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Second Biddle: Younger brother can play, too

The pitch seared in tight to Conor Biddle, and the lefthanded batter twisted slightly toward the catcher before the ball zapped him in the side of his right shin.

Germantown Friends senior Conor Biddle, younger brother of Phillies
prospect Jesse Biddle, waits for a ball to come his way in center
field during batting practice before a game Saturday (5/3/14) against
Friends’ Central. (LOU RABITO / Staff)
Germantown Friends senior Conor Biddle, younger brother of Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle, waits for a ball to come his way in center field during batting practice before a game Saturday (5/3/14) against Friends’ Central. (LOU RABITO / Staff)Read more

The pitch seared in tight to Conor Biddle, and the lefthanded batter twisted slightly toward the catcher before the ball zapped him in the side of his right shin.

Biddle dropped his bat, hobbled a couple of steps toward first base, took a deep breath, and broke into a slow trot.

First-base coach Chris Coxe checked in with him when Biddle got to the bag. Playing with an abundance of eye black on his face, Biddle shook off the bruise and went on to contribute a key two-run single for Germantown Friends.

Tigers coach Tim Gunn calls Biddle a Pete Rose-type player who will "run through a wall for you." Biddle also bats in the key third spot in the order. He is team captain. He plays center field. He steals bases. He bunts. He hits with occasional pop. He even pitches in a pinch.

That's who he is.

Who he's not is the second coming of the baseball legend of Germantown Friends, his brother and best friend, Jesse Biddle, the Phillies' minor-league pitching prospect.

That's perfectly fine with Conor, who is comfortable in his own skin and confident in his own ambitions, the biggest of which has nothing to do with baseball.

Conor Biddle, 18, is a 5-foot-7 senior who might or might not play at Division III Emerson when he enrolls at the Boston college this fall. He is a very good high school player who takes the sport seriously. But producing and directing plays and film are his passion.

Conor has played baseball four years for the Tigers. He started in the spring after Jesse was drafted and felt a little pressure.

"Now, I just go out there to play the game, and that's it," he said. "I think I just realized that I didn't want to be a professional player, honestly. I wasn't sure freshman year. I was thinking about maybe trying to play Division I baseball, and who knew after that. But then I found a different passion, and I decided that that was more important to me than baseball."

Jesse, 22, and Conor never talked much about the pressure the younger Biddle might face in his first season. Jesse simply thought it wouldn't be an issue for Conor.

"He's one of the most individual, independent people I've ever met. He always has been," Jesse said. "And so, going into it, I really don't think it really crossed his mind.

"The way he views it, he just gets to play baseball with his friends. He's not really worried about what other people are thinking about it."

The two have never played together or faced each other on the diamond, because of the four-year age difference. But they played ball a lot in the yard while growing up.

Conor went on to start at second base as a freshman at Germantown Friends, then played shortstop as a sophomore, when he batted .377 with a team-best 16 stolen bases and was named to the all-Friends Schools League first team.

He started at short again last year and batted .333, but he played in only 10 games because of a concussion suffered when he was struck by a bad hop in practice. He starts in center field this year and entered Friday's action with a team-best .405 average.

All four seasons, he has worn No. 42, a tribute to Jackie Robinson.

As a freshman, with Jesse's status with the Phillies still fresh in people's minds, Conor occasionally heard his name called out from the opposing team's side of the field, usually when he walked to the plate. "Oh, here's Biddle" was a typical chirp.

"It didn't really rattle me or anything, because I think I'm a different type of player than he is," Conor said. "Obviously, I'm 5-foot-7. He's 6-foot-5. I'm not like a powerhouse, and I think that actually helps me not to compare myself to him."

Jesse Biddle sat on the living-room floor at an uncle's house in Havertown on the night of June 7, 2010, surrounded by family members. On the TV in front of him, baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced the Phillies' choice with the 27th selection of the draft.

Selig got out the name "Jesse" when the room erupted in whoops and applause. Jesse Biddle leaned back to the floor, bringing his hands to his head.

It was one of the most thrilling moments a high school student can have, but one thing was missing.

Conor Biddle was on an eighth-grade camping trip that he couldn't get out of. His mother, Marion, texted him each pick leading to Jesse's, but it was no substitute for being there.

"Obviously," Jesse said, "if it doesn't work out the way it does, if I don't get drafted where I get drafted, it's a different story. But because of the way it kind of happened that night, it was really tough to not have my little brother and my best friend there."

Jesse thinks that missing out on draft night still bothers Conor, and motivates him to be around for other key moments in his brother's life.

Conor Biddle, who lives in Mount Airy, tries to go to as many of Jesse's games as he can, which is tough between school and the senior's own season. He attended Jesse's first three starts this year.

Last season, he was watching Jesse pitch when he noticed the lefthander hunching over a bit before his windup. Conor told him about it and felt "pretty good," he said, when Reading coaches later pointed out the same thing.

"He's not really one to give me mechanical help, but sometimes he does," Jesse said. "That's always helpful. If he's noticing it, if he's calling me out for it, then I'm doing something wrong, for sure.

"He's always telling me, 'Hey, don't listen to anybody else. Just you do what you do,' " Jesse added. "That's kind of a thing that sticks to you. I'll have kind of a bad outing and he'll text me, and he'll say something along the lines of, 'I don't care what just happened. Stay focused on how good you are,' and stuff like that. That's just kind of brothers being brothers and him looking out for me."

The brothers also get together for what has become an annual rite in December: Jesse's first toss of the offseason.

Jesse tries to pick a day with some sunshine that eases the December chill. He and Conor go in the yard, and the goal, Jesse said, is to try to hurt each other's palm as much as they can. Jesse usually wins, although he says Conor has a nifty change-up that sometimes dings his thumb.

"Some people might think that I would be jealous of him," said Conor Biddle, "but I've never felt any shred of jealousy. I like [being his brother].

"I don't want to be the type of person who talks about their brother because he's a professional baseball player. I want to talk about my brother because he's a good guy and because of things that he's done that I find impressive besides baseball."

Asked how many times he has watched Conor play for his alma mater, Jesse said not enough, estimating he has gone to maybe one game a year over the last three seasons, which obviously overlap with his own seasons.

"But I'm able to make most of his plays," Jesse added.

Writing, producing, directing, and appearing in plays and short films have been a passion for Conor since the summer after his freshman year. He and two of his buddies, Pedro Ramos and Matthew Fichandler, collaborate on projects.

Conor Biddle is working on his fifth play - the productions are staged in Germantown Friends' Yarnall Auditorium - and has produced more than 10 short films, he said.

For his junior project at school, he produced a 20-minute documentary titled Divergent Paths, looking at the careers of older brothers Jesse and Sam, a teacher at Frederick Douglass Charter School in Philadelphia.

Conor will major in film at Emerson. As for playing baseball, he plans to make that call later.

"They have their intrasquad games in the fall," he said. "I'm going to go check those out, play a little, see how I feel. I think I don't want to give up baseball just yet."

Producing and directing are in his future, but baseball is still in his blood. He's Jesse Biddle's kid brother, after all. And he's quite comfortable in that role.