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Originally published February 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 28, 2008 at 5:00 PM

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Steve Kelley

To honor his brother, Hulett tells his story

Every summer morning, the four Hulett brothers crossed the same street in front of their Baltimore duplex. They checked for traffic, looking...

Seattle Times staff columnist

PEORIA, Ariz. — Every summer morning, the four Hulett brothers crossed the same street in front of their Baltimore duplex. They checked for traffic, looking both ways before sprinting into the park where they played ball practically until dark.

Every day, they turned the sprint across the street into a race to the park. And every day, the oldest brother, 10-year-old Tug Hulett, won the race.

"We made everything into a game," said Hulett, a second baseman the Mariners acquired from Texas last December for Ben Broussard. "Every day we raced and we awarded medals — gold, silver and bronze."

Tug won so much faux gold, it began to annoy his already-competitive 6-year-old brother Sam, the silver medalist. Bothered him so much, Sam decided one day to jump-start the race and get into the park before Tug.

But this summer day, for the first time, Sam didn't check for traffic. Tug reached to stop him, but missed and three Hulett brothers watched in horror as Sam was hit and killed by a car.

"That day Sam said to me, 'I'm going to beat you one of these days.' And I said, 'What are you talking about? You're never going to beat me,' " Hulett remembered. "I guess that day he really wanted to get a head start."

Sam Hulett died from the trauma to his head and, for the next two years, Tug mourned, believing he was to blame for his brother's death.

"I just retreated into a shell," he said, sitting in front of his locker after a workout. "I was always loving life and having fun all the time. I loved playing baseball, but it kind of lost its luster after that."

On the two-year anniversary of his brother's death, Tug, then 12, walked into the kitchen, looked at his mother, Linda, and broke down, sobbing in her arms, telling her with his tears that he still felt responsible.

"It was complete and utter bawling," he said, "and she knew exactly where it was coming from. She told me it wasn't my fault and she had been feeling the same way I did."

No child should have to experience what Tug Hulett did that summer day, almost 15 years ago. Such family tragedies can be transforming or they can be devastating. They can either rebuild or ruin lives. They can instruct or destroy.

But in the Hulett family kitchen, two years after their searing tragedy, as he and his mother held each other tightly, Hulett felt a palpable burden lift from him.

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"For two years after my brother's death, I just felt like life was pointless," Hulett said. "Then it just left me and I began to see opportunities that this could lead to. Eventually I began talking to elementary schools. Talking to people who have had similar experiences and who may not know how to handle it.

"Because of my faith and being able to speak to these groups, I was able to deal with Sam's death in a much better way. Recently I got a letter from someone who said, 'You came to my school after my brother died. And I had already written my suicide note and because of what you said I'm better off now.' "

Hulett, who turns 25 today, is comfortable talking about his brother and the pain and depression he felt after the accident. It's important for him to tell the story.

"It's not like I'm dwelling on the whole situation, but I pay tribute to Sam by remembering him," Hulett said. "I made a choice to remember the good stuff. There was so much good stuff.

"He was a funny kid. He was only 6 years old, but he was always laughing and he was always smiling. We would trade cards and he would always rip me off. I don't play baseball for Sam. And I don't play for me. I play because I love the game. I have a talent and it's my responsibility to use it. I can't sing, so for me, it's my form of worship."

This is an important spring for Hulett, whom scouts have compared to Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia. He is a longshot to make the Mariners' opening-day roster, but if he plays well this spring in Peoria, he could find a place in the infield in Seattle this summer.

"It's exciting just being here," he said. "Every day here is very important to me, but I'm enjoying this. Every year is just one more year I get to do something I love to do. Until they say, 'OK, buddy, you're done,' I'm going to keep doing this."

Just as he will continue to speak about his brother and the life lessons he has learned.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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