Things I Miss (And Things I Don’t Miss)

Feb 20, 2020   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

I toyed with the idea of skipping the blog this week, for a couple of reasons. The first was the fact I was really on a roll with the new book over the last few days, cranking out page after page until my typing would get sloppy. I wanted to keep that up. My editor Greg Halling is now waiting on me to get him more content and I know I owe it to him. The second reason was the fact I had no theme in mind, although that’s rarely stopped me in the past. What to do?

Well, after a few hours of stalling I came to the realization that this blog is important too. The book will happen. We’re getting there and I like what we have in the tank so far. But every Thursday I feel the need to ramble on about something. What would that something be this week? I wasn’t sure. OK, I actually had no clue. Then, out of the blue (where most motivational ideas seem to come from) something clicked in my head about things I miss. The older you get, the more you file away things that you not only miss, but probably can’t do any more. The list gets longer.

And then there’s the flip side, the yang to the yin, the down to the up. In each instance of missing something, what do I not miss? At around 11 this morning I remember thinking “How have I never had that idea before? That’s a great theme!” Who knows, though. I’ve been writing a blog since 2005 and I can’t be 100% sure what I’m inventing versus what I’m recycling. Too many blogs and too many words to keep track of all that.

I guess we’ll see. Not sure what I’ll have for photos, and I may not end up with any at all, but this should be a good exercise in self-awareness and appreciation for the past and all the things that made me what I am. Here we go:

Things I miss

Hey look! I found a pic to add to this blog. I can close my eyes and smell this! (Click on any image to enlarge)

Playing Wiffle Ball or basketball in the driveway at my boyhood home. The Wiffle Ball games were epic, and they continued all the way through high school. My buddy Bob Mitchell and I must have completed a full 162-game schedule by the time we were done and off to college. Our customized rules were simple.

It was a one-on-one game, with just a pitcher and a hitter. I don’t recall ever playing with other players out there with us.

There were no “walks” in Wiffle Ball. You either hit the ball and were safe or out, or you struck out

Any ground ball back to the pitcher, fielded cleanly, was an out

Any fly ball or pop-up caught by the pitcher, was an out

Any ground ball past the pitcher was a single (there was no base running and there were no bases, you just counted it as a hit and imagined the man on base)

Any line drive past the pitcher, that landed before the end of the driveway, was a double

Any fly ball or line drive that landed in the street, but between the end of the drive and the center of the street (there was  paving “seam” there to mark the spot) was a triple

Any fly ball that landed on the far side of the middle of the street was a home run. That was quite a poke with plastic ball that had holes in one half.

With any imaginary runner on base, any line drive caught by the pitcher was a double play

These games could go on for hours. Mitch and I once played for an entire weekend afternoon, starting at 12 noon and not ending until dark. We even played through a thunderstorm to make it happen.

My “strikeout pitch” was a sidearm slider, released with the Wiffle Ball holes on the bottom of the grip. It was damn near unhittable. In today’s parlance, we’d call it a cutter, but we didn’t know that term then. It was hard, from 40-feet away, and it dove down and away just enough to avoid bats. Even if you knew it was coming.

The former site of Wilber Wiffle Ball Stadium on Woodleaf Court

There was as huge oak tree next to the drive, and it’s still there. The branches grew out over the driveway a little more each year, and we dubbed it “The Green Monster.” The line was, “The Monster giveth, and the Monster taketh away” because a sure homer might just nick a branch and fall harmlessly straight down, maybe even turning into an out if the pitcher reacted quickly enough. But, a lousy pop-up might also get tangled in the tree, turning a sure out into a pinball game that could cause the ball to fall as equally harmlessly as a hit.

The photo to the right is a brand new one from GoogleEarth. It stunned me to see that “Mary’s Tree” has been chopped down. Yikes! Planted as a stick in 1970 and now nothing but a memory. But the big oak we called the “Green Monster” still dominates. Pitcher’s mound would’ve been about halfway down the drive, with the batter’s box right in front of the garage.

The key to the fun was the bat. Those yellow plastic bats that come with a Wiffle Ball set are useless. They are hollow and far too light, so you can’t swing them like a normal bat. Mitch and I had a vintage wooden Wiffle Ball bat. It was just the right length and weight, and it felt like a real bat when you swung it.

The balls had a lifespan, and it wasn’t long. We seemed to be always scrounging for the money it would take to go to the drug store and buy new balls. When we were flush with cash, we might buy six at a time. There was nothing better than opening that small box and pulling out a brand new Wiffle Ball.

Those were the days…

Things I don’t miss

Crawling under bushes to find any ball that happened to roll into that science-fiction vortex. It was a great way to skin your knees and end up with prickly bits in your arms, and the insane ability for a ball to gently roll into that bush but then disappear forever was mindbending.

Starting a game with a beat-up old ball that was caving in on the top half and then seeing it crack and collapse altogether in the third inning, knowing we were broke and didn’t have the money to buy a new one. They cost maybe a dollar, but when you’re broke you’re broke. Generally, the basketball came out at such a time.

Being hyped up to play all day at school, only to come home and find out my mom had a group of friends over and their cars filled not just the driveway, but the curb on the street as well. The heartache was real. No seriously, it really was.

Things I miss

12-hour bus rides with my baseball brothers, whether in college or pro ball. Those were bonding moments, and you found out in a hurry how well you all got along. I’d bring a book and a backgammon board on most of those long trips. And as I wrote in “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” you learned in a hurry that personal space is not really optional. Another guy’s shoulder might be your pillow on this trip, and the offer would be made in reverse on the next one.

There was just something communal and strengthening on those long trips. You were brothers in arms.

Things I don’t miss

Five or six hour bus rides with my baseball brothers. You get prepared and psyched up for the super-long trips, and your brain is ready for it. By comparison, a six-hour ride seems easy and harmless. They are not. Six-hour rides are the worst. Too short to sleep or be prepared for, but long enough and tedious enough to drive every guy insane. The word “interminable” comes to mind.

Things I miss

Reading voraciously to pass the time when I was a baseball scout for the Blue Jays. Being a scout, especially during the summer when we had “pro coverage” and just scouted other organizations’ minor league teams, was a lesson in killing time. Reading was a way through those long mornings and afternoons until it was time to “go to the yard” for that night’s game. I went through many phases, including murder mysteries, police dramas, and biographies.

Things I don’t miss

The horrible feeling of guilt and remorse as soon as I bought a new hardback book at the B. Dalton in whatever local mall was nearby, knowing my scout’s salary of $13,000 a year couldn’t handle such luxuries. It was a real thing. I’d ache for that new bestseller and would talk myself into buying the just-released hardback for $19. I no sooner got back to the motel before that wave of guilt would wash over me. Reading always won. The remorse always came in second, but it was powerful.

And the other part of scouting I will never miss was the paperwork. Scouting reports are tedious and complicated. For every game seen, you could easily face six hours of paperwork, and it wasn’t just filling in lines and boxes with a pencil. It was all about your own professional opinion. My name was on those reports. My opinions and rankings were part of that. There was a lot of deep thinking involved in addition to the handwriting. It was a lot of pressure mixed with a lot of tedium. I remember my dad always telling me about that, before I was a scout. He was right. “The job is never over until the paperwork is done.”

And another picture to share, with David Jacobsen getting some serious air when we won Seattle

Things I miss

Winning NHRA races. There is genuinely nothing like it. It’s a walk-off winner for the ages, and just seconds before it happens no one knows how it’s going to turn out. It’s pure emotion. It’s amazing. I still stare at the many photos I have, just remembering those incredible feelings. “The highest high” for sure.

Things I don’t miss

Holding the video camera to shoot our Funny Car heading down the track only to see something really bad happen. From Funny Car bodies (EXPENSIVE Funny Car bodies) being launched into the air or shredded into a million pieces to collisions with the wall or another car. It’s awful. The accumulation of those video views clearly took a toll on me. I’d had enough when it as time to quit. I don’t miss that at all. I hated it. “The lowest low.”

Things I miss

Running three different indoor soccer teams, despite the fact the third and final one was folded out from under me not long after I took over the reins in Indianapolis. There was nothing as energizing as getting ready for a season, developing and selling those sponsor packages, and leading my staff to sell every possible ticket we could. And then, on game day, walking out into that arena to see the crowd and watch their reactions to not just the game on the turf, but also the promotions we did and the way we led them on the PA system. That was pure joy. I never worked so hard in my life, but also never got more satisfaction from it.

Things I don’t miss

Wearing a suit and tie to work. Throughout my four years in indoor soccer and for the three years I worked for my brother Del’s sports-marketing agency, a suit and tie (or at least a coat and tie) were the costume of the day.

Simply put, I was never programmed to enjoy that. I tried to make up for it with wild paisley ties or others with Looney Tunes characters printed on them. I had quite a few Bugs Bunny ties, but I still hated getting “dressed up” to go to work. Maybe it was because the nuns made us wear ties for eight full years of grade school and I never wanted to wear another one.

Things I miss

Can’t believe Google found this image of Casey’s for me. Memories…

Going to work with my dad after dinner on a winter’s night. Like most baseball men back in those days, he needed a winter job to keep the bills paid and for much of my childhood he worked at Casey’s Sporting Goods in Kirkwood. He’d go back for the final shift after dinner and often take me with him. I roamed around the store, staring at objects I could never afford, but relishing the sight and smell of new baseball gloves, hockey sticks, pucks, soccer balls, and snow skis. Those were glorious nights. And we’d often cap it off by stopping in at Velvet Freeze right next door to the store, for a some vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate syrup and salty nuts. Heaven.

Things I don’t miss

Saying goodbye to my dad in late February when he was scouting, knowing I’d be lucky to see him for more than a day or two per month until October. It was lousy, but we were all used to it. When he was managing in the minors, I’d usually get to spend some of the summer with him and his team, but even waiting from the first day of Spring Training until school was out was agony. I spent most of my childhood missing my dad desperately, but I adored him and idolized him anyway.

Things I miss

Being able to literally eat anything, and as much as I wanted, without ever fearing that I’d gain even a pound. All the way up through my pro baseball career, my biggest worry was that I was NOT gaining weight. I was always too skinny. Entire Farotto’s pizzas? Big Macs? Malts and milk shakes? All of it.

Things I don’t miss

Eating all of that unhealthy food. I was never a healthy kid and I can’t imagine my diet helped in any way. I’m still not the world’s healthiest eater, but I watch what I consume and I have successfully developed the ability to stop eating as soon as I feel full. I hate the feeling of being “stuffed” after overeating.

Things I miss

Being young and so full of energy I could hardly slow down to eat, much less sleep. Being able to run forever on the baseball field, tracking down fly balls from 100 feet away and throwing rockets to the plate to gun a runner down. Being on the bases and scoring from first on a double. Hitting a ball so hard, and so much on the sweet spot, you couldn’t feel it but you knew it was gone the second you made contact.

Things I don’t miss

Pulled hamstrings, shoulder tendonitis, getting jammed with a fastball and not getting the feeling back in my hands for 10 minutes, or getting drilled in the elbow by a fastball and having it hurt so bad you couldn’t help but think throwing up was coming next. Also the ubiquitous “strawberries” we always had on our knees and thighs. The open wounds that never healed thanks to sliding on rock hard dirt.

Nah…  Who am I kidding? I miss all of that too. Desperately.

So that’s it for this week. Maybe you’ll spend a little while thinking back and compiling your own “Miss” and “Don’t Miss” list. Have at it.

Again, as always, if you enjoyed this even one micron of a tiny bit, please click on the “Like” button at the top. The more likes the more followers we can attract.

See you next week!

Bob Wilber, at your service and still trying to appreciate all the things I miss and don’t miss. It’s all the fabric of me.

 

 

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