edited: Tuesday, April 16, 2002
By T W Cloth
Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Become a Fan
The day and hour arrived for my interview and I was escorted through the locker room to Dick Williams' office.
It’s funny the things you remember about your life and when you remember them...
I was seventeen years old and the editor in chief of my high school newspaper; “The Porpoise” (Hey, what do you expect from a school paper in Florida?) I’ve always had a flair I guess, for lack of a better term; a way of trying to do things in a bigger way. Bigger is better, right?
So, rather than content myself and “my” paper with covering the normal and mundane things of high school, like the teacher of the year award or the track team recent competition; I opted to take us “into the community” and try to be a “real paper”...
It was spring of 1977 and the Montreal Expos baseball team had been using City Island Ballpark in Daytona Beach as their “spring-training” headquarters for a few years. Having been a baseball nut for as long as I could remember, I was perhaps just a little biased as to how important this might be to the local populace; but I decided that it was another of the “perfect opportunities” for our tiny little paper to reach beyond the borders of school property. Of course it helped that, since I was the editor, I got to “assign” myself the story!
I placed a phone call to the team's office and secured an appointment to interview Dick Williams; the manager of the Expos at the time. This was the same Dick Williams who had piloted the Oakland A’s to several World Series appearances in the early ‘70’s.
I was so sure I had arrived; there I was, this seventeen year old kid who’s pretty much a “student of the game” getting a chance to sit in the manager’s office and converse with one of the most respected managers in the game.
Needless to say, professionalism was not my forte.
The day and hour arrived for my interview and I was escorted through the locker room to Dick Williams' office. That in itself might have been my undoing...
I had always been a good batter but had never mastered the fine art of catching the ball consistently. Still, like so many red-blooded American boys, I dreamt the dream of being a ball player. So walking through the same locker room that had been a haven for Bob Bailey and Bombo Rivera and Tim Foli and Barry Foote and Boots Day and the many other Expos players of that and previous years kind of overwhelmed me...
I was informed that local sportswriter Brad Wilson was going to be in attendance as well and I began to unravel just a bit more. The arrogance of my seventeen year old brain had actually thought I was going to get a “one on one” interview, but I was as much in awe of Brad as I was of Dick. I had read his work in our local paper for my whole life; or at least as much of my life as I had spent reading the local paper... Suddenly there I was, seated beside the man who was living one of my dreams, talking to the man who was living another.
In case you haven’t guessed it yet, I pretty much made a fool of myself. Oh, nobody said so; but they didn’t have to. Dick honored me with the privilege of asking the first question and I let my “fan-boy” mentality take control and asked what might have been the most inane question he had heard all year. I’m surprised he didn’t have my “credentials” revoked right then.
What was the question? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. I think I asked him about his opening day starter; a question that is so clichéd and so juvenile... Sure, it’s pertinent to a degree, but only as opening day approaches. I guess I hoped I could get a “scoop” although I’m sure that with my paper’s bi-weekly publication schedule vs. the News-Journal’s semi-daily publication (at the time), Brad would have beaten me to the punch anyway.
To his credit, Dick never batted an eye; he answered quietly and succinctly that it was way too early in Spring Training to worry about who would start a game over a month away. I sat back; red-faced with embarrassment no doubt, and contented myself to take notes from Brad’s following questions and Dick’s subsequent answers.
I did write the story and it was the front page of our next edition; however I’m not sure anybody in the school beside my buddy, the photographer, and me cared one iota.
The next year was the last for the Expos to grace our town with their presence; returning to West Palm Beach for the annual rites of “spring-training,” Dick Williams managed the Expos for another year or two and has since retired from the game altogether; to be honest I don’t know if he’s even still alive.
I know that Brad Wilson passed away a few years ago. He had pretty much joined the ranks of semi-retired sports writers; gracing our local paper with an occasional column. His death reminded me of the wonderfully painful experience of over-reaching and falling short.
Still, I’ll never forget the feeling of being there; in the presence of greatness, sitting with these men who were successful at careers that depended on each other for their continued success. And I’ll never forget the moment of realizing even the briefest glimpse of a dream...
Is it a bitter or a sweet memory?