We’ll get the bad news out of the way in a hurry. Yes, it’s been forever since I’ve been here in Blog World. There’s been a lot going on and the Earth just keeps rotating, making the days come and go at blinding speed. Winter is here now, in Minnesota, and it will be our companion for the next five months or so.
We’ve been on the run for a while now, visiting family, hosting friends, and living a “normal” life. For Thanksgiving we went down to St. Louis and spent it with niece Kimberly and niece Rhiannon (who came up from Florida with her kids) and other family and friends. We actually had not seen Joe and Harper (Rhiannon’s kids) since they were babies. They are teenagers now, but they had no memory of ever having met us! That is weird, but they live in the panhandle of Florida and our paths just haven’t crossed over the years. We tried to make up for it while we were all together.
It was spectacular, nostalgic, and it was family. I loved it, and I think Barbara did too.
While we were in St. Louis, doing all kinds of St. Louis things and enjoying all the St. Louis food, some COVID bugs got through my minimal defenses. We haven’t been wearing masks for a long time, as part of the “it’s all in the past” denial group, and by the time I got home I had a slight fever. And, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I figured I was just worn out from the trip, but when it persisted I took a home test. I had a streak of about 35 negative home tests going. 35-0! Unbeaten and un-scored upon. But I knew when I took it. This was different.
The instructions are for you to wait 15 minutes before judging if the “positive” line had showed up on the kit. It took two minutes max, and that bright red line was staring at me like a neon sign in Times Square. After all this time, and all this diligence, I finally had Covid. Swell.
All those shots and boosters had to step up to help me through this with just a mild case, and so far they have. I’m on Day 5, and I’m also on Paxlovid, so I’ll be OK. The symptoms just seem to shift and alter every day. The fever is gone, I have very good O2 levels. It’s just a matter of time and a matter of a lot of rest to let my body battle it. Onward!
So the good news is very good, and this is it. Nearly a year ago, I was nominated for election into the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. It was a huge honor, but I wasn’t confident. There are a lot of great ballplayers from St. Louis and I played against many of them. Lots of them went on to stellar pro careers, including Major League stardom. I was just “Del Wilber’s kid” who had some talent but a lot of holes in my game, for a long time.
Last April, Barbara and I went down to St. Louis to attend the 2023 induction ceremony, which included my former Sauget Wizard teammate Joe Mehallow, who absolutely positively earned his spot in the Hall. He was an amazing pitcher. A Maddux type of guy who could just miss bats with impunity. It was a great night, an impressive banquet, and I started to feel that “Gosh, it would be great to be up there getting a ring” sensation, but to me it was never real. It was just “a thing” out there I was hoping for.
On Thanksgiving Day, as Barb and I slept in a bit in our St. Louis hotel room, not in any hurry to get to Kimberly’s house before the late afternoon feast, my phone buzzed. It was a 314 area code. That’s St. Louis.
My general rule is that I don’t answer my phone if the caller is not in my contact list. But a 314 struck me. I answered.
“Hello Bob, this is Mike Stewart from the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. Happy Thanksgiving! I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
All he was interrupting was some quiet lounging in bed, but it’s funny that when I answered it I hopped up and started walking around, as if all was normal and I was on the go.
“Hi Mike, great to hear from you.”
“Bob, if you’re willing I’m going to need you to book a couple of flights from Minneapolis to St. Louis. You’ve been elected to the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. Congratulations!”
Mike told me that this 50th Anniversary class of inductees was a stout group, full of great local players. But, he said, “From the board’s first vote to the end, you were a slam dunk and always near the top of the list. It was never close.”
I was pacing around the hotel room talking to Mike and Barbara was up and about following me. She knew who it was and what it was about. When I hung up, she had tears in her eyes and that got me going.
I’ve gotten some nice awards in my life. I’ve accepted them and always felt proud to have earned them. This was different. This was baseball at a very high level. A decision balanced by a vote than included other very talented guys. I had known I was nominated for a long time, but I was still a bit stunned.
As it turned out, Mike was not allowed to tell me who the other inductees were. I was one of his first calls and as a fellow PR person I understood the need to “control the message” until all the parties involved were informed.
Over the next few hours, I began to hear stuff from other Sauget Wizards veterans. After all, my amateur career, after pro ball, was mostly as a Sauget Wizard semipro player, just playing for the love of the game with some uber-talented guys.
My buddy John Parke was also inducted. When we each understood that talking to each other was OK versus telling the masses, we chatted for a good long time. JP is a gem of a man, and was a helluva pitcher. He was a star at Vanderbilt and somehow all the scouts missed on him. That’s scouting. I did it for five years and it’s a very inexact science. A pro prospect like JP at a fine college program was just missed. I still don’t get it, but I assume I missed a few like JP myself, as a scout. We have been great friends since we met on the Wizards. He deserves this. I hope I do too.
It wasn’t for a couple of additional days, until the Hall’s actual press release, that I discovered that Pete Delkus was also going in with JP and me. Pete is one of my best friends ever, and is also a former Wizard and a former Cougar from SIUE. We went to the same college, majored in the same thing (Broadcast Journalism), and played for the same SIUE Cougar team. We just did it nine years apart.
While Pete was still in school, he pitched for us on the Wizards for summer ball. I was an old guy by then, but we became fast friends and we still are. Our paths have been so parallel it’s uncanny.
When Pete went undrafted after his senior year, he called to tell me and I went to work on his behalf. I had a half-dozen MLB teams ready to have him work out for them. I also talked to my dad, and he made one phone call. He called the Minnesota Twins and told them about Pete. He’d seen him pitch with the Wizards, and he knew how good he was. His submarine delivery was damn near impossible to hit. Terry Ryan, the GM of the Twins said, “If you say so, Del, we want him. Tell him to be in Elizabethton, Tennessee by Wednesday.” Another coincidence. My pro career started in the Appalachian League, in Bristol. Pete would be starting in the same league, about 15 miles from where I started my career.
Pete is a meteorologist now. It’s a long story. Don’t ask, but he’s really good at it and has the Emmy Awards to prove it. He made it all the way to Triple-A and pitched in spring training for the Major League Twins, but his elbow finally gave out. He was unhittable until then.
So Pete, JP, and I will all be going into this St. Louis Hall together. Nothing could be more perfect. Three great friends. Three successful players. And, I think, three really good people.
We earned this. Nobody handed it to us. We had potential, and we had setbacks, but in the end a group of other baseball guys looked at what we’d done and put all three of us in at the same time.
I can’t wait for April 18th.
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