Some Relics and Some Advice

Jan 24, 2020   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

OK, I’m a day late but I’m not a dollar short. I’m 76-cents short, which is really odd for me because I so rarely use cash I actually don’t recall the last time I had coins in my pocket. Basically I use cash money for only a few things, almost all of which involve making sure a server, or room service person, or pizza delivery guy, gets the entire tip in spending money instead of having to get it from the boss after I added it to the bill. The way I figure it, if someone brings me my food, on time and with a smile, they deserve the best tip I can give them, and that involves cash. Other than that, I live my life with my debit card and good old American Express.

And that’s something I’m proud of. When Barbara and I got married, way back in the dark ages of 1997, both of us had multiple credit cards in our possession. We used them a lot, and paid a ton of money in interest. One of my first initiatives, as the husband who wanted to make life better for the two of us, was to put together a plan to get accrued interest out of our lives. It took more than two years, but I did it. No more credit cards with minimum payments and monthly interest. Yes, we have a mortgage and have had car payments over the decades, but those can have interest rates that are so “cheap” it’s financially a good deal. Those old MasterCards with high interest rates were killers. So, now we live on our US Bank debit cards and American Express, which we pay off in full every month. We’re fortunate to be able to do that. And life is better without all that compound interest debt. But back to those coins. It’s so rare for me to have even a few of them I almost don’t recognize them when I have them. Is that a dime? Seriously.

I used to keep a coin cup in my closet. I think there’s still one in there, although nothing has been added to it in many years. Every day, I’d empty my pockets and put everything but the pennies in that cup. Pennies are the scourge of the coin world. We’d keep them in a large jar and cash them in at the bank once a year, because they will overtake a general coin cup almost instantly. As for the silver stuff, that added up fast. During my racing career, that coin cup represented my initial capital for Las Vegas slot machines, whenever the NHRA tour would head that way. It wasn’t hard to have well more than $100 in coins collected over a year. These days, I’m nearly cashless except for tips. As a matter of routine, when Barbara and I travel together one of the most common comments is “Hey, do you have tip money?” Whether it’s valet parking, room service, tips for bartenders at the Sky Club, or the bellman, you need those ones and fives.

So that was a digression I never planned for when I sat down to finally write this. Weird how that works. I just engage my brain and stuff comes out on the screen. Now, let’s get to what I originally planned for this week’s blog.

None of us Wilbers had any idea about this. (Click on any image to enlarge)

I make it a habit to scour eBay and other memorabilia sites on a regular basis, just to see what’s out there in terms of my dad, my mom, my family, or even little old me. Amazing what you can find in terms of old newspaper clippings, old photos, and other such stuff. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you come across something new and sometimes it’s even confusing. This letter would fall into both of those categories.

The letter is from Ford Frick, who at the time was the president of the National League. It’s sent to my dad, and it informs him of the details about the 1948 All-Star Game. Huh? No, seriously. What the heck?

My dad was a helluva ballplayer. You had to be to spend nearly 10 years in the big leagues when there were only eight teams in each league. But, he was never a threat to make the All-Star team. I had no clue what this letter was about, so I had to do some digging.

Turns out, the 1948 All-Star game was held at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. My dad, at the time, was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Oddly, though, the team that hosted the game in St. Louis was not the Cardinals. It was the old St. Louis Browns who shared the ballpark with the Redbirds. So why was Del Wilber named to the National League All-Star team?

Well, for one thing he lived in St. Louis. For another thing, each team needed extra catchers to help warm up pitchers in the bullpen. He was “named to the All-Star team” for that very reason, as best I can tell. Basically, “Come on down to the ballpark for the game and help us out.” He even got two free tickets! Still, a very cool piece of memorabilia that none of us had a clue about. It’s also funny that it contains information about travel plans and expenses. My dad just had to drive to the ballpark. I’m just guessing it was a form letter from the league president and they didn’t bother to adjust it for a guy who was already there.

Such, Stelly, and their skipper

And here’s the next fun thing I found recently. The year is 1971. The location is Mile-High Stadium in Denver. The photo features Denver Bears pitcher Dick Such, manager Del Wilber, and catcher Rick Stelmaszek. I know it’s 1971 because I spent the summers of ’71 and ’72 out in Denver with my dad, as a batboy and general pest. My first year out there, the team wore old-school uniforms. Not sure if they were wool or cotton, but they were the old style from the days before double-knit uniforms became the norm. That’s clearly what they’re wearing in the shot.

I had a pair of white baseball pants I brought with me, but I had to wear one of the extra uniform jerseys from the equipment room for games. I was 15 and not very large. The smallest jersey was enormous on me, and I remember being very self-conscious about it on game nights.

(Trivia Question: Which MLB team was the first to switch over to double-knit uniforms, complete with pullover tops and elastic waistband pants? Answer: The Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970)

Dick Such was a heck of a pitcher, but his professional career was full of ups and downs. He was also a heck of a guy and I remember really liking him a lot. The highlight of his career ended up being in coaching. The Denver Bears were the Triple-A farm club of the Washington Senators who then became the Texas Rangers. Dick went on to be a pitching coach for the Rangers from 1975 to 1985, and then he joined the Minnesota Twins for a long stretch, as their pitching coach from 1986 to 2001. Like my dad, he was a better instructor than player, but he was great at both.

Stelly and Suchie, on a Topps “Rookie Stars” card. I don’t remember Gene Martin.

Rick Stelmaszek, or Stelly as everyone called him, was a gem. A fine catcher, he played in the big leagues for the Senators, Rangers, and Cubs but like Dick Such, it was coaching that rewarded him the most. He spent 32 consecutive years on the Minnesota Twins coaching staff, and was still on the staff as a bullpen coach when Barbara and I moved here in 2002. His final year with the Twins was 2012. He passed away in 2017. He was a phenomenal guy who treated me so well. Fun, dedicated, and really talented.

I loved finding the Topps “Rookie Stars” card online, with both of these guys on it. So many great memories of both of them, and such a coincidence that they’d both end up being longtime coaches for the Twins. Who is Gene Martin? OK, give me a minute to Google him and find out.

There you have it. Gene Martin played professionally from 1965 to 1981, but had only a handful of at-bats in the big leagues. He actually played for the Denver Bears one year, but it was 1970 so my dad and I weren’t there yet. He also played six seasons in Japan, where he hit a bunch of home runs, and two different seasons in Mexico. This is what we call “chasing the dream.” If someone will pay you to keep playing, you go. I believe he then went on to be a scout and front office guy. Plus, he’s on this “Rookie Stars” card with Stelly and Suchie.

And now to wrap this day-late and somewhat short blog with a piece of advice…

I currently have a bandage on the right side of my nose, directly next to my right eye. Why? Well, my wife convinced me to go see a dermatologist back in October, and that doctor saw a few things he wanted to remove from various parts of my body. Only one of them came back from the lab as anything bad, and it was a bump on the side of my nose that basically just looked like a wart. I’d had it for a few years and it was positioned right where my glasses rested on my nose, so I thought it was related to that.

It was basal cell carcinoma, which is no fun but if you’re going to have any kind of skin cancer it’s the type you want. It’s not life-threatening, and it can be removed completely. He took it off, but called me to say I probably needed a little more work done or it would come back. So, about two weeks ago I went in for what is called MOHS surgery to have the remnants of it completely surgically removed. Now, this thing was really pretty small but the surgery requires that they carve out quite a bit of area all around it, and then analyze that under a microscope to make sure they got it all. Since that is a time consuming deal, they advise you to be ready to spend anywhere from two hours to eight hours there, in case they have to keep going back for more.

I was lucky, in that they got it all on the first try. They bandaged me up while they confirmed that, and I was kind of surprised when I went to the bathroom and saw how large the bandage was. When they gave me the “all clear” the nurse handed me a mirror and said “Do you want to see it before we bandage it again?”

I was stunned. It looked like I’d been shot right the nose. It actually scared me. They gave me detailed instructions on how to treat it and bandage it again, and let me know it could easily be four to six weeks before it’s healed. It was all kind of a blur, really, because I was still seeing that giant hole in the mirror as the nurse spoke.

So now I’m an expert on using Q-Tips, gauze, “paper tape,” hydrogen peroxide, and other absorbent bandages to treat it every day. I wish I could say it looks all better now, but looking at it twice a day it’s hard to see the changes or any progress. Hopefully I’ll only be wearing this highly noticeable “What happened to you?” bandage for a few more weeks. I’ve gotten good at making it as small as possible, and I’m finally getting over the self-consciousness of being out in public looking like this.

But that leads me to this. If you see anything on your skin that looks new or different, go get it checked. Even if you don’t, go get a full-body check. It’s easy, generally painless (thanks to the Lidocaine shot) and you’ll likely walk out of there with a new sense of well being for having done it. I’m glad I went, and even happier that my wife suggested it.

Just take care of yourselves.

That’s it for this week. Yes, a day late and 76-cents short, but I had stuff to do yesterday. I’ll try to be back on the regularly scheduled Thursday next week.

As always, if you just absorbed these words and kinda sorta liked them, please do me a favor and click on the “Like” button at the top.

Bob Wilber, at your service with memories and advice.

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