Eight Things You Might Not Know About Me

Aug 8, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

After the publication of “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” more than two years ago (has it really been that long?) I came to the realization that I’d basically just put a huge chunk of my past and my life on public display. Not all of it, but a lot. As you probably know, the original manuscript was so long it would have resembled the New York City phone book once it was published, so a lot of bits and stories ended up on the virtual editing room floor. And, having been a child of the 50s who went to college as a baseball player in the 70s, some of the more raucous stories were not suitable for family viewing. It was the 70s. And then the 80s. It’s just how it was.

But, even through all that, there are some things that never made it in the book. I mean, I couldn’t have written my entire life-story chronologically without spending another lifetime doing it. So today, another Thursday when I had no real material for this blog, it occurred to me that I could probably come up with a number of things that aren’t in the book, haven’t been written about, and therefore represent just a few little things about me you don’t know. Some of them are pretty enlightening, in a sort of “looking back I can see my future in that moment” sort of way.

So here we go, and they are not necessarily going to be in any sort of order.

The Marketing Guy Within

My senior season on the SIUE baseball team marked the end of an era for me, but it also foretold what was to come. In my spare time, I got to work setting up sponsorships of various home games or home stands with local businesses. I just wanted to do it. There was no compensation and no one asked me. In the end, I got the regional McDonald’s office to provide coupons for free fries with the purchase of any burger. Every fan got one when we played a Saturday afternoon game at our home field. The guy from McDonald’s actually called me the next week to thank me. They sold a lot of Big Macs to go with those fries.

I also did a deal with Spanky’s, one of our favorite bars in Edwardsville, to give away coupons for discounted glasses of beer. There were a few other such promotions I can’t remember now, but the biggest one was a huge coup. I got the number one FM station in St. Louis to sponsor our final home game of the season. KSHE 95 was by far the most popular rock music station in the entire St. Louis metro area, playing album-oriented rock. Everyone our age listened to K-SHE (always referred to as “Kay-she”). The agreement included having DJs come out to do a live remote during the game, and the station would publicize it for two weeks ahead of time, plus lots of goodies would be given away at the game. The people at K-SHE thought 4,000 people might show up. We usually drew about 400. And then it rained. The game never happened. That was a microcosm of our senior season. Nothing went right.

I think my main motivation was to raise the awareness of the baseball team on campus. Our ballpark was separated from the main campus by a few miles. You couldn’t walk from class to the game. You had to WANT to go to a game, and that meant usually only families and girlfriends made the drive. I put posters up all over campus for each promotion, and we did increase our attendance. The K-SHE thing would’ve blown the roof off, but you can’t control the weather. All of that, though, sounds an awful lot like the indoor soccer GM I later became.

My Only Play

In my entire life, I was only ever in one stage performance. It was in seventh grade at Mary Queen of Peace. The play was “A Christmas Carol” and since I never lacked confidence I was just sure I’d have a starring role. If not Scrooge himself, then at least Bob Cratchit. Instead, I was cast as Bob Cratchit’s son. I had one line. On the day of the performance, during my epic scene, my mind wandered (imagine that!) and I missed my cue. My acting career was very short.

The Book That Never Was – Part One

Somewhere in the mid-90s, I was in a groove reading murder mysteries. I decided, in my normal plucky “let’s just do it” way, to try to write one myself, and drag racing would be central to the plot. The working title was “Murder In Five Seconds” and the short version of the plot was that a famous World Champion Funny Car driver would have his car run off the end of the track and he’d be found dead within it. But the crash didn’t kill him, and it wasn’t natural causes. Someone had found a way to make him die as soon as he hit the throttle. It was murder! I didn’t use any real names, but they were all based on real NHRA characters. Any big fan could have connected those dots.

I wrote the first chapter and thought it was pretty good. And then I thought, “OK, how do I string this whole complicated plot together?” I realized murder mystery writers are geniuses. It’s REALLY hard work, and it was way over my head. I gave up trying. I think there’s a copy of that first chapter in print around here somewhere, but I have no clue where. We’ve moved five times since then, and those still-packed boxes mock me with whatever might be inside them. One of these days…

The Book That Never Was – Part Two

This one really was a portent of what was to come. In 2001, I decided to write a daily diary of my life for the full year, focused mainly on the NHRA stuff, but also my personal life. And I managed to do it. It was about three inches thick when printed out. It just so happened to be an eventful year, and the material was pretty rich. The guys I showed it to, on the crew, all loved it. So, I thought “Well, if this is going to be a book I better show it to some editors pretty quick, before it’s all old news.” The first two people I shared it with, who would have a good understanding of what the public might want to read, dismissed it immediately. The overall response was “Who would want to read about you?” I put my tail between my legs and put it away.

Four years later, the blog began. And the initial thoughts of a few people in charge had to do with that same “Who would want to read about you?” question. I’ll admit, the initial failure of the 2001 diary still hung around my neck. I, too, wondered who the hell would want to read about me. But I plowed forward (get it?) and went for it. Here we are 14 years later.

The Blog Almost Ended Way Early

Here’s something you don’t know, for sure. At one point, in that first year of the blog or maybe just a little after a year, an NHRA representative came to see my in my office, in the lounge of the CSK hospitality transporter. He had a stern look on his face. To paraphrase his statement, it went something like “You write the most popular blog on our site, but so little of it promotes the sport. We want you to get rid of the cats, the Pond Cam thing, and all the other nonsense. You’re supposed to promote the sport.” I took a deep breath and dug in my heels. I said “If it’s the most popular blog on the site, that should tell you what people want to read. And, as it grows its drawing new people to your site. That’s promoting the sport. If you can’t let me write it like this, that’s fine. I’ll quit writing it altogether.” History tells you who won that debate.

It’s not hard to imagine that one or two of the drivers might have complained about the nonsense I wrote about and the number of readers I had, although I don’t know that for a fact. In effect, it was a little unfair for them. I was a writer. I could write about the cats and make it entertaining just as well as I could write about the last race and make it just as fun. A few of the drivers that took writing the blogs seriously were really good at it. Jack Beckman, for one, and he and I used to talk about style in those early days. As I always put it, “These blogs really aren’t supposed to be about how you did at the last race, or what your elapsed times were. That’s old news and all over the internet. It should be about your life. Let the readers see you at home or out to dinner.” Jack did a great job with it. He got it, but I think my material and my place on the pecking order (a PR guy, for crying out loud) irritated a few others. At least I think that was the case. I’m not paranoid. I’m NOT paranoid!

That Home Run Against Team USA 

I’ve extensively documented the big upset win the Sauget Wizards pulled off over the USA National Team, here. No need to rehash that again. But, did you know I probably shouldn’t have started that game? I’d begun the season in a horrible slump, pretty much unlearning all the great stuff Coach Bob Hughes had instilled in me. That’s kind of how slumps are. They’re mostly mental. I’d get in a rut of not only swinging at the first pitch nearly every at-bat, but doing so no matter how bad a pitch it was. So then you think, “OK, I’ll take the first pitch next time,” and it goes right down the middle. Two pitches later, you’re trudging back to the dugout with another K. It’s really mentally awful. It seems like you have an 0-2 count on you when you step in the box.

That’s how I’d started that season, and I probably wasn’t hitting .250 when we got to Millington and the USA Team’s stadium. But… I was the guy who arranged for the game to be played. I think Coach Hughes had some loyalty and appreciation in his head when he penciled me into the starting line up batting 7th.

I clearly remember feeling a great deal of responsibility to Coach Hughes and the team. We’d be facing the best team, with the best pitching, we’d ever seen. I didn’t really know what it was going to look and feel like. I’d faced some flame throwers in the minors, but I was 30 years old by the time we played the USA game and hadn’t seen pitching like that in quite a while. I was as focused as I’ve ever been. It was really illuminating, actually. I found a level I didn’t know I had.

A few hours later my line for the night was: 3 plate appearances. 1 walk. 2 at-bats. 2 hits. 1 home run. 4 RBI. We won 6-5.

Those pitchers we faced that night, and many of the players in the field, would all be in the big leagues within a few years or less.

And by all rights, I shouldn’t have started if current performance, at the time, dictated who would play. That game caught me on fire. I hit rockets the rest of the season with the Wizards.

I Never Did Many Of Those “Normal” Things As A Kid

I had a charmed and wonderful life as a kid. You can’t ask for a better family or parents. I got to meet people and do things most other people can only dream of. But… I was never a Boy Scout, a crossing guard, or an altar boy, and I never “went away” to summer camp like a lot of my friends did. None of that. I just wanted to play baseball. Plus, the crossing guard thing was out because our folks sent us all to Mary Queen of Peace, in Webster Groves about 2.5 miles from home. To be a crossing guard, you needed to be able to walk or ride your bike home after you’d gotten all the kids safely across Lockwood Blvd. Same thing for the altar boy routine. I never really wanted to do it, and no one pushed me into it. As for the Boy Scout thing, I don’t know. My sisters were Brownies and then Girl Scouts, but when I was the age for Cub Scouts I just had no interest. Maybe my parents should have pushed harder, but they weren’t like that. It was up to us to decide what extracurricular stuff we wanted to do.

I did go to day camp for many summers, until I was 12. I liked that. I walked a few blocks to get there and back, and it ran from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm each day. And, we played baseball! Many of my best friends went away to a real summer camp out in the woods and in the country, just like in the movies. It was called Camp Zoe, and for a month after they’d get back I’d be regaled with stories of the campfires, the bunk beds, the canoes on the lakes, and the counselors. One year, I decided to do that. My mom somehow got me a spot, but a week before I was supposed to leave for a whole month, I got cold feet. I was way more comfortable walking up to Tillman School to go to day camp. And we played baseball there.

I Was David Clyde For A Night

When my dad was managing the Spokane Indians (the Triple-A team for the Texas Rangers) I spent the summer of 1973 out there with him. He had a great team, and some incredible future big league stars on the roster. Bill Madlock was one of those superstars. And he was a prankster.

So who is David Clyde? The Rangers had the number one pick in the entire 1973 draft, since they had finished dead last in MLB the year before. David Clyde was a consensus number one pick, coming out of high school. He was a terrific pitcher. Rangers’ owner Bob Short saw not only a great player, but a ticket-sales trigger as well. The Rangers drafted Clyde, signed him, and brought him straight to the big leagues just days after he’d graduated from high school. They originally planned to only keep him there for a couple of starts and then send him to the minors, but Short saw how the kid sold out the ballpark and he kept him there all summer. The overall feeling by baseball experts was this: Bob Short sold a lot of tickets, and he ruined the best prospect in baseball by having him in the big leagues too early.

So, out in Spokane that summer I was 17 years old. Too old to be a batboy like I’d been in Denver the two previous summers. In Spokane, I’d wear a uniform, take BP, shag fly balls, and then usually go hang out in the bullpen during the games. One night, later in the summer, a fan came down to the bullpen and Madlock was hanging out down there too. He must have been hurt at the time. When the fan asked for his autograph he signed the ball and said “You’ll want his autograph too,” while pointing at me. The kid asked who I was and Bill Madlock said, “That’s David Clyde! The number one draft pick this year. He just got here from the Texas Rangers.” And then “Mad Dog” winked at me. I shook the kid’s hand and signed the ball, making the autograph basically illegible. After another hour, I had to go hide in the dugout. A line of kids wanted David Clyde’s autograph.

So that’s it for the things you probably didn’t know. I’m sure there are 100 more, but at some point they’d get pretty mundane. Right?

Here on my other writing front, I hit a huge landmark yesterday. I finished the chapter that marks the end of the first part of the book, where my two main characters are growing up and living two vastly different lives. In the next chapter, which I may start right after I post this, they will meet. Then we move on to a whole new set of circumstances and tales of successes and failures.

Does that mean the book is half done? I don’t know. I never saw it that way. I had this feeling that the first part had to be very rich with details, because these two guys could hardly be any more different. To explain that without just listing personality traits, I needed to tell those stories of where they grew up, and how they grew up, and how they interacted with their parents, families, and friends. Those details seemed ultra-important to me. They create the characters and bring them to life.

From this point forward, it could move faster, or slower, or who knows? This writing process is really organic. I did character studies before I started, to help me understand the two main characters and what they were, and I had an outline in mind as well. But, in terms of writing it and coming up with various plot twists, a lot of that is happening on the fly. Now that I know these guys so well, certain plot twists just “have to happen, because that’s who he is…”

It’s a fascinating process, but I’m taking my time so that I enjoy it as much as possible. You only get to write these books once. I don’t want to feel like I’m under pressure because of it. I want to do it right and enjoy the ride. But, yesterday was a landmark day for “How Far?”

Thanks for reading. If any of this nonsense intrigued you at all, it would be awesome if you’d click on the “Like” button at the top. I’m not paranoid! People really are following me.

Bob Wilber, at your service and uncovering more tidbits.

Yes, the REAL David Clyde. Straight out of high school (Click on any image to enlarge)

PS: Yeah, I knew it would be hard to have any photos in this one. Not much of my childhood is documented that way. But I figured I could at least illustrate who David Clyde was. This is him, straight out of high school and in the big leagues.

And below, the 1973 Spokane Indians. Big Del Wilber front-and-center in the front row. Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock, the prankster, second from the left in the front row. No, I’m not in the photo, and wouldn’t have been even if I had been there for it the day it was taken. I was just “the manager’s kid.”

 

 

 

 

 

Your 1973 Pacific Coast League Champions

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