At the end of 2015 I officially retired from my life on the road. How long had I been traveling? Basically since I was in the womb.
In the Wilber family, my father was always traveling thanks to his lifelong employment in baseball. My childhood was filled with annual trips to Spring Training (either on a train or in the family car) or towns where he was managing or coaching (his MLB playing career was over by the time I was born, so I never got to experience that.) I did my fair share of scouting trips with him when I was a kid. I also regularly earned a week off from school to be his batboy in the Florida Instructional League, even flying down to Bradenton by myself once I was 12. It was all normal to me. Doesn’t everybody do this stuff?
Throughout my younger years, Dad was a scout for the Twins and I’d get the joy of an occasional trip with him, but mostly he was just gone. By my teens, summers were totally dedicated to spending time with Dad. It was precious. 1970 was Washington D.C. because he was the bullpen coach for the Senators. We rented a wonderful house in Bethesda. I spent every day the team was home roaming the outfield at RFK Stadium, learning how to be an outfielder well before my peers were doing much more than tossing short fly balls to each other. I was catching rockets hit by big leaguers.
1971 and ’72 were spent in Denver, as one of his batboys with the Triple-A Denver Bears. I even went on road trips with the team. Just more traveling inserted into a phenomenal summer of travel. Dad and I shared a motel room at home and on the road. Late at night, we’d order room service while we rehashed every game and I listened to him call in his nightly report to the big club.
1973 was another full season with Dad, but out in Spokane. We shared a room in the historic Davenport Hotel and instead of being a batboy (I was 17 by then) I wore a full uniform, warmed up pitchers in the bullpen, played catch with one of the corner outfielders between innings, and helped the clubhouse attendants shine shoes and do the laundry. And yes, I went on road trips too.
1974 was the summer after I graduated from high school. My best buddy Bob Mitchell and I drove my VW Beetle from St. Louis to Sacramento, where we met the Spokane team. After four days there, the road trip took us to Honolulu, so the team could play the Hawaii Islanders. My first of countless trips to the islands. It was, dare I say, mesmerizing! By that time I was taking regular BP with the team and taking infield before the games, out in right field with the regular outfielders Don Castle and Bobby Jones. My arm and my range in the outfield were becoming my best assets. It was Jones who told me, “You do understand you have the best arm of all of us, right?”
Mitch and I followed the team up to Tacoma after the Hawaii trip, in my Vee Dub, then over to Spokane for a home-stand while the World’s Fair, Expo ’74, was happening just a block or two away from the hotel. We then headed all the way back home to St. Louis. What a trip that was, for a couple of teenagers who were allowed the freedom (and financial support) of our parents to do such a thing.
College… As a scholarship baseball player, half of our school year was devoted to the game and the many long bus trips that came with it. School work had to be juggled at the same time, and for the most part all of us were serious about our classes. Text books took up a lot of space on the cramped bus. We didn’t get much sleep, but we loved those road trips.
When I signed with the Detroit Tigers after my senior year, the travel and life on the road continued. I was assigned to a Class A club in Paintsville, Kentucky so even “home life” was travel. Once a week, we’d head out on the road to Bluefield, Johnson City, Bristol, Elizabethton, or Kingsport. The trips back to Paintsville were always overnight rides. Life on the road.
The same went for the next year, 1979. I made my own trip to Spring Training (the “full circle” meaning of that was not lost on me) and made the Lakeland team. I was “on the road” just being there, away from home, and half of the games on our schedule required bus trips. It was nonstop.
Then a sudden shift all the way to Medford, Oregon. The bus trips in the Northwest League were fairly epic. Five hours was a short one. 16 hours was not unheard of, even if the bus didn’t break down in the middle of nowhere.
Then I became a baseball scout, following my dad’s footsteps once again. Now I was the one constantly on the road as a scout, just as he had been for most of my childhood. From February to late October I always had to be somewhere. Some of the travel was in the air, but most of it was in my car. Covering state after state to hopefully discover some prospects. Nearly five years of that. I was rarely home.
I left that behind to go to work for Converse Shoes. Again, on the road constantly. At least five days a week. I was on a first-name basis with most of the desk clerks at Holiday Inns around the Land of Lincoln.
I then joined the sports marketing world by joining my brother Del at his agency in D.C. I was playing high-level semipro baseball by then, and had been since I quit scouting. The only difference was the distance I was traveling to get to my games. With Converse, I played ball with the Sauget Wizards in St. Louis. Every time I’d pull up to our ballpark for a game, my teammates would ask “Where were you earlier today?” The answer could’ve ranged from Champaign, Illinois to Carbondale or Bloomington. I covered the whole state south of Chicago, but never missed a game. With Del’s company, I played for a team in Fairfax, Virginia and the questions soon repeated themselves. “Where were you this week?” The answers ranged from Detroit to Seattle and all points in between, not counting the outliers like Italy or Cuba.
I got to stay home quite a bit more for the next few years, working in indoor soccer, but by the mid-90s I was getting my feet wet in drag racing as the VP of a marketing company in New Jersey. Jetting off to races all across the USA doing PR for Funny Car driver Chuck Etchells and Top Fuel star Mike Dunn. I loved it. I was on the move. I felt like a shark. If I stopped moving, I might die.
In 1997, I joined Del Worsham’s team to become the manager and PR rep. I would do that for 12 consecutive years. In those 12 years, I missed only one race, because my father had died the day I was packed and ready to head to Denver. The team won the race. They called me from the Winner’s Circle and most of the voices I heard were those of my teammates crying. I was too. They dedicated the race to my dad.
12 years with Del Worsham, building and solidifying our sponsorship and doing all I could to create a brand and a future. Then eight years with Tim Wilkerson, doing the same “relationship building” with our sponsors and creating all sorts of social media channels for us to keep our fans engaged while drawing new ones. And a 24-race schedule that ranged from coast to coast and border to border. More airports, more planes, hopefully more First Class upgrades, and more hotels or motels ranging from “pretty darn smelly and shady” to luxurious.
In 2015, I knew I’d had enough. It was time to settle down and be an author and a stay-at-home husband. By then I had already flown a million miles on Delta and Northwest, and I didn’t start flying Northwest until we moved to Minnesota in 2002.
Going back over my entire “heavy travel” career, it had to be more than two million miles (maybe three million) on airlines ranging from Eastern, to Continental, to United, to American, and TWA. Then Southwest to keep my expenses down when I joined Worsham Racing. I even flew free for a couple of those years, after I put together a sponsorship with upstart Vanguard Airlines. The price was right but they couldn’t be counted on to actually get me where I needed to be. We let that lapse and I went back to Northwest, which would later become Delta.
I currently am sitting on 1.2 million active miles stored in my account. I don’t burn them frivolously. Now that Barbara and I are finally fully retired, we’ll hold those bad boys for important trips, to Hawaii and Europe, and maybe someday to the South Pacific. We earned every mile we have. We earned cashing them in on First Class seats. The days of hopping on Vanguard or Southwest to make six connections in coach are long behind us. We earned that, too.
It feels good to be home. COVID forced the issue and really left us no choice. For two years we never really left Woodbury, Minnesota. Now, we’re venturing out again, but we still keep our status as Million Milers with Delta and we keep our CLEAR and PreCheck status in the active category.
When I was in drag racing, I’d be gone as many as 30 weekends a year, leaving on Thursday and getting home on Monday. Meanwhile, Barbara’s executive career had her on the road a lot too. But, she’d leave on Monday and generally get home on Friday. We would often leave cars for each other at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. The texts would read “Car is on level five, on the Blue side, row Q.” We’d miss each other by hours as we traveled our way through our careers.
Now… It’s just damn good to be home. We fly to see family or good friends, and air travel seems more stressful now than it did back in the day when it was required. Now it’s optional. I miss my friends and colleagues out on the NHRA tour, but we all manage to stay in touch and I’ve dropped in at a few races since 2015. Now I can arrive when I want and leave when I want. It’s better this way. We’ve earned it. We earned every single mile of it.
Thanks for reading. It kind of blows my mind to write all this down and realize how crazy it’s been since birth. And now I’m 66 and loving every minute at home.
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See you again soon. I have one more month on my contract with Ascot Media Group and we’ll make the most of it, in support of my book How Far? My travel is mostly virtual now. I have no problem with Zoom calls or phone-in interviews. There are no security lines to get through in order to do those.
Take care everyone. And Happy New Year!