Cannons Fulfill Double Dream

June 15, 2001

By Mark Emmons
San Jose Mercury News

It's a bizarre and wonderful stroke of fate. Twins Jon and Joe Cannon are pro athletes in different sports who perform a few hundred yards from one another near the town where they were raised.

Over at Municipal Stadium, Jon is a relief pitcher for the minor league San Jose Giants. Just down East Alma Street at Spartan Stadium, Joe is establishing himself as one of America's best goalkeepers with the Earthquakes.

``I was at one of Jon's games and I looked over at Spartan Stadium and thought: `This is just wild,' '' says their mother, Barbara. ``There's no way you could fathom this happening.''

How could she?

As Jon says: ``Just do the math.'' There are 12 Major League Soccer teams and 30 major league baseball franchises with scores of minor league teams. Yet two 26-year-old guys who share the same DNA have landed in the same place.

``It was just twins dreaming, you know?'' Joe says of their sports aspirations while growing up in Los Altos Hills. ``But I always pictured us both playing professionally somewhere, but never here together in San Jose.''

And not on the same street.

Now, Jon can be warming up in the bullpen and know that his brother's soccer team just won from the roar of the crowd across the way.

``It's unbelievably weird,'' Jon says. ``But this is an ideal situation.''

Well, sort of. Not only is Joe excelling in this country's top soccer league, Earthquakes Coach Frank Yallop said someday making the U.S. national team is a realistic goal because he's young.

But while Jon is the elder brother by a few minutes, he's considered old. Class A -- deep in baseball's minor leagues -- is not where you want to be at age 26.

For now, the twins are reveling in their proximity. When they got together for a photo shoot earlier this week at Municipal Stadium, Joe asked Jon where he could change into his soccer gear.

``Just go into the clubhouse,'' Jon said. ``They'll think that you're me.''

Jon's right. This is weird.

The siblings' rivalry

There are some noticeable differences. Jon is about an inch taller, Joe has a bulkier build. Jon is a left-hander, Joe is right-handed.

But there are more similarities, including their mirror-image facial features. They're both high-energy guys who have the same friendly personality and an obvious devotion to each other. Both agree that they are products of their environment.

They are two of five sports-crazy brothers. (Dave, a 33-year-old computer consultant, was a swimmer and diver in his youth. Cody, 23, played water polo at Pacific, and Colton, 19, is a pro skateboarder who is on tour in Europe.) The house was always filled with bats and balls.

Nearby is a Little League field and a swim-and-tennis club that were unofficial gathering places for local kids. If that wasn't a big enough slice of heaven, their father, Joe, is an entertainer and each winter the family would head to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he performed. That meant the twins also were on a ski team.

``They very rarely were watching television,'' says Barbara, who is divorced from their father. ``They constantly were doing something because they always had each other to play with.''

There were countless one-on-one basketball games on their driveway that would leave them bruised. They improvised games, such as turning a long hallway and a tennis ball into indoor soccer matches.

``It was war,'' says Jon.

``If you lost,'' adds Joe, ``you'd feel like crying.''

Yet their close relationship miraculously survived years of this combat, and they came to realize how their fiercely competitive childhood prepared them for athletic careers.

Joe, the twin who used to have baseball wallpaper in his room, focused on soccer. He was an All-Mercury News first-team player at St. Francis High and an All-American at Santa Clara University.

Now in his third season with the Earthquakes, Joe has developed into one of MLS' best goalkeepers. His cat-quick reflexes help explain his 1.05 goals-against average, which is second-best in the league.

``I haven't seen a better keeper this year,'' Yallop says. ``He's been that good.''

Jon, the twin who had soccer wallpaper in his room, gave up that sport. When he was cut from the St. Francis freshman baseball team, he transferred to Gunn High, where he blossomed into a three-sport athlete and earned a baseball scholarship to UCLA. He left there for Caņada College and in 1996 was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the seventh round.

But elbow tendinitis slowed his progress. After posting a 3.06 ERA in 53 innings with the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of Double-A last season, Jon was cut by the Cubs in spring training. The Giants called, and eventually he was assigned to San Jose, which left him thrilled even if he was back in Class A.

``They've given me an opportunity, and all I can do is pitch and see what happens,'' explains Jon, who is two semesters away from a history degree at Cal.

He's making the most of that chance with a record of 1-0, a 2.81 ERA and one save.

``Jon has been a shot in the arm for us,'' San Jose Giants Manager Lenn Sakata says. ``At times he'll show you a 90-mph fastball, so I think he's still a prospect.''

He also fits the baseball stereotype of being a flaky left-hander, Sakata adds. On the field, Jon runs between the mound and dugout and is intense almost to the point of being hyper.

``When I saw that he was a twin, I thought it was scary that there's one just like him,'' Sakata says with a laugh.

Joy is in the details

Here's a good story, Joe says.

``A girl walked up to Jon in a bar and said, `First you don't have the decency to call me, then you're totally rude not to acknowledge me,' '' he says. ``Well Jon says, `I'm not Joe. I'm his twin brother, Jon.' She says, `That's the worst excuse I've ever heard' and stomped off.''

Jon even has been introduced as ``Joe Cannon'' over the Municipal Stadium public address system.

``I don't mind too much, but I would like to get some credit,'' Jon says. ``He's a good athlete, but he can't pitch.''

Joe's response?

``Actually I was the better baseball player, and that's why I had to quit,'' Joe says. ``I didn't want to dominate the family in both sports.''

Playful teasing aside, the reality is that the twins form a mutual admiration society. Each says it's less nerve-racking to play than it is to watch the other perform.

``I wish I could see him strike out Derek Jeter in Game 7 of the World Series a few years from now,'' Joe adds.

Jon returns the sentiment, saying: ``I want Joe to be a soccer icon in America.''

As they were waiting for a photographer to set up gear Wednesday afternoon, the twins were kicking around a soccer ball on the Municipal Stadium infield. They talked about the sports from their youth and lamented that they probably won't get to play together again.

``But I think we could try beach volleyball,'' Jon said.

Joe brightened at the idea.

``Yeah, we'll be the old guys on the beach,'' he said.