En Fuego

Mar 31, 2016   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Welcome back to Thursday Blog Day! Nope, I didn’t make a trip to an NHRA race in the past week, no spring training ballgames, no drives in the mountains, and nothing really noteworthy other than a lot of writing. And that’s a good thing. I’m on fire, hence the headline.

It’s hard to say exactly how many pages I’ve written because a page in Google Docs does not equal a page in a book. My book will be in a 6×9 format, and my research indicated that for book pages of that size, with typical fonts, you average about 450 words per page. To this point, I’ve written a little more than 108,000 words, so we should be right around 240 pages. That’s awesome, but it’s also a bit worrisome.

I really want to keep the book under 500 pages, for what I think are good reasons. 500 pages of anything is a lot, and the heft of a 500-page book might scare a few buyers off, so I’m technically halfway to my target. The problem is, I’m not quite halfway through my life, as the writing goes. I just finished Chapter 12, and at the end of it I turn 23. This summer I’ll be 60, and we still have more than 20 years of drag racing to write about, after my scouting days, my soccer days, and my years doing agency work. You think anyone would notice if I just skipped the years from when I was 30 until I was 38? They were pretty boring.

Nah, I’ll just get a little more efficient with my words. So far, it’s all been childhood, school, and baseball, and those years contain so many rich characters and stories that beg to be told, but once I got out of baseball and started having “real jobs” the routine got a little more mundane. Really? Who the heck am I kidding? I never actually had any real jobs after baseball. The last real job I ever had was when I was an usher at Busch Stadium and the St. Louis Arena during college.

After baseball, I was either giving away Converse Shoes, or working for my brother Del’s sports marketing agency where we consulted with big-time sports leagues, teams, and sponsors, and then after that I was running indoor soccer teams, or… Finally… Working in NHRA Drag Racing. The closest thing to real jobs were the agency work and the soccer teams, because I got up every morning, put on a tie and a jacket, then grabbed my briefcase before going to the office. Once I got to the office, however, my work consisted of selling or managing sponsorships at DelWilber+Associates, or later managing professional sports franchises while trying to win games and championships.  Not exactly “real job” material. I’ve been very fortunate to have a skill set that allowed me to do all that. It’s a good thing I never tried to become a physicist, a finance executive, or a sumo wrestler. Not. My. Skill. Set.

The last few chapters have been great fun to put together, because they’re about my short but fascinating professional baseball career, which somehow took me to four different teams in three different leagues for two different Major League clubs, all in two years. And oh the stories…

Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I’ve met a fantastic guy named Clinton Riddle, who is not only familiar with the part of the country in which I played my first season of minor league ball, Appalachia in the aptly named Appalachian League, but he’s also a fantastic researcher and writer. I’ll have to meet this guy someday soon, because we have so much in common and a lot of shared history.

As I was writing about my summer playing for the Paintsville Hilanders in the Appy League (ballplayer lingo) we started bouncing names and teams off each other and he’s been coming up with some incredible old newspaper stories through his research. I thought I remembered all of it, each and every day, but with some of the things Clinton is finding I’m sensing neurons reconnecting in my brain and entire new stories and memories fire back to life. Ack, I’m trying to have a bit LESS material. Maybe this book needs to be three actual volumes instead of “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” all stacked together. Just kidding. I think. Yeah, I’m kidding.

Today he sent me a couple of clippings, and one was from a story on the Paintsville club by the Louisville Courier-Journal. I actually remember when the reporter and photographer came to a game, in Johnson City against the Cardinals, and after the season I sent the paper a letter and they were kind enough to send me some photos from that day. It was our final road trip of the season, and after these games in Johnson City, many of us would never see each other again, which is a shame because that Paintsville group was truly a band of very tight brothers. In terms of team chemistry, I don’t think I’ve ever played with a bunch of guys who got along as well and grew as tight as that bunch.

(And remember, you can click on these photos to enlarge them)

Vince Bienek leads us off the bus to take on the Cardinals

Vince Bienek leads us off the bus to take on the Cardinals

Vince Bienek and I have reconnected, and that helps trigger some additional memories as I go. We lived the same experience, but that doesn’t always mean you recall it exactly the same way. There is one thing we can’t help but remember the same way, though, and that’s the fact Vince met a beautiful girl named Mary that summer. She was actually from tiny Paintsville, Kentucky and before the season ended he knew he didn’t want to leave her behind. They got engaged, and then married. When Barbara and I met up with Vince and Mary in Sonoma last summer, it was Mary who came into the restaurant first, and we recognized each other instantly.

Kevin Hickey was the only guy on that team to play in the big leagues, and he did so very well as a relief pitcher with the White Sox. His story is beyond fascinating, but you’ll have to read that lengthy segment after you buy the book (this is what we call “incentivizing” for future sales!) He’s not the only guy to get to the big leagues, though. Catcher Chino Cadahia  played as high as Triple-A, but then he went into managing and coaching, and eventually Chino made to the big show as a coach. What a fabulous and fun guy he was, and he’s now in the front-office for the Kansas City Royals.

Chino Cadahia. Always smiling.

Chino Cadahia. Always smiling.

And I gave shoes away, ran soccer teams, and then got a lot of rubber on my face and nitro in my sinuses for 20 years after all of that.

I was telling Barbara the other day that one of the most pleasant and unexpected benefits of writing all of this is that it gives me a totally new perspective, and some new appreciation, looking back on the lengthy part of my life that revolved around baseball.

It’s easy to look back at a couple of years in Class-A ball and consider myself a failure, especially in comparison to what my father accomplished in the game. Once you drape that big heavy blanket named “Failure” all over your memories, it’s hard to see all the positive things you did accomplish and how close you were to reaching the highest pinnacle of your dreams. I wasn’t that bad. Heck, I was actually pretty good.

Old number 5, when I was young number 5, in the Appalachian League

Old number 5, when I was young number 5, in the Appalachian League

I got a college scholarship out of the game, and that allowed me to get my degree. I got a chance to play professionally, and that was a dream. I battled some injuries the whole time I was in the pros, but I managed a few “highlight moments” despite that, hitting a grand slam against a guy who was throwing about 95 mph, stroking a walk-off hit in extra-innings to beat Jesse Orosco of the Twins, and robbing a few guys of home runs with leaping catches at the wall. I struck out my fair share, and had some slumps, but we all need to remind ourselves that a lot of the guys who “only” failed 70% of the time at the plate for any length of time, ended up in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Hitting a pitched baseball and somehow getting it to land out there where no one catches it, is the single most difficult thing in sports. You know the line. You have a round bat and a round ball, and you have to hit it square. It’s hard to do.

So next up is Chapter 13 and it is about another big seismic shift in my baseball career with a fairly heinous injury thrown in for good measure. I still have the scar…  I need to let Chapter 12 rest for a day, then I’ll take a new look at it tomorrow before firing it off to Greg, my editor. If I have any mental and physical energy left in me, I imagine I’ll get going on Chapter 13 before the weekend starts.

And that point about physical energy is a real component when you’re writing this much. Chapter 12 was 33,000 words and at one point I sat here writing it, nonstop, for roughly five hours. I’d heard from many writers that you have to put limits on yourself, and there’s only so much writing you can do in a day. That big day for me was one where my brain was truly on fire, and I simply wanted to keep going. After about 4 hours though, the physical side was nagging me and hinting to me that I needed to slow down. My neck hurt, my fingers were getting tired, and most noticeably my typing was getting worse. I sort of limped to a predetermined finishing point and closed the lap top. When you see a sentence appear on the screen and 10 out of the 12 words are misspelled, it’s time to take a break.

That break was easy to take yesterday, because Barbara was flying down to Phoenix and I promised to give her a ride to the airport. When I got home, I broke my string of consecutive days with long walks to do something I hadn’t done for many months. I got my Trek bike out and went for a six-mile spin around Liberty Lake on a beautiful spring day. When all you do is ride 40 minutes but get off the bike with a sore butt and wobbly legs, that’s generally a sign that it’s the first ride of the year. Nailed it.

Love it!

Love it!

Oh, and while I’ve been writing this blog I’ve also been corresponding with Todd Myers, my esteemed and very talented graphic artist who is doing the cover for “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts.” We’ve been using a draft image of what Todd came up with for a few months now, but neither one of us was 100% sold on the graphics for the word “Balls” and we let it lay there for a while in the hope a new direction would finally present itself. It did, and Todd created the best thing yet, today. I’ll be changing the Facebook page and using this new cover from this point forward.

We tried literal soccer ball marks, abstract ones, and everything in-between and I could sense that collectively, between the two of us, we had to both be furrowing our brows with every new rendition. This one found the middle ground that says “soccer” without actually looking like a soccer ball. Great work Todd!

And, speaking of book covers, the big news this week was the finalizing of an agreement with Outskirts Press to be my official publisher. Thrilled to get that step behind me.

I’d done a lot of research on self-publishing, and the pitfalls are many. Some of these firms are really nothing more than commercial printers, and they need you to do ALL the work. Heck, I read one company’s website and they even want their writers to submit the manuscript as a PDF! That’s insane. That’s also a surefire way to make your book look like it was produced during Amateur Hour at an elementary school.

Others are totally online companies and you may end up with a beautiful product but you never speak to a human throughout the process. That wasn’t for me, either.

Outskirts Press is different. They’ve developed a really neat niche for themselves, and their approach is to partner with the writer, not just print the writer’s book. I won’t make as much, per copy, as I would with most other publishers, but it will be in the best interest of Outskirts Press to market and promote the book, because they’ll make more money that way. The fee I am paying them is minuscule compared to many other self-publishing firms, but they’ll make a nice slice of every copy we sell, and so will I.

Once we’re done, you’ll be able to go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s website and order the book there. You can get it in print or you’ll be able to download it digitally for your Kindle or other device. I’m very excited about getting it out there, and I’ll be spending most of the money we raised on Kickstarter to buy as many copies as I can, so that I can sell them directly and also do book signings, hopefully at some NHRA races but I haven’t even thought of the process for doing that. Apparently I can’t multitask everything at once.

That does bring to mind a title for another book I could write. I’d call it “The Procrastinator’s Guide” with a subtitle of “You Can Read This Tomorrow If You Want”  That has best-seller written all over it.

I guess that’s it for today. I hope everyone has a great weekend and to all the racers and fans in Las Vegas for this weekend’s race, I say “Good luck. Go Fast. Be Safe!”

Bob Wilber, at your service.


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