Of Terry, Dylan, Angelina, Susan, Greg, and Rio

Aug 6, 2020   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Might be a short one today. On the other hand, who knows? I just have a few fun topics to run through and we’ll see where it leads. As you can see by the headline, the gist of it will be about six different people and all of these folks have played some critical roles in just the last few days. Let us begin…

As reported one week ago, it was decided by mutual decree that Terry Blake, Dylan Blake, and I would attempt to play golf this week. We asked Neighbor Dave to round out the foursome, and he was all for it but a conference call got in the way. This is just one more reason why retirement is a good thing. Rarely do conference calls, or Zoom calls which seem to be all the rage, get in my way. Undaunted, the three of us headed over to The Ponds at Battle Creek on Tuesday and teed it up.

An inauspicious restart to my golfing endeavors. (Click on any image to enlarge)

I hit a small bucket of balls to get warmed up, and the 9-iron was once again just aces. I can handle that club. Even the hybrids and the driver weren’t bad. As you can see by my scorecard, it all started OK and then went downhill. And this is what we would call a “generous” counting of strokes. Hey, it wasn’t for money and we weren’t on TV.

The first hole was actually pretty good. I had a lengthy putt for a birdie but really just tried to lag it up there for a par. Then I missed that putt. Still, I didn’t lose a ball and everything I hit went not just forward but also in the air and mostly straight.

Hole number two was a Par 3 and I gacked up a nice double-bogey. I honestly don’t remember much after that. Once a couple of complete miss-hits and shanks happened, I lost all feel for it. The small bucket from just an hour earlier seemed a million miles away. Actually, after taking a mulligan on my tee shot at the sixth hole, I pretty much nailed a 7-iron just beyond the pin. Then, of course, I three-putted that. None of us actually putted worth a darn, to be honest. When you go to the range, the putter usually doesn’t get much attention. I shall need to rectify that upon my next trip there. As for my putting, I can say that I didn’t hit them very straight but at least I was all over the board in terms of being far too short and far too long. So there’s that. I’m relieved my cart didn’t throw the rods out, leave the crankshaft on the ground, and burst into flames.

When we were done, Terry said “Let’s just remember the good shots and build on that.” I nodded and said, “That will be easy for me. There were only two or three of them.” Bottom line: It was frustrating and ugly and all in my head. It drives me nuts to know I’m physically capable of hitting that little white ball with a stick, but once one or two fly off errantly or bounce along the ground like a weak grounder to the third-baseman, my brain seizes up and I’m useless. But, Terry and I both agree on one thing: We won’t get any better unless we keep playing. I used to be “not bad” once. I’ll strive to get back to that level. I have no debilitating injuries or back problems to blame anymore.

As for young Dylan, all I can say is “Oh to be that young and unpolluted with bad habits again.” My gosh. He just absolutely crushes the ball with his driver and it not only flies completely out of sight but it also flies completely straight. At one point I said to him, “You absolutely mash the ball, but it also goes dead straight. How in the hell do you do that?” His answer was simple. He said “I have no idea.” He seems to have zero bad habits on the golf course. And he’s never shy about letting it rip. He should keep that up.

Actually eating out. It’s been a long time. The wine and the food were impeccable. And yes, we took our masks off to eat and sip.

Last night, Barbara and I did something fairly monumental. We went out to dinner. It was our first trip to a restaurant since March. Angelina’s Kitchen, just a mile or so from our home, is a fabulous place here in Woodbury, made even better by a cozy outdoor patio area. A few weeks back, on a Wednesday, we ordered for carryout and were loving the food so much we made it a pact to have Angelina’s for dinner every Wednesday. That would be good for us and good for Angelina herself. We love to support local entrepreneurs and she’s a great one. This time, we actually got a table on the patio.

I have a couple of “go to” items I typically order there. One is a Tortellini al Formaggio dish that is to die for and the other is a Chicken Penne Alfredo. I was all set for one of those, but also thought the salmon might be good as well. For some reason, I never order fish for carryout, so I was thinking of enjoying that. When our server arrived and told us the special, my entire plan was thrown for a loop. It was street tacos with blackened Walleye. What??? I just had to. I had no choice. And it was incredible. I told Barbara that it was “a cavalcade of flavors with every bite.” The Walleye was perfect and the other slaws and dressings on the tacos were the perfect pairings with the blackened fish. My gosh, how we have missed going out to dinner. It’s been so long I actually seemed to forget about how much we failed to appreciate the chance to do that at least four nights a week. The good old “normal” days.

And another thing that happened right as we arrived at Angelina’s is referenced in today’s headline with the names Susan and Greg. Here’s that story…

I’ve known Susan Wade from basically the beginning of my career in NHRA racing. She’s an accomplished journalist and sportswriter from the Seattle area, and she covered our races for many years. With her being a reporter and me being a PR flack, that meant I was constantly sending her stories, press releases, reports, and other nonsense as part of my job. Just trying to get Del Worsham and then Tim Wilkerson in the paper or online. Eventually, we got to be friends in addition to our professional relationship, and we’ve been that way for so long I don’t remember when we actually first met. The bottom line is this: I have so much respect for what she does. I’ve told her multiple times, after reading a feature story somewhere online or in print, “I didn’t need to see the byline. I knew you wrote this by the end of the first paragraph.” She’s that good.

Even though I’ve been “off the road” now for most of five years, we still stay in touch and she’d been talking about doing a blog about me and my new passion as an author, for a while. That “while” ended up being yesterday. Her blog is ingeniously titled “Thoughts Racing” and she told me she was ready to write about my first book and also wanted to write about the new one I’m working on now.

So, I told her I’d just send her some comments about the process, because that was really what she found intriguing. Like, “How do you just walk away from successful 20-year career as a PR rep and blogger to try something you’ve never done before? How do you decide to do something that audacious?”

I figured, as I typically do, that too much information is better than not enough, so I just wrote and wrote until I had an epic email ready to go. She got it posted within minutes after I sent it all to her, and little did I know that she’d already reached out to my editor (and our mutual friend) Greg Halling to get his comments on the whole process, and about how I grew as a writer throughout the completion of “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts.”

I’m rarely, if ever, speechless. I was when I saw her blog. Also honored. Also humbled. Also thrilled. I hope Susan and Greg both know how much this all means to me, and how it motivates me to never be complacent and never think “this is good enough” instead of thinking “how can this be better?”

It’s here:

https://thoughtsracing.com/f/ode-to-bob-wilber-former-racing-pr-rep-whos-wrapping-up-book-2?fbclid=IwAR3HMV7BdDy8gorthItYbm5Mi0-86BHdoHhshAxN7Umk-detmrN1iFtnrxA

So there’s that. Throughout my life, there have been a number of “Holy cow, that’s unbelievable” moments, whether in baseball, soccer, marketing, PR, or book writing. This was one of them. I think all writers and authors need some affirmation every now and then. It’s a lonely endeavor and it’s really easy to think “I can’t possibly be good enough to do stuff like this. What am I thinking?” I’m consistently stunned when I absorb the bizarre concept that other people I respect so much could even possibly respect what I do. That’s a hard concept to grasp. This really was a “Holy cow” moment, and I’m very touched by it.

And now for the final word in today’s headline. Rio does not refer to the city in Brazil. It’s a guy’s name. I recently heard, via social media, from one Rio Mihal. His father Ron “Yank” Mihal, was our manager for the Paintsville Hilanders in the Appalachian League. My first team in professional baseball. Rio was our batboy. He was just a kid, like 11 years old at the time, and I’m not sure I even knew his first name back then. But I sure remembered him. What a thrill to hear from him. We’ve been burning up the Facebook Messenger system for days.

A ballplayer and a batboy, who share so much in common.

Rio is kneeling in the front, the blonde-haired boy in the white uniform. I’m just behind him, in the first row of guys who are standing. Until he found me and reached out, I had no idea how much our lives were parallel and so freakishly similar. It’s been a riot reconnecting and sharing memories.

So yeah, I was a pro ballplayer and he was our batboy. That happens at every level of the game, but for us it went much deeper. I was 22 in this team photo. He was 11. I was a player. He was the manager’s son, our batboy, and our clubhouse attendant. He was with us every day, for every home game and every road trip. The dude washed our uniforms, put them back in our lockers, and cleaned our spikes.

Just seven years earlier, I had been a manager’s son and a batboy. I got to hang around pro baseball players and absorb that lifestyle. I went on road trips and got to know all the players. I’m still “social media friends” with a lot of those guys, but now I’m 64 and they’re seven or eight years older than me. Many of my dad’s guys went on to play many years in the big leagues, but they’ve universally been great at staying in touch and treating me like an equal.

Rio is just me. It’s as simple as that. Same life, same path, same thing. He was my batboy, just like I’d been a batboy for guys like Lenny Randle, Jeff Burroughs, Bill Madlock, and Pete Mackanin. We’re eerily similar, and the stories have been beyond wonderful to share. Here’s just a tiny bit of  one the messages he sent me after I forwarded some of my Paintsville photos:

These are really great! Seeing the inside of the locker room sends me back- I washed those uniforms, polished those cleats… can still smell the cut grass, dust from dragging the infield, pine tar, leather oil, and sweat.

Finally got your book, and couldn’t help but cheat and go straight to the Paintsville section. Loved every bit of it! Absolutely awesome to read your memories, especially in such detail. Just reading all the names again from 42 years ago was great. I was 11, so I saw it all through kid’s eyes, but all that energy and ambition you and the other players had influenced me, and the magic that was cooked up in Paintsville that summer between the team and the locals will forever be a part of me. Now I can’t wait to read the rest of the book as well! I remember you catching that ball and bouncing off that outfield fence. And the imitations, and Carnac!

My batboy, all grown up!

And here’s Rio today. He spent many summers tagging along with his dad, just like I did with mine. Paintsville, Bakersfield, Charleston, Reynoso in the Mexican League, and Walla Walla. Those are all bus leagues. I know, first-hand, what a wonderful way that is to spend the summer with your dad.

And for the record, if you haven’t read “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” and therefore don’t recall the references to bouncing off the outfield wall, doing imitations, and Carnac the Magnificent, well you’ll just need to buy it and read it. They’re good stories. I know they are. I was there!

Rio went to the University of North Carolina Wilmington and got his degree in Physics. Now, he does Electrical Engineering Design. He lives in Charleston, SC where he’d spent a summer with his dad. He loved it so much he moved there “after I grew up” as he put it. I begged to differ with that terminology. Most of us grow older, but we never really seem to grow up.

So that’s my story for this week. All sorts of stuff, right? Terrible golf, great food and actually eating at a restaurant again, a stunning and humbling story written by two people I admire so much, who have both taught me and influenced me more than they will ever know, and finally connecting again with Rio. Crazy how our lives featured so many completely parallel paths. His dad passed away not too long ago. Rest in Peace, Yank! You were a huge part of the Paintsville experience. And so were you, Rio!

That’s it for this week. See you next Thursday. And I started this blog with the silly words “Might be a short one today…”

You know this bit: I you found this in any way enjoyable, please click on the “Like” button below. I’m only 10,557,122 “Likes” away from a free car! (As far as you know.)

Bob Wilber, at your service and still trying to hit that little white ball in the correct direction.

 

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