Weather (Or Not) And Other Nonsense

Jun 27, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

This makes for kind of a sleepy day. (Click on any image to enlarge)

Here we are on June 27 and I think I can classify the local Minnesota weather to this point as “quite nice” especially in comparison to other parts of the country. I have a lot of friends in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and from what I’m consistently hearing they’ve just been getting pounded by heavy rain for the whole month, if not longer. Up here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we’ve had it easy. Not a lot of rain, and when we’ve had some it has generally come down as if there’s a giant watering can up above. Small drops coming down gently. The flowers have loved it.

Today, not so much but I knew it was coming. For the first time this season the forecast called for severe storms and heavy rain. When I went out to get the paper (yes, I read much of my news online but I still like to start the day with the newspaper in my hands) it was just starting, and it was doing so in big fat drops. As I walked back into the house, facing west, I could see the sky was a variety of colors, ranging from near black to greenish yellow.

Boofus and Buster both thought they’d like to be out on the porch, though, so I let them out and set my mental timer for one minute. They didn’t make it that long. When the first clap of loud thunder rattled the house, I saw two streaks of black fur race through the sliding door. They’ve come out from under the bed now, but both are hunkered down in the living room.

The Twins are supposed to be playing the final game of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays today, at Target Field, and from what I’m hearing they think they will start late but they see a window in the rain that should (hopefully) allow them to get the game in. My personal baseball activities today were not so fortunate.

Terry Blake and I had set 1:00 today for our second effort at playing catch and otherwise goofing off by throwing a baseball around, at a small park near both of our homes. The same downpour and clap of thunder that sent two cats fleeing caused me to pick up my phone and text this to Terry: “Looks like we picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue. Or to play catch.” You have to be of a certain age to understand that movie reference and quote. Even if it does stop raining, playing catch on wet grass, in sneakers, would not be conducive to getting my throwing mechanics sorted out, and most of those flawed mechanics are based on the fear of my arm becoming unattached at the shoulder. So we’ve postponed our efforts until next week.

And yes, there are other baseball references to be shared in this week’s blog. It’s that time of year!

For instance, one of my former Sauget Wizards teammates, Dan Nicholson, sent me a note to let me know that our former player/manager Bob Hughes wanted to talk with me. Dan sent me his number. You’ll remember Coach Hughes from the recent blog about people who had enormous influence on me, as well as the many mentions I gave him in my book “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts.”

It took us a few days to connect, but yesterday afternoon he gave me a call and we had a rollicking wonderful conversation for at least 20 minutes. Bobby was always important to me, and because of that I took the time to inscribe a note to him in a copy of “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” when I sent him the book a few months back. The reason he wanted to talk with me was partly just to say hi and catch up, but mostly to tell me how much he loved the book. He raved about it. Said he couldn’t put it down, and that he read every word. That’s always wonderful to hear, and I’m grateful every time I hear anything sounding even close to being that complimentary. But to hear that from Bob Hughes, well…  That was really something special. He’s one of a kind, and he made a huge impact on me and my playing career.

He also told me “I don’t do the whole social media thing. Too many people have told me that Facebook is just a giant black hole you can never get out of” and I understood that. It can be that way, and I was truthful when I said “You just have to avoid all that nonsense. I’m never shy about blocking people who cross the line.” Then, Bobby was pretty amazed when I told him how many former teammates I’ve connected with on Facebook, rekindling friendships from decades ago. Whether it’s SIUE, the Wizards, or pro ball, I’m in touch with at least 50 former teammates and it’s great to interact with them and see what they’re up to. I brought him up to date on what a lot of those guys are doing these days.

London Stadium, all dressed up for baseball.

On a different baseball subject, there’s a two-game series between the Yankees and the Red Sox going on this weekend. Not at Fenway Park and not at Yankee Stadium. It will be the first time ever that those two storied franchises have played regular season games on artificial turf, and the first time they’ve played in London. It should be “interesting” to say the least.

The stadium, home of West Ham United of the Premier League, had to be radically transformed for baseball. The turf was imported from France, and laid over the soccer field. The dirt and clay was all brought in from the United States, mostly from Pennsylvania I believe. And to fit the ball field into the soccer stadium, they had to make a few concessions. The outfield dimensions were the most obvious.

The outfield wall is 330 feet down each line, which is pretty standard for big league parks. But… Out in centerfield it’s only about 380 feet, with a 16-foot high wall. That’s about 25 feet shorter than any other Major League Park. Also, a quick look at the photo shows how much foul territory there is. It’s more than just possible that someone will hit a foul pop-up that’s so far from the infield no player will be able to get to it before it hits the ground. Again, should be interesting to say the least, and the games totally sold out in 45 minutes so it ought to be quite an experience for the two arch-rival teams.

As for my former SIUE roomies and me, we’ve already started talking about our reunion for next year, even when we were down in Florida for Spring Training a few months back. One option, from the start, was to go to London next year, when MLB will put on another two-game series. The more we talked about it the more it seemed unlikely. Too complicated, too far, and too expensive. And then MLB announced the two teams for next summer. It’s the Cardinals and the Cubs. That rekindled the talks, but in the end we just shelved it. Again, too complicated, too far, and too expensive. Plus, Radar and Oscar actually like to drive to our reunions, and that drive across the Atlantic to England is a tough one. So, as of right now we’re undecided, but Toronto is an early leader in the sweepstakes. Lance is up for international travel whenever I want to go, so we may plot our own trip to Amsterdam or some other European destination at some point. He’s actually never been to Amsterdam, which is hard to believe when taking into account the fact he worked and lived in Paris for three years.

The whole pitching thing. What an experience!

This next photo has nothing at all to do with this blog, other than the fact it’s a picture of me from 1979, after the A’s had turned me into a relief pitcher. So it’s one of only a few photos of me actually on the mound, except I’m not pitching. I’m posing. It was a scheduled photo shoot. But I don’t look too out of place, I don’t think. I actually uploaded this shot for the last blog, but basically ran out of room to post it, so here it is this week.

The whole pitching experience was, in itself, a perfect example of the overall theme of “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts.” Plow forward! Just imagine being 23 years old and having played in the outfield since freshman year in high school. And then having your manager in professional baseball ask if you’d ever pitched before. What would you do? What would you say?

Had I been a reasonable sort of person, one who might analyze and think deeply about the million things that could go wrong, I probably would’ve said “Not since fourth grade” but no. That wasn’t me. Why worry? Just say yes and see what happens. Basically, it wasn’t going to be completely impossible for me to take the mound and get professional hitters out, it was just going to be ridiculously improbable. I literally had no clue.

I didn’t even know the actual baseball rules for checking runners at first base when in the stretch position on the mound. The first time I turned my head and my shoulders to check on a runner, the umpire didn’t say anything until after the pitch, when he walked to the mound and softly said “That’s a balk. I know you’re not a pitcher, but you can only turn your head. Once you’re set, you can’t turn your upper body. OK?” I said thank you. That was kind of him.

The first time my catcher put down two fingers for a curveball, I was standing on a minor league mound with paying customers (including my mom) watching me and I really didn’t have a good idea about how to throw one of those from the submarine arm slot I was using. So I slung it up there kind of like a frisbee and the hitter swung and missed. I will never forget how stunned and amazed I was when I struck out my first batter. I couldn’t believe any professional hitter (other than maybe me) would be so inept that my slop would strike him out. It was nuts. Just plow forward, though, right? If you just go for it, sometimes good things happen. Weird. Final line as a pitcher, for all eternity…  10 innings pitched. 12 hits. 4 earned runs allowed. 6 strikeouts. 3.60 ERA. Pitching must be easy!

What a great place. Can’t wait to go back!

And here’s something delightful that is, believe it or not, baseball connected. A few blogs back I included the fun story of going down to tiny Miesville, Minnesota to watch Terry and Lynn Blake’s son Dylan play Town Ball for the Miesville Mudhens. That was fun, but what we did before the game was equally memorable. In tiny Miesville, there’s one bar that serves burgers and another place called Wiederholt’s Supper Club. Lynn and Terry had been to the bar, which was OK they said, but they really wanted to scope out the Supper Club to see what it was like. So that’s where we went to eat dinner before the game. I mean, how good could an old-school Supper Club in an “out in the middle of nowhere” town of less than 200 people be? Turned out it was great!

It’s a big place, with a lot of seating capacity and tables they can move around to adjust to the size of your party. And it was packed. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of the people eating there had driven quite a distance to get there, just like we did. I mean, there were more people in Wiederholt’s than there are in Miesville. And the food was spectacular! What a gem of a place to discover. We’re looking forward to seeing Dylan and his team play again, and Wiederholt’s will be on the agenda. I had the Walleye sandwich and it was great.

Once again, I started this blog with no idea what I’d write about. Zero. And then I looked outside and pondered the weather. It all just happened from there. From rain, to playing catch, to Coach Bobby Hughes, to Wiederholt’s Supper Club. See? Pitching must be easy…

See you next week. Hopefully something will happen between now and then to give me some material. Now, I have to get back to writing my new book so I can finish the chapter I’m almost done with. It’s flying along pretty well right now, and it’s a joy to immerse myself in the characters and stories.

If you just read this nonsense and found it enjoyable, you know the drill. Click on that snazzy “Like” button at the top. That’s easier to do than striking out a hitter.

Bob Wilber, at your service and still wondering how to throw a curve as a submarine pitcher. Strike three!

 

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