Cool Bros.

Joe And Mike Flacco Grew Up Competing On The Same Fields

Could They One Day Be Pro Athletes For Teams In The Same City?

August 24, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.Cowherd@baltsun.com

The Flacco brothers like to dream.

Here's what they envision: A few years from now, Joe Flacco is the Ravens' veteran quarterback and younger brother Mike has moved up through baseball's minor leagues and is an Orioles infielder. The two live together in bachelor-pad heaven: a place with flat-screen TVs, leather recliners and a sparkling kitchen they rarely visit except to raid the fridge or find plates for their carry-out orders.

The Flaccos previewed this dream last year, living for a time in a two-bedroom apartment in Pikesville as Joe Cool enjoyed a solid rookie season with the Ravens and Mike was a student and slugging third baseman for CCBC-Catonsville.

But since Mike was drafted by the Orioles in the 31st round and plays for their Rookie-level affiliate in Bluefield, W.Va., the two envision living together again as the rarest of pairings: brothers who play for two pro teams in the same town.

In some ways, it would bring their relationship full circle and cement the bond that dates to childhood rivalries on the dusty playing fields of South Jersey.

"Whatever I was doing after school and hanging out with my friends," Joe said, "Mike was always with me."

"We were like best friends, I guess," Mike said on the phone from Bluefield.

Yes, a 22-year-old drafted out of a community college in the East is generally considered a long shot to reach the major leagues.

But no one who knows him well is betting against Mike's playing at Camden Yards some day.

"I definitely feel I can get there," he said. "If I didn't ... I wouldn't be wasting my time here."

Their father, Steve Flacco, agrees.

"Oh, I absolutely think he can make it," Steve said. "Nobody's aspiring to be a minor league player."

Through Saturday, Mike is batting .262 with three home runs in 52 games for Bluefield. Mike leads the team with 12 doubles and 28 RBIs, and he is tied for the team lead with three triples.

Growing up in a sports-crazy family in Audubon, N.J., Joe and Mike were the oldest of Steve and Karen Flacco's six kids.

"We're all close with each other, as close as you can be," Joe, 24, said of his four brothers and sister.

But Joe and Mike were the closest.

Steve, 48, played football and baseball at the University of Pennsylvania and instilled a love of sports in all his kids.

From their earliest days, the two oldest boys played two-hand-touch football, basketball and baseball together, even playing on the same Little League team.

They shared a bedroom in the family's two-story frame house that was awash in sports posters: Muhammad Ali glaring over a fallen opponent, Deion Sanders straight-arming a would-be tackler, Michael Jordan sky-walking to the rim and about to dunk over some poor fool.

Their demeanor was the same, too. In old family photos, the two often wear the same look: intense, serious, even wary.

In one snapshot taken during a vacation at the Jersey shore, six family members are smiling.

Two are not. You can guess the two.

At the age of 6 or 7, Joe was so obsessed with basketball that he announced to his dad he wanted to be black and bald like Michael Jordan.

"The black part, I can tell you, it ain't going to happen," Steve told his oldest. "You can probably get a good tan, seeing as how you're Italian. And the bald part - if it happens, you're probably not going to like it."

Mike, on the other hand, wasn't content merely to be the next Jordan growing up.

"I thought I was going to be like Bo Jackson," he said. "I was going to be everything: a basketball player, football player, baseball player. Then I was going to go into NASCAR, hockey, you name it."

A rivalry naturally developed between the two hyper-competitive brothers. Who could beat who, who was the best athlete in the neighborhood, who had bragging rights at dinner that night.

"Oh, it was definitely a rivalry," Mike said, "probably more on my part than Joe's. Every once in a while I'd get on his nerves, think I could beat him at something, and he'd have to put me back in my place."

At Audubon High School, Joe played football, basketball and baseball - he even led the Green Wave to the state baseball title.

But it was clear to everyone that football was his ticket to the big-time. He went off to play briefly for the University of Pittsburgh, then on to a stellar career at the University of Delaware and a selection as the Ravens' No. 1 choice in the 2008 NFL draft.

But this is what happens when you grow up playing sports year-round and trash-talking with your brother about who's the best athlete in the family: You get this restless feeling when you're not playing and trash-talking.

This feeling led Joe to seek out his football coach at Delaware, K.C. Keeler, in the winter after his junior year.

"He pops in the office, sits down, shuts the door, which was unusual for him," Keeler recalled. "You could see something was on his mind."

There was: Joe, who had just thrown for 2,783 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Blue Hens, asked Keeler whether he could play baseball, too.

Keeler was incredulous.

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