the major leagues in 1951. Second, Gaedel saw those quartet of serves from Tigers lefty Bob Cain in a crouch only three feet off the ground.
Kyle Gaedele is just a sophomore, albeit a promising one, playing right field in the new season at Valparaiso University. The majors are still a long way off. But to watch pitches from his uncle's perspective, Gaedele would have to be sitting -- or lying -- down. He's 6-foot-4. His great-uncle was just 3-foot-7, a mascot and entertainer employed by master baseball showman Bill Veeck in his greatest stunt.
"When I was younger, I never thought I'd have the connection or be interviewed," Gaedele said. "It's kind of cool to bring back the history of the family. It's pretty cool he played in the major leagues."
A significant heirloom
Veeck tried to juice up sagging attendance for the woeful St. Louis Browns by sending the tiny Gaedel up to bat in top of the first in the second game of a doubleheader at old Sportsman's Park on Aug. 19, 1951. Before the American League could void Gaedel's contract, he was allowed to take his plate appearance.
The Gaedele family possesses the chief memento of that hilarious event -- the mini-bat Gaedel used. The bat was brought to Valparaiso's campus recently from the Gaedele home in northwest suburban Arlington Heights.
"When I was a little boy, I always knew my dad had the bat and he'd tell stories," Gaedele said.
But he didn't really realize the significance of the heirloom until the Hall of Fame invited the family for a 50th anniversary re-enactment in 2001 in Cooperstown.
"I've held it a bunch of times especially since the recognition has come out some more," Gaedele said. "There are a lot of people who never believed us 'till they've seen the bat. It's in a secure bag. We've kept it in a closet.
"I'd compare it to one of those souvenir bats you buy at a ballgame -- it's like that, maybe a little smaller."
Gaedel, a Chicago South Side resident who died at age 36 in 1961 after being mugged, gave the bat to his brother Bob. In turn, his son, also named Bob, got possession of the bat around age 12.
"I just saved it," Bob Gaedele said. "Anything I got trophy-wise, I put it with them.
"I packed it away with all my trophies and it went with me every time I moved."
Choosing Crusaders over pros
Bob Gaedele, 52, has one dim childhood memory of his uncle. They played Wiffleball in a back yard not long before Gaedel died.
Size-wise, the cameo-appearance Brownie and Crusader batsman are exceptions to the family's physical stature.
"I'm not sure where I get my height from," Kyle Gaedele said. "My dad's not very tall, he's 5-foot-11. My mom is 5-foot-7. I was always one of the taller kids growing up. I was 6-foot-4 as a junior in high school (Rolling Meadows)."
Valparaiso coach Tracy Woodson projects Kyle Gaedele to blossom as a hitter who can drive the ball. He has an added bonus of speed, running well for a big man at 230 pounds. Gaedele hit .278 as a VU freshman last season.
The Tampa Bay Rays drafted Gaedele in the 32nd round in 2008, but he opted to attend college instead.
"After his junior year, I definitely see him drafted again, hopefully real, real high," Woodson said. "He does a lot and works hard."
If the spirit of Veeck could whisper in the ear of former Cubs president Andy MacPhail, now running the Orioles, the circle could be complete if Baltimore drafts Gaedele. The Orioles are the descendent team of the Browns.
"It's kind of funny, kind of ironic," Bob Gaedele said of the possibility.
At 3-foot-7, was the smallest player ever to appear in a major league game.
In his only plate appearance, on Aug. 19, 1951, he walked on four pitches for the St. Louis Browns.
Valparaiso University sophomore outfielder hit .278 last season.
32nd-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.