Whew! There’s A Lot To Say.

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August 26th, 2022

It’s officially been forever since I last posted a blog. How long is “forever?” Well, in terms of this blog it’s been nearly two months. TWO MONTHS! I’ve been writing this living & breathing thing since August of 2005, and two weeks has always been a long wait between installments. Two months? Geez.

I can recall writing that last one, which was an overview of the priceless group of guys who played with me on the Sauget Wizards, and at the time I was looking forward at the calendar thinking, “This is going to get pretty wild before it all calms down.” I was correct.

Since then, there’s been a trip to Colorado, a trip to Florida, a Fourth of July party with our friends, a retirement party for Barbara, and then “reunion week” for me, as we had our SIUE Roomies Reunion from August 16 to August 19, and then the biggest hullabaloo out of the whole bunch, our Sauget Wizards reunion, right after that. Being a major part of the planning for both of those last two, it was my mission to book them back-to-back, and since Lance and Oscar were both good with our reunion being in St. Louis, I could do that. Having them back-to-back in St. Louis meant I could make one trip for two extravaganzas. Our Wizards reunion was in Sauget, just on the other side of the Mississippi, on August 20. Throw in a gaggle of lunch and dinner plans, and it was a dervish, of the whirling kind.

The good (great) news is that all of it went perfectly well and the concept of “a fabulous time was had by all” ran all the way from start to finish. When I got home from St. Louis I was exhausted. I think I posted on Facebook that the exhaustion level equaled what we all felt after the NHRA Awards Ceremony finally ended each year, capping off yet another 10-month season. For those 10 months, you’re running nonstop. By the time you stumble back to the limo in your tux or formal dress, and put your head against the back of the seat, all the energy drains out of you in an instant. All that adrenalin is gone. You’re asleep before the limo driver has you out of Hollywood.

This last stretch has been like that. And on the flight home Sunday, I was asleep before they closed the door on the plane. Considering I almost never sleep on planes, that’s about all you need to know. That night at home I actually didn’t sleep all that well, probably just due to my entire body and mind being totally out of whack, and by Monday morning I knew what that felt like. It was exactly like waking up in London or Amsterdam after an overnight flight and feeling that total out-of-body feeling of utter jet lag. Apparently, planning and implementing so many trips and big occasions feels like jet lag. I’ve proven it, scientifically!

So, as not to overdo it or put too much reading strain on you, I’m going to give a brief replay of all I’ve done since the last time I was here. And then, just to keep it simple, I’ll post a bunch of photos and captions at the bottom.

Barbara’s brother Jim lives north of Denver, in the town of Berthoud, and his clan was celebrating a birthday for one granddaughter, and the fact her little sister is quickly becoming the cutest child in captivity, and another niece was introducing her new son to us, as well. Lots of new family members out there near the Rockies. The party was pretty spectacular and all three new additions to the family are priceless, smart, and funny.

As a bonus, the Colorado Avalanche were playing in the Stanley Cup Finals and Jim is a big fan. We watched at their house, and I’ve never seen him so nervous. Literally afraid to look at the TV a few times, while cautioning himself not to get too excited too soon. “There’s still a lot of time left. They haven’t won it yet…”

When the final minute rolled around, and a Stanley Cup for the Colorado boys was assured, Jim was… A) Over the moon. B) Very excited. C) Yelling like crazy. Or, D) Emotional as any diehard sports fan can be when their favorite team achieves the ultimate goal. Answer: All of the above.

After that short trip, we had our annual Fourth of July get together with our best friends from the old neighborhood, and it was great (as always). The first thought that came to my mind, once we all settled into our chairs to watch the fireworks, was just how different this year’s celebration was as opposed to the year before. I had, quite literally, just finished principal writing for my book “How Far?” that very day, and I was worn out and not feeling well at all. That old exhaustion thing, again, but this time it was from putting nearly two full years of my life into creating that book, and doing so at my own physical peril. It wasn’t until much later that I looked at photos from the 2021 gathering and noticed how I looked. I looked dazed, confused, and like a shell of myself. Some people had mentioned the fact I didn’t seem to feel well, or have any energy, and boy were they right. As we all know, I found myself in the hospital for five days not too long after that. This year was much better. I’m a new me!

Late in the month, we hosted two of the nicest young people I’ve met in a long time, as one of Barbara’s second cousins and her boyfriend arrived from the east coast due to the small little detail of them actually moving to Minneapolis!

Their apartment in the North Loop section of downtown was delayed a bit, so we offered our lower level as their private hideaway until they could officially move in. Torie and Will were fantastic. I had been a little worried about the fact they were arriving with a large rental truck, as well as two dogs, a cat, a gecko, and a small python, but it all worked out fantastically. They’re both great young people just now launching into a life of devotion to each other and to work, just as Barb was heading toward the finish line after more than 35 years of a nonstop career in corporate finance. It was great to have the kids and the managerie with us, and since Will is a former college soccer player we had a lot to talk about. They’re all settled in Minneapolis now, in a cool loft apartment, and are loving it. Winter hasn’t come yet…  Just sayin’

By the time that was over, the next big thing was on the horizon. Monday, August 1st would be Barbara’s final day at work. Retirement loomed and a party was a given. It wasn’t going to be a surprise, so Barb had a lot of input on what she was hoping for and how it would go, but I was in charge of making it all happen and having our home ready for guests that night, after she officially “clocked out” of her office at H.B. Fuller that day.

Having a party on a Monday night isn’t usually the best way to go, but we wanted it to be an actual timely celebration of a career well lived and well spent. Our friends, and quite a few neighbors, made sure it was

Our next big excursion was another trip to Orlando, to visit with the “Twincesses” Bella and Stassi as well as Barbara’s sister Kitty and niece and nephew, Todd and Angie. Orlando was, get this: Hot and steamy. I actually think writers’ style books should now consider “Orlando” and “hot and steamy” to be synonyms. Like, ask a person in St. Louis how the weather is and they might say, “It’s so Orlando I don’t even want to go outside.”

We were just a few days early for the girls’ sixth birthday, but it was the only way we could make the schedule work and they were happy to have us there because, well, they love us and also that meant they had a minimum of two parties. We had a marvelous time, and the new pool Todd and Angie have had put in was a big reason for that. We frolicked, we cavorted, and we swam. Bella and Stassi are like fish. Todd and Angie got them started with swimming lessons when they were very young, and now they are as comfortable under the water as they are out of the pool. I love cavorting. Frolicking is great, too.

Keep in mind. Throughout all of this I was obsessed with the planning and organization of the party for Barb and two different reunions. And I do mean obsessed. With so much going on at nearly the same time, I knew I had to be as organized as my scattered brain will let me be, so kept spreadsheets, notes, and full file folders for every event.

I worked hard at reaching as many former Wizards as I could find, and got a lot of help from the guys who I was already in touch with. My goal was to have at least 20 at the reunion, to be held in a catered private area at the Gateway Grizzlies minor league game in Sauget. I felt like that was a reasonable target, and it was one that would make it all worth while.

I then decided to create a directory for everyone, which I would distribute at the gathering. I thought, “This has been a real effort to find as many guys as I have. We all ought to have that contact information whenever we want it.” So that became the next obsession. Collecting info, formatting the spiral-bound books, creating a cover, and more. I figured, if we were going to have a directory we should have a section for everyone’s memories of being a Sauget Wizard, whether it was one game or just the whole experience. Those ended up being fantastic. Great work guys! And while I was at it, I figured we should have a photo section in the back. It kept me busy.

As for the SIUE Roomies Reunion, that necessitated a great deal of planning as well but all three of us were involved in what the plans were. The key thing was where we would stay. In the beginning, with these reunions, we tended to stay in hotels. After a while, we made the shift to AirBNB and Vrbo properties, so we could have the run of a full house, make our own meals, and each have a bedroom and bath but all under one roof.

Our first goal was to find something unusual, in a part of St. Louis we didn’t all spend much time in. As Lance put it perfectly, “I don’t want to go to St. Louis and just do stuff we’ve been doing since we were kids. Let’s try something different.”

It was a great idea, and between Lance and me we scoured the interwebs for rental houses in the part of town known as the Central West End. It’s an older and very historic part of the city, and basically it’s very urban and classic, located just east of Forest Park.

We had a bunch of options, almost all of which were entire homes that had been completely renovated. Every time we’d land on one that seemed really intriguing, something would make us change our minds. All of them were in stable neighborhoods, but a few were just a block or two away from areas that haven’t yet gone through the rebirth St. Louis is experiencing. A small number looked great, had all we needed, and were priced right, and then we’d read the reviews. If even one of them said “We loved the place, but there’s no private parking, and our car was broken into” or something like that, that spot was nixed. We finally had to give up.

I’d always been interested in staying out in Kirkwood, where I grew up. The town has never really gone through a down time, but right now it’s about as vibrant as it’s ever been. Finally, after too many disappointments around the Central West End, we all agreed that maybe the quiet suburban life out in Kirkwood would be just fine. It’s only a 20-minute drive to downtown and Busch Stadium, and it’s a very walkable city with a cool little downtown area.

We found a place just blocks from downtown Kirkwood and locked it up. It looked really cool, and the location was superb!

Then, after we’d all seen the TV reports of huge rain storms and widespread flooding in the St. Louis region, I got the email I was hoping to not get. Our host who owns the home, Johnny, broke the news that house had suffered flood damage and would not be ready by the time we got there. He arranged for 100% of our funds to be reimbursed. And then he mentioned that he did have one more house in that part of west St. Louis County, although it was a little further out.

It was a five bedroom, four bath house, completely renovated from top to bottom, out in a gated community surrounding a golf course. It wasn’t exactly walkable, and it was 15 minutes from Kirkwood which made it about 35 minutes from downtown, but we took it. The plethora of couches and huge flatscreen TVs, along with all the wildlife in the area, and the huge kitchen, not to mention the indoor putting green, all went into our decision.

Bottom line, it was amazing in its own way. The community is pretty remote in one of the last parts of the county to not yet experience massive suburban sprawl, and as such it was quite a drive on very narrow roads just to get to it, but the house was fantastic. We all met there on Tuesday the 16th.

Oscar had brought binoculars once he saw the listing and photos of deer and other animals. He didn’t need them. The deer (many of them) literally came right up to greet us when we arrived. They were the welcoming committee.

The location was a challenge in terms of any of us memorizing the many turns and merges we had to make just to get to I-44, but it was also stunningly quiet, beautiful, and very comfortable. It felt like home as soon as we all walked inside.

The first night, Oscar made pork chops on the grill and whipped up a stupendous salad made from produce he had gotten from the many farmers near his home in the town of Strasburg, Illinois. The boy can cook, and the fresh produce was terrific.

The second night, we went to the Cardinals game and sat in the “Dugout Box” section just behind first base. Again, a “home run” if you’ll pardon the pun. We also found time to make the short drive to Kirkwood and spend a few hours there. It’s a happening place, and I think both Oscar and Lance really loved it.

We toured around, we ate great food, and we binge-watched a little TV to cap off each day. On Thursday, we devised a treat that we were all looking forward to. At one point in our college history, Lance, Oscar, and I lived together with a different fourth roomie. I said to him, on the phone before we got there, “Hey, we have a chance to have all four roomies from that last apartment together again. Let’s do it.” That fourth roomie (back in 1979-80) was a wonderful young lady by the name of Theresa Natta. She was Oscar’s girlfriend back then, and we all became fast friends. We were sort of like a “Four’s Company” version of the old TV show “Three’s Company” and we all got along fantastically. Theresa still lives in St. Louis, in a very historic part of town called Dogtown, right across the highway from Forest Park and the St. Louis Zoo. We met at a fine establishment called Seamus McDaniel’s, a local corner pub that serves great food. Suffice to say, we had a marvelous wonderful stupendous time as Lance, Oscar, Wilbs, and T Natta were all together again.

Lance headed home to Raleigh early the next morning, and Oscar followed suit not long after that, driving back to Strasburg (which for geographical purposes can be located just north of Effingham.) I did one last sweep through the house to leave it exactly as Johnny requested and not long after wrote a 5-Star review on Vrbo for him. He’s a heck of a host. Every text or email was answered at once, and the house was fantastic.

After I relocated to the Hilton, across from Busch Stadium, I had another dinner date on Friday, and it again involved a former girlfriend of one of my roomies. After we got out of school, Lance dated a great young lady named Sheri Sanders for a number of years. I got to know Sheri well, since I was one of Lance’s best buddies, but they ended up going their separate ways after a bit.

It was not too long ago that I somehow found Sheri, or she found me, or who knows what, on social media. She’s married to Leo, and after all these years she’s still flying as a flight attendant. That’s what she was doing (for long-gone Ozark Airlines) when she met Lance. Our original contact had a lot to do with Bats, Balls, & Burnouts because Sheri was reading it while she traveled and spent nights in hotels around the country, now working for American Airlines. She loved the book, and took great joy in describing everything she was reading in terrific detail, with amazing insight. As just about any author would, I loved the feedback, and the fact it was all so positive gave me a ton of confidence and made me very happy with the finished product.

So, figuring she’d almost surely be on a work trip, I sent her a note a week or so before the reunion to see if she and her husband Leo would be free for dinner. Much to my happy amazement, they were free and eager to meet.

We got together about halfway between downtown and the part of West County they live in, and spent a good two hours at the restaurant. Only part of that time was spent in the actual act of eating. We just talked nonstop. Leo is a great guy (Lance had already told me that, and he was right) and Sheri is now reading How Far? and loves the depth of the two main characters. I ought to hire her to be my own personal book review critic! It was great to see her, and fantastic to meet Leo. An evening well spent.

The next day would be the Wizards reunion, but that wasn’t until about 6:00 that night, so I had another plan in mind. I’ve gotten to know Elon Werner’s daughter Abby pretty well over the years. She was just a kid when she’d show up with her mom and brother at a few NHRA races, to watch Dad work his PR magic for John Force and get to meet all the drivers. Then, much to my incredulity, she graduated from high school and went off to college to attend the University of Missouri, otherwise known to just about everyone as Mizzou. She sped through school like a champ and we all knew she’d have a bright future. That future is now, as she landed a job with a St. Louis-based marketing firm. She and her boyfriend Adam live in the community of Richmond Heights, again not too far from Forest Park. We met on The Hill, and had a phenomenal meal at Zia’s. Abby is something special, and as I got to know Adam over lunch I could tell they were a perfect match.

Abby hasn’t been in St. Louis too long, so we just absolutely had to go to The Hill, right? After that, a little cruising around to show them some parts of the city Abby was supposed to be unfamiliar with. I said, “So tell me where you haven’t been yet but want to go” and when I started listing stuff off, she’d already seen most of it. So the consensus was I’d show them both around the part of town I’m from, meaning Kirkwood and the surrounding suburbs. It was fun and the conversations never lagged. Then I had to hustle back to downtown to get ready for the crowning event of the week. The Sauget Wizards reunion.

After all that work and all that planning, I’m thrilled to say that it was a smash hit and all the guys had a great time. A few brought scrapbooks, we had one of our league championship trophies to admire, and everyone was very appreciative of the directory books I brought with me.

I can just sum it up by saying it was a truly priceless evening. We did so much together as a team. The winning, whether it was individual games, or championships, or tournaments, was great and we’ll never forget it. Our almost unfathomable victory over Team USA, which was stocked top to bottom with future big league stars and No. 1 draft picks was, of course, the topic of much of the conversation. We all have vivid memories of that. We’ll never forget what we did, on that one night in Millington, Tennessee against at team we could never beat “on paper.” But, baseball isn’t played on paper. It’s played on the field. And on that June night in 1989 we surprised a lot of people, including ourselves.

All the guys were beaming, and so was I. It was an unforgettable night. It was an unforgettable week. It was an unforgettable couple of months. At times, it was a lot of work but I loved it. It really couldn’t have gone any better.

And so here we are. My aforementioned exhaustion is gone and we look forward to all the upcoming challenges and adventures.

I’ll leave you with this teaser. An idea came to me a couple days ago. Just the seed of a thought. And, as I ruminated on it and let it flesh itself out, I might just have the concept for the third book. Not sure yet, and it is once again a completely different concept and style, but that was what I loved about How Far? the most. It was outside my comfort zone and experience. Why not keep that up?

You know me. I’ll keep you posted!

And hey, once again I’m sorry for being gone so long, but now you know why.

If you got through this and smiled at least once, please click on the “Like” button at the bottom.

I’ll see you again soon. I promise.

Some random photos are delivered below, free of charge.

Oh… Almost forgot. If you’ve still been waiting to buy Bats, Balls, & Burnouts now may be the perfect time. After five years, Amazon has finally substantially discounted the price. Same book. Same stories. Now only $30.41

You can click here to read about it and order it:




Bella & Stassi… Priceless
The gang was all here, to toast Barbara on a well-earned retirement
Oscar meets the neighborhood, upon arrival.
Three Cougar roomies together again, at the Cardinals game
And not just three, but FOUR roomies were together again as T Natta joined us for dinner
Well, you can’t be in St. Louis without some toasted ravioli
Dinner with Leo and Sheri
Lunch date with Abby and Adam
And the Sauget Wizards gather once again, after about 30 years. Awesome!
We had no shortage of stories to tell and clippings to peruse.
A labor of love for me. Now we can all stay in touch