The Incredible Story of Pete Delkus

Apr 3, 2012   //   by bwilber   //   Bob on Baseball  //  4 Comments

As we move our way through the meandering trails that make up our lives, nearly all of us can pinpoint coincidental moments and unique personalities that changed everything. Pete Delkus has had many of those moments, and my friendship with him represents an equal and similar situation. His is an incredible story, and his determination and passion are a perfect fit for TPGF.

Those who currently live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area probably know who Pete Delkus is. Anyone who lived in either Cincinnati or Orlando, over the course of the last couple of decades, may be aware of him as well and all would likely say “Oh yeah, I know Pete. He’s my favorite weatherman on TV!”  That he is, but the road he traveled to get to this point is one full of impossible odds, hard work, good fortune, and one incredible near miss.  You see, before Pete was a popular weather forecaster, he was a baseball player. And his story is one I experienced with him, day by day.  At this moment, some 21 years after he threw his last pitch as a submarine reliever in the Minnesota Twins organization, the entire process still seems magical and unreal to me. Yet, it all happened. You can look it up.

Pete and I have many things in common, but age is not one of them. We both attended Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville on baseball scholarships, but we did not play together there.  He was in the graduating class of 1987. I was in the class of 1978. The dyslexic similarity is a bit startling. We both majored in Television/Radio Broadcasting, and although we graduated nearly a decade apart we both enjoyed learning from a few of the same great professors. It was not until 1985 that we met, and it was on a baseball field, of course.

By sheer coincidence, we were both members of the Sauget Wizards semi-pro team in ’85 and ’86, the same Wizards team I have written about here at Bob On Baseball in the past. At the time, Pete was a current college pitcher at SIUE and I was a former pro who loved the game so much I couldn’t quit playing.  From the moment we met, we were friends.

You meet all sorts of personalities in a dugout, and on those Wizards teams we had a bevy of individuals who were as colorful and memorable as any men I ever played the game alongside. You could write an accurate screenplay about those Wizards clubs, and any movie producer worth his title would tell you the characters were far too unreal and flamboyant to seem plausible. To say those were my favorite years playing the game would be a gross understatement.

Pete and I hit it off quickly, and our friendship quickly grew over those two summers.  I was at the prime of my playing career, hitting the cover off the ball while I still had young enough legs and a healthy enough shoulder to contribute in the outfield. Pete, with his quirky submarine delivery, was by far our best pitcher and he seemed to be on the cusp of a solid career in pro ball. In the dugout, we became best friends.

In 1985 I was 29 years old, with a real job to keep me busy and the memories of a failed pro career still hanging around my neck, but I was finally in the prime of my baseball life (a little too late) and I was the Wizards’ MVP. Pete was our ace, and life was good.  My dad came to many of those games, and while I know he enjoyed watching me blossom into the solid player I eventually was, he was also taken with Pete, and he raved about his stuff, the heavy sink on his fastball, and that frisbee slurve that seemed to back up like a Bugs Bunny cartoon pitch.  Skip loved Pete Delkus.

Just weeks before the ’86 season ended, I changed careers and joined by brother Del’s sports marketing agency in Washington D.C., sadly leaving Pete and the Wizards behind (although I did find a similar team to play with there in 1987, based in Fairfax, Va.).  Pete spent that winter getting ready for his senior season at SIUE, with a firm and realistic hope that he’d be selected in the Major League Draft once that season was over.

I was sitting in my office at DelWilber + Associates on a June day in ’87, no doubt contemplating the projects I was managing for MLB, the Big East conference, USA Baseball, and others. Or perhaps I was just thinking about lunch. Whatever the case, my phone buzzed and our receptionist told me Pete Delkus was on the line. He quickly got to the point, telling me he was astonished to have been passed over throughout every round of the draft. His dreams of a pro career were about to be extinguished, and he sounded both angry and crushed, but I said “Let me and my dad work on this. You deserve a shot.”

Between Skip and myself, we contacted just about every scouting director and general manager we knew, and within a day I had four teams willing to have Pete work out for them, so they could take a closer look. As he always did, Skip trumped me. He made one call, to the Minnesota Twins, and both Jim Rantz and Terry Ryan had the same reply. They said “If he’s good enough for you, Del, he’s good enough for us. Have him report to Elizabethton next week.”  Pete Delkus was a pro. He was starting at the bottom, in the rookie level Appalachian League (where I had started my career nine years earlier) but he was a pro.

Also starting a career at Elizabethton was the team’s young manager, former big league infielder Ron Gardenhire. Pete’s work ethic and personality were appreciated from the moment he arrived in the tiny Tennessee town, but the truth is Gardy had a full staff of pitchers, the rest of whom had been drafted and were playing with some bonus money in their pockets. Why, on the first night, he chose to bring in the funky submariner who had signed as an undrafted free agent, remains a mystery to this day, but Pete came in to close the game and he shut the opponents down. At that point, Gardy had his favorite closer.

By the end of that short rookie ball season, Pete Delkus had pitched in 21 games, totaling 37 innings, giving up only 29 hits and 5 earned runs. He struck out 44 and walked only 7. His ERA was 1.19, and that wouldn’t be the best of his career.

Pete kept in touch with me every day, with full reports on each inning he pitched. At that point, I was more than a friend as I also became his confidant and de facto agent. Rookie league players usually don’t need agents, but our relationship was one where I’d handle as many details for him as I could, to assist in his off the field life, and he focused on pitching. A lasting friendship was blossoming.

In 1988, both Gardenhire and Delkus were promoted to Kenosha (Wis.) in the full-season Class A Midwest League. Throughout spring training, Pete was basically stellar. He did not give up an earned run. In April, when the regular season started, he did not give up an earned run. Throughout the month of May, the ERA remained at 0.00, despite the fact he was pitching in three or four games a week. Same thing in June. And July. As the season wound down in August, he finally was nicked for an earned run, and then another. He gave up 2 on the year. Total. His ERA was a stunning 0.26, and his pitching line looked fraudulent and/or fictional.

61 games.  68 innings pitched.  33 saves.  58 strike outs. 13 walks.  And that impossible ERA of 0.26.

He was named the Twins’ Minor League Player of the Year. He was awarded the Rolaids Minor League Relief Man trophy. And the Twins brass made it known to him, as well as my father and me, that he was clearly destined for the big leagues. Terry Ryan simply told Pete “You’re going to be a very rich young man someday, and it won’t be long.”

Pete’s next stop, in 1989, was Orlando in the Class AA Southern League, and once again Gardy was promoted right along with him. He was once again absolutely terrific, putting together a full season in which he pitched in 76 games, racking up 10 saves while striking out 63. His ERA was a masterful 1.87, and the buzz about his future was undeniable. But the key to his ’89 season, in terms of how it impacted Pete’s eventual career, happened off the field.

Pete, as a member of the Orlando Twins

Minor League baseball players are not known for getting much done away from the ballpark, unless sleeping is considered a vocation. In the Southern League, ridiculous 18-hour bus rides were the norm, and the 140-game grind was a marathon, pushing even these healthy young athletes to the brink of what their bodies were capable of absorbing. It’s all the typical player could do to make it to the park in the early afternoon, play the game, possibly ride the bus, and survive until the next day.  This description does not apply to Pete Delkus. He was not typical.

He made contact with the local ABC affiliate, WFTV Channel 9. He introduced himself to the Sports Director, and asked for an internship, which he’d have to squeeze in on home stands and during the morning hours, while all of his teammates were sleeping. Taken by his dedication and that patented Delkus personality, WFTV brought him onboard as an intern, and Pete began to learn the ropes in the Sports Department. I was exhausted just listening to his stories, both on the field and off.

Pete clearly made a name for himself that year in Orlando, and the station’s executives were keen to stay in touch with him. The next year, though, he was destined for Triple A, and the Portland club in the Pacific Coast League. He was also put on the Twins 40-man roster, and attended his first spring training with the big club.

Pete and I lived together in suburban St. Louis prior to that 1990 season. We shared a three-level townhome, and I marveled at his off-season workout routine. He ran miles, and many of them were up steep hills. He did pushups and sit ups for hours. He honed his body and his craft and throughout that winter we both waited anxiously for spring training to start, so that he could wear a big league uniform and attend big league camp. And then there was a lockout.

For 32 days, Pete stayed in St. Louis waiting for it to end. They were the 32 longest days of his (and my) life. To keep busy, he joined my staff with the St. Louis Storm indoor soccer team (I was the VP of Marketing for the club) and we’d both head off to work at the old St. Louis Arena, wondering when it might end so he’d get to live out his dream.  One night, we were out for a drink after dinner and I couldn’t help but notice the gorgeous (stunning, really) young lady staring at both of us, from across the upper level of Bogart’s in West County. We were both single, but I could tell she was his age and not mine, so I flagged down a young woman who was selling roses in the bar, and sent one over to the beautiful young lady, who looked every bit as nice as any Miss America. I told the sales woman to let that beauty know the rose was from Pete. He was far too shy to have done that himself.  Pete and Jacque have been married since not too long after that night, and have a wonderful family.  Apparently, whether it was baseball or marriage, I had to give the guy a leg up.

Pete and Jacque dated throughout that winter and into the early spring. Finally, just when spring training should’ve been ending, it started. The lockout was over.

I was also the PA announcer for the Storm, and during our home game that night I announced that one of our sales representatives, Pete Delkus, would be leaving us after that game, to attend Major League spring training with the Minnesota Twins. The soccer fans applauded.

Within days, I was hearing stories of Kirby Puckett loudly calling out “Hey Delk” across the crowded clubhouse. I quickly flew down for a weekend, and watched him throw BP to the big leaguers, at Tinker Field in Orlando. He called me the next day, after he appeared in his first game, and he was excited to tell me “I shattered Terry Puhl’s bat. Sawed him right off.”

A Portland Beaver. Triple-A in 1990

We’ll never know if the shortened spring was the culprit, but when the Portland season opened Pete was not quite himself on the mound. He had a rough couple of weeks at the start of the season, giving up too many hits and runs, but then settled down and was his basic stellar self for the next four months. He ended up 5-3 on the season, pitching in 65 games, but the early troubles inflated his ERA to a career high 4.18.  He was disappointed in the numbers, but felt he’d performed very well throughout the summer, once the rough start was behind him. And then the Twins dropped him from the 40-man. And his elbow began to hurt a little.

Pete pitched, off and on, for one more season. He went back to Orlando and Class AA for a while, but the elbow was barking by then and he needed surgery. His baseball career, which had shone so brightly and held such promise, was over.

Fortunately, he was back in Orlando when it all fell apart, and the Channel 9 experience was still with him. When his playing days were done, for good, he found a home on television, although not the home he had anticipated. WFTV had a full staff of on-air sports guys, but they needed a morning weather man for the weekends. Pete Delkus was their guy, starting off with almost no knowledge of meteorology. He was once again starting near the bottom, but he had his eyes focused on making it all the way to the top, this time.

He honed his craft. He worked odd shifts and early hours. He got his advanced degree in meteorology and quickly became the lead weather forecaster for Channel 9. In the same town in which he’d pitched so well, but mostly in anonymity, he was now a familiar face and a household name, on living room TVs throughout central Florida.

In 1996, he moved up to Cincinnati, joining WCPO, and he earned accolades and many awards for his exhaustive coverage of one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in history, staying on the air nearly all day until the final warning was cancelled.

Pete Delkus today, at WFAA in Dallas

In 2005, he took the next step, right to the big leagues in Dallas, at WFAA.  Since then, Pete has been the Chief Meteorologist at WFAA, while he’s been recognized throughout the DFW market and the industry as a whole as one of the top weather experts in the world.

Pete Delkus has finally arrived. He’s at the top, with legions of fans. He has a beautiful wife and a wonderful family. And Terry Ryan was right. He ended up being a rich young man.  He’s just making that living in a suit and tie, standing in front of a green screen, rather than in a baseball uniform on a field of green grass.

Pete Delkus is everything TPGF is about. He was passed over, he was under-appreciated. He clawed his way toward his dream, and he nearly made it before his right arm gave out on him. But even when he was striking everyone out, he stretched himself and pushed himself to learn a new craft, and have a television career waiting for him.

He never gave up.  He’s living his dream.

And I’ve enjoyed calling him a friend since we met in the dugout, with the Sauget Wizards.

I’m proud of you, roomie!

  • Terry Blake

    What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dan Nicholson

    It’s a testimony to Pete’s resiliency that he withstood the verbal abuse that Sauget skipper Bob Hughes gave him in those days.

  • Bob Wilber

    Here’s a forwarded note from Jim Greenwald, another former SIUE grad and Minnesota Twins farmhand, who also happened to be the original GM of the Sauget Wizards. “Greenie” would fall instantly into the category of “unique personalities” on that Wizards club, and was one of the truly great guys I ever played with.

    BW

    “Pete, when I was the GM and had to put the original Wizards club together, you were the first priority. Thanks for all you’ve done and all the great years!!! – Greenie

  • Kpour

    It was an honor to play along side Pete and the whole cast in Sauget. Pete was as classy and as friendly as anyone I have met or played ball with or against. It is great to see you have done so well!!– Kevin Pour

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