Little Visitors And A Great Holiday

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December 6th, 2021

Welcome to Monday Blog Day. OK, I just made that up. There is no such thing as Monday Blog Day, but if you’ve been following my ramblings for any length of time you know I was pretty good about posting a blog every Thursday. And then came writing a new book, editing the new book, proofing the edits, working with a publisher, approving formats and page counts, and other bits of life. The Thursday thing hasn’t necessarily become obsolete, but it’s been really hard to stick with.

I’m not going to say I’ve been too busy. Postal carriers are too busy. ICU nurses are definitely too busy. Utility workers during a serious storm are too busy. I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to make it happen every Thursday. So now I pick my spots. I don’t have a lot on my plate today, so this particular Monday is a good time to write.

A dusting of the white stuff. The single-digit temp was harder to deal with

When I awoke this morning, I could just sense that it was legit cold outside. I checked my phone and it was 7 degrees. We also got another dusting of snow, as well. The temperature was harder to deal with than the tiny bit of snow.

Barbara and I used the hot tub last night and it felt frigid outside, but it was still in the 20s. For December, that’s a bonus. The tough part was we still had the water temperature set for warmer days and nights. We’ve had such a prolonged autumn, with comfortable days, we kept the water temperature around 92. That feels hot when you get in, but you “get used to it” pretty quickly. It was set at 94 last night, and that wasn’t warm enough with a strong wind blowing right in our faces. Barb punched it up to 96. Unfortunately, with the lid open and the jets running, it takes a long time to bring the temp up even a few degrees with 250 gallons of water in the tub. That’s kind of an overnight thing. Still great to be out there, but that wind was a shark.

For the record, the forecast for today’s high is 13 but we’ve already gotten that far. Piece of cake. The sun is out, so it’s not a big deal.

Looking back over the last few weeks, it’s been a crazy adventure. The book stuff has been constant and my “author’s rep” Jennifer, at Outskirts Press, has been an enormous help. She’s very knowledgeable and very helpful. Right now, the key decision to make is how large the book format will be and how we keep the page count in line. I think I’ve made my decision.

The key thing to me is the retail cover price. I want “How Far?” to be eminently affordable. I knew when “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” was released that $49.95 was a very steep price, but I wasn’t willing to cut any more pages or stories. Greg Halling and I left a lot of those on the editing room floor as it was. So we used every trick we could come up with, from making it a 7 x 10 book instead of 6 x 9, taking out spaces between the paragraphs, and narrowing the margins. I ended up hating that last trick. It was too hard to read the words that were bumping up against the “gutter” which is the term for the part of the layout that is closest to the spine. It still bugs me.

I’m 99.9% sure we’re going with the 6 x 9 format size, in paperback. Technically it’s 6.14 inches by 9.21 inches, but you know… If we trim some white space and drop the font size from the standard 12-point to 11-point, we can get it down to 559 pages. That’s still a big YIKES, and boy was my math wrong.

I really “felt” like this book was shorter and a much quicker read than “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” but I still plotted out an average word count per page when I was done. I grabbed six random 6 x 9 books off the shelf and counted words per line, then averaged that out. Then I counted lines per page, and averaged that out. I was sure the page count would end up around 400. Still a lot, but manageable. As it turned out, the designers at Outskirts let Jennifer know that my math skills were horrible. I already knew that.

They said, if we went 6 x 9 in a standard format, with a 12-point font size, we’d clock in at 645 pages and the retail price would be $32.95. I don’t think the price was a deal breaker, although I understand the psychology of having that price start with a 2. Nobody lists their house at $303,000. You go with $295,500 and work from there. I did, however, greatly fear a 645-page book. That’s very intimidating.

And I really thought my averaging skills were right on. I missed it by “that much.”

I think we’re in agreement on all this now. Jennifer indicated that it’s quite common to print in 11-point, so we’ll go with that.

Once we get the final page count, Outskirts can provide a template for the cover. Hopefully, we can make that happen quickly and off we’ll go to a full proof for this guy to make one more sweep through. It’ll be my last chance to make any changes. It takes an enormous amount of concentration and self-control to go through it very slowly. You can’t rush through it. Once we’re done with that, and I’ve approved the designed “look” of the interior, it’s off to be printed.

So that’s where we are. We’re getting there.

Back to the Thursday thing. A week and a half ago, Thursday the 25th of November was Thanksgiving. Hence the lack of a blog that day. It was a huge hullabaloo up here in Woodbury.

Bella and Stassi, hanging out in our backyard pretending to be Minnesotans. They are adorable.

Barb’s sister Kitty, her nephew Todd, his wife Angie, and the two little 5-year-old Twincesses, Stassi and Bella, live near Orlando. After another long hot and humid summer, they looked forward to coming up here for the holiday, just to feel some brisk clean dry air. We were thrilled to have them as our guests.

It wasn’t brutally cold, but the mid-30s were enough of a fresh departure for them and there were only a few “I’m too cold” statements.

The funny thing is, Bella and Stassi are twins. Bella is usually very adventurous but she was easily cold. She didn’t like the sensation of her face being chilly. Stassi, on the other hand, rarely mentioned the temperature. It was an effort for us to keep her mittens and hat on. And they’re twins…

We had a great feast, followed by two days of leftovers. We just cooked a turkey breast, to keep it simple and that was more than enough for all of us.

After we ate, it was time for post-turkey naps for all the adults, but that wasn’t going to happen with the twins around. Seriously, did we EVER have that much energy? I mean, it’s nonstop, at full speed, in our little house. It was a blur, but they were having fun and that’s what mattered most. Boofus and Buster, on the other hand, were not sure what to make of it all. It took them a couple of days to even let the girls get near them. We’d also gone for a walk earlier, all bundled up, and they were mesmerized by the ice on the ponds. I had to make it clear to all involved that it was just a sheen of ice. It wouldn’t hold them for a second. They were not allowed to get anywhere near anything that looked like ice.

The next day is was time to go on a longer walk, to a small park across the main road behind our house. It’s a busy street that many people treat as having no speed limit, and there is no cross-walk between our neighborhood and the park. I was ultra-worried about keeping the two rambunctious little ones safe. We managed to do that.

To go or not to go… That is the question.

The playground at that park is slightly bigger, and the tireless little grand-nieces went non-stop most of the time we were over there. It was also slightly colder but the girls were running around so much I don’t know if they ever got cold.

I did get this adorable pic of Bella, as she contemplated the big slide from the top. She’s mentally figuring it all out, and once she made the first plunge there was no stopping them. Two trips down the slide later, and they were both going headfirst. Much fun was had by all.

On Saturday, Angie needed to fly back by herself for work. That was dramatic, to say the least. I don’t think Bella and Stassi are too used to seeing Mama leave them and Dada behind. The sweet little things were confused and sad.

That night, the rest of us seriously bundled up and drove (in two cars) over to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, about halfway between St. Paul and Minneapolis, for a display they call “Glow” and that term expertly described it.

It was a “Glow” for sure.

Everything is lit up. It was pretty overwhelming for the little ones, but Barbara had the foresight to spend a little extra money on the VIP tickets, which came with upfront parking and access to one of the main buildings there. We could come and go to get warm and to use the nice clean bathrooms. Money well spent. Barbara and Todd took the girls on the gigantic mega-slide too. They thought they were being daring at the little park across the road! This thing is one of those long steep slides with three or four large humps in it. The little ones were a little worried at the top, but they loved it. I’d say, during their brief visit to Minnesota, that we helped them graduate from a tiny slide, to a bigger one, to the biggest one. Well played.

Everyone had to head back out on Sunday, so there was the need for coordination with that, as well. We still needed two cars. They had to check their bags, and the girls still thought running around and doing their own thing in the busy MSP airport was all good. Somehow, like herding kittens, we got everyone checked in and through security. Barbara and I were officially exhausted, but it sure was fun and family is what’s critical at Thanksgiving.

Now we’re ramping up for Christmas. No traditional tree in the house. It’s far too much of a game for the boyz. But we do have this tree, on the wall!

It’s actually pretty cool. Glad we did this.

When Barbara bought it and it came out of the box as straight lines of smashed gold tinsel, I was disappointed. I shouldn’t have been. A few minutes later we had it hung and she went to work spreading out the little branches and now I think it looks great.

We’ve also decided to keep the gift-giving in check. We need for nothing. We have a few utilitarian things we want, which we’ll buy for ourselves (we could really use a Roomba vacuum, although I’m not sure Buster and Boofus will agree with that) but beyond that I think we’ll just stick with some stocking stuffers and I would imagine our two fuzzy “kids” will end up with presents galore, but Barbara and I will just enjoy each other and the new vacuum.

I’m going to hope to cover a lot of this pre-production stuff this week, and then I’m off on a quick overnight trip Saturday and Sunday. I need to have professional photos taken, of me, for the back cover of the book. The best way to do that is in a professional environment with a great photographer. I’ve got that all arranged, although it’s going to be a very quick trip. We’ll shoot a bunch and I’ll figure out the best one for the “Author’s Photo” on the back. More on that later…

On a completely different subject, yesterday featured the announcement of the addition of some additional deserving players to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. This “special committee” vote allows the Hall to correct some oversights made in the past. I’ve always found it odd that the regular Hall of Fame vote is done by baseball writers. They can be really picky, for guys who never played the game. This vote is done by a much smaller committee, and it features a number of former players who knew these guys, played with them, and appreciated the talent they had. It’s like with my book. I have one last chance to go back and edit, to make changes and fix mistakes, and this committee is doing just that.

It was a huge day for the Minnesota Twins franchise and Twins fans everywhere, but it was also a huge day for the Wilber family.

Twins greats Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were inducted. That’s so overdue is ridiculous. Both marvelous players and great men. They’ve deserved this for far too long. Former Negro Leagues players Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler, were added to the Hall as well. In addition, the great Gil Hodges and the ageless Minnie Minoso were rewarded for incredible contributions to the game.

Here’s how that impacted those of us who were fortunate enough to have Del Wilber as their father…

Tony Oliva absolutely considers my dad to be the key to his big league career. When Tony was signed, he could already hit (my dad’s comment to the organization was “Don’t mess with his swing. It’s already perfect”) but Tony was almost clueless in the outfield. My dad would take the time, in the fall Instructional League, to hit him hundreds of fly balls and grounders, working on making him at least a serviceable outfielder. Tony ended up being great at that part of the game, too. Just a few years later he won a Gold Glove.

Jim “Kitty” Kaat knew my dad very well, in the Twins organization. When I spoke with Jim on the phone a couple of years ago, he couldn’t stop raving about Dad. And he, too, mentioned the sight of seeing Big Del and Tony O out on the field in Florida, working on what had been nonexistent fielding skills, day after day. Kitty said, “Your dad was tireless, and he had a great student. Your dad would never quit teaching, and Tony would never quit learning.” Two great players. Two really amazing and classy men.

One of the few times anyone got by Del Wilber at the plate. And it was Minnie Minoso.

Minnie Minoso is an incredible story. My dad knew him as well, from the White Sox organization. Big Del used to rave about him all the time. Minnie came up to the big leagues in 1946, the same year my dad did. He played regularly until 1964, but that’s not the most stunning thing. He also played briefly in 1976 and 1980. He played in the big leagues in five different decades! He was ageless.

As for Buck O’Neil, that’s my story. Buck never got a chance to play in the Major Leagues. He only played and managed in the Negro League and was a legend as a Kansas City Monarch. When I was a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays, in the early 80s, Buck was scouting as well and our territories and assignments overlapped often. When I first met this gentle, humble, intelligent, and gracious man, I’ll sadly admit I didn’t know who he was. When another scout told me all about Buck, I made it a point to sit next to him as often as I could, just to soak up his knowledge and outlook by osmosis. By the time the epic “Baseball” documentary was released, by director Ken Burns, I realized what a gift those scouting years were. Buck O’Neil is the star of that lengthy series so expertly filmed by Mr. Burns. He’s wonderful in it. He was wonderful, period.

Congratulations to all of the living inductees and to the families of those who have passed on. It was a big day.

That’s it for this Monday Blog Day. I hope everything is great with all of you. I’ll be back here again next week, but I can’t say what day it will be. Not enough mental bandwidth for that.

As always, if this installment was something you enjoyed, and how could you not with Bella and Stassi involved, please click on the “Like” button at the bottom.

See you next week, boys & berries.