At one time or another, you've probably heard expressions like "You're a product of your environment," "More is better," and "Timing is everything."
Extra Innings is the story of Bobby Winston and Pep Woodson. It chronicles their youth and the influence of their environment on their lives and careers in Major League Baseball (Bobby) and the aerospace industry (Pep).
Each of them enjoyed enough success in their individual careers to enable them to retire comfortably, but it seemed that they were a step ahead of the boom times in each industry.
Bobby and Pep meet in retirement and work together at a golf course, where their interests in golf are focused. It doesn't take long for them to exchange stories of their past and recognize the similarities in their lives. The compensation landscape changes around them in some of the same ways. An opportunity for each of them to get a second bite of the apple arises when they join forces.
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Read an Excerpt
By Joe Boschi
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Joe Boschi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Dream
It was great to be out of school for the summer. It gave the gang the opportunity to play baseball from morning to night. The Gang was a group of ten junior high school friends ranging in age from ten to fifteen who lived in Willard, North Carolina.
About six miles from Willard Junior High School, there was a beautiful ballpark just off Route 117. It had a full-sized diamond, lights, and a grandstand. This was the home field of the Pirates, the Duplin semi-pro team that played in the bi-county league of Pender and Duplin counties. Bobby's dad took him to home games under the lights. There were two brothers playing for Duplin, Monk and Mickey Hogan, separated in age by six years. Monk, the older brother, was good enough to make it to the Show with the Philadelphia Athletics. His career was cut short in WWII when Monk lost the big toe on his right foot to enemy fire. He was never the same after that.
Mickey was thought to have more potential than Monk, but he didn't have the same passion, the same desire, as his older brother. He was fun to watch under the lights, though, and seeing him play was a source of inspiration for Bobby.
The field was available to anyone who wanted to play there. The ten would-be major leaguers left their homes at first light and walked six miles through woods and over farmers' fields to get there. Full-scale competition with only ten players was unlikely, but One-O-Cat and Hit the Bat allowed them to hone their skills and maintain their enthusiasm.
Jimmy Peterson and Bobby Winston played in the local Babe Ruth league together. Jimmy's Uncle Herman thought he was going to be a Yankee man. Jimmy got a little tired of hearing this, but it helped keep him going when the going got tough. Bobby was every bit as good as Jimmy and he seemed more driven than the rest of the gang combined.
Willard and the surrounding area were best known for their tobacco and cotton crops. Bobby's Uncle Ted was a cotton farmer, and for a couple of weeks each summer, Bobby would visit his aunt and uncle in the neighboring town of Rose Hill, helping with the chores and learning to rebuild tractor engines.
Bobby was born in Willard and lived on Jefferson Street. His dad commuted to Wilmington, leaving in the morning at 7:00 am and getting home at 6:30 pm. Nevertheless, he kept an eye on Bobby's game and his aspirations.
One day in June when Bobby was fifteen, he got home at 4:00 pm and found his mom and dad sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. Why was his father home? Was something wrong? No, they didn't look tense, in fact they seemed relaxed and excited. "Pull up a chair, son," his father said. "The company is transferring me to Miami."
It took a moment for the news to sink in. Bobby knew where Miami was, but not much else. His first question was When? As soon as possible, his dad said. The company would buy their house in Willard, help the family find a place to live in Florida, and see that they were settled in Miami in time for Bobby to start high school.
Bobby saw immediately that he would be close to the major league training camps. He could play year-round, learn by watching the pros, and live and breathe baseball.
Chapter TwoNew Kid In Town
The relocation went smoothly. By August first, the Winston family was comfortably situated in the town of Miami Springs. This was a suburb of Miami that was a good compromise between the distance to his dad's new office and Miami High School, where Bobby would soon be in the tenth grade.
Bobby had already visited MHS, and he knew the athletic facilities well before school even started. Bobby decided to begin formal weight training. He had begun lifting at home and was developing the foundation for a powerful physique.
In those days some people believed lifting weights made you muscle- bound. This line of thinking led to the knowledge that a running/stretching regimen combined with weight training would generate both speed and strength, the balance every athlete needs.
Bobby was getting stronger and faster in his pursuit of a major league baseball career, but his workouts in the weight room and on the track had alerted the head coaches for football and track that they had a prospect they shouldn't pass up. Miami High School was as big as some colleges, with 6000 students, but Bobby stood out just as he had among the 350 students at his school in North Carolina.
The varsity football coach was Jack O'Connor, who was entering his third season at MHS. Jack had the physical presence of the football lineman he had been in his college days, but he walked with a slight limp due to a college football injury. His study of the game had brought some new ideas and training disciplines that he expected his associate coaches to implement on both the junior and senior varsity levels. Knowing what he did about speed and strength and watching Bobby work out, Coach O'Connor encouraged him to be a multi-sport athlete: football, baseball and track.
Bobby didn't play organized football in North Carolina, so high school football was a new experience for him. Even as a rookie, Bobby found he was able to balance sports and schoolwork and still do well at both. The JV team practiced on a regular schedule just like the Varsity, and Bobby tried several offensive positions. After a while it was clear that he was a natural wide receiver.
Miami High athletes had the added benefit of strict academic oversight. Study hall was at 6:00 each morning. The coaches kept an eye on their players' grades; those who fell behind were assigned a tutor for study hall. The move to Miami had given Bobby academic attention along with good coaching. His parents were delighted.
Football season was over in late November and baseball season started in late February. For Bobby, it was like hitting a brick wall to stop his athletic activities at the end of football season. Pete Fitts, the track coach, saw an opportunity for his team just as Coach O'Connor had. "Why not run indoor track until the start of baseball practice?" he asked Bobby. Additional speed training to go with his weight lifting, maybe fitting him for a varsity roster spot? Bobby jumped at the chance.
Coach Fitts was as physically different from Coach O'Connor as you could get. He was a few inches over five feet tall and weighed about 130 pounds soaking wet. He had run half marathons and never lost the gaunt look of a marathoner, but he was an athletic coach through and through. Some people underestimated him, but not for long.
After a couple of weeks of training, Fitts found Bobby's niche. He quickly distinguished himself as the anchor man on the 440 and 880 relay teams. You want all your runners to be quick but the anchor either has to hold off the rest of the field for a win or come off the pace and make up the deficit left by the other three runners. Bobby did both with equal skill and style.
With the exception of track, most varsity sports are the exclusive domain of junior and senior athletes. If ever there was an exception to this rule, it was Bobby Winston. His first year had been nothing short of spectacular thus far, and the word gets around quickly. When you coupled his athletic talent with his team spirit, there wasn't a coach at Miami High who didn't want him on his team.
There is a misconception that the main thing high school coaches do in the off season is sit around and talk about past glories and the heartbreak of the plays that fell short. Coaches do that, but they also study their players. Comparing notes on multi-sport athletes, they examine athletics, academics, skills, potential, and improvement over the year. Miami High School coaches were no different.
Al Calcagno was the varsity baseball coach. By the time February rolled around, he had had his fill of Bobby Winston stories. Talented, unselfish, smart, strong, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, Bobby was the quintessential athlete, everyone said. Al wasn't so sure. Bobby wasn't big yet; he had only turned 16 in October, and potential and performance were no guarantee of future greatness. The coach reserved judgment.
Coach Calcagno scouted for the majors in Latin America during the off season. At MHS, he taught driver's ed in the spring. With a little coordination between his major league employers and Miami, he could return to school before the baseball season started and put together his team. It was a terrific arrangement, and the coach was a happy man.
He was an old-school Italian with a love of pasta and cannolis who packed 240 pounds on a stocky frame. Nobody was sure just how tall he was; he was always in motion. The coach was short, but the subject was never mentioned. He kept in shape, picked up a tan in Latin America, and fit the image of an athlete to perfection.
Bobby developed his talents with an eye to playing high school baseball at the first opportunity. In addition to his strength and speed, he practiced every position and even made sure he could switch hit. If he didn't make the team, it wouldn't be for lack of dedication. Every athlete has a set of core strengths that stand out from the rest of a strong resume. For Bobby these strengths were the outfield and catching, and yet he still could play respectably in the infield.
Coach Cal had to give in to the rave reviews he had heard. Bobby was as good as everyone said, except for the leaping tall buildings part. After the first week of the season, Coach had a problem: Where do I play the kid from Willard? Do I make him a utility man or let him catch and play outfield? How do those skills combine in one player anyway? Not only was Bobby a problem, he was a responsibility. Cal had to develop this kid for the majors. He squared his shoulders and waded in.
By the time the season was half over, the number of college scouts watching the team go through their daily practice from the stands had grown steadily. They recommended players at the end of the season to their particular college or university for scholarships. The scouts, and a fair number of the local girls who also came to the practices, couldn't have helped but notice one player in particular-Bobby Winston. He was a hit with all of them. All of them wrote down Bobby's name, often with a big asterisk next to it. Coach took his responsibility seriously, and Bobby was developing nicely.
Miami High played eighteen games in their regular season and finished 16-2, third in the state. They had a strong mix of underclassmen, and they had their sights on the state title.
There was an American Legion league that Coach Calcagno wanted Bobby to play in so that he could stretch his season, gain experience, and keep his edge. Playing for a team from Coral Gables, Bobby paid attention. Most important, he got to see a lot of curve balls, and after a while he wasn't just watching them go by. First to the infield, then to the outfield, Bobby was learning to hit.
Summer vacation ended, and Bobby was back at football practice twice a day. Coach O'Connor had 20 returning lettermen in his roster of 36 players. A state championship hope was in the air in football as well as baseball. Miami had narrowly missed the championship finals last season by losing to Coral Gables by a field goal in the semifinals.
This season there was a special roster spot for Bobby Winston. In the coach's new spread formation, no one would be able to cover Bobby with one man. This meant more running between the tackles and exposing stacked defenses to quick sweeps.
Much was expected of Bobby, but the season didn't unfold as planned. Because he was such a threat, the coach often used Bobby as a decoy. When Miami needed a first down, Bobby was the go-to guy. He had to be double- covered on almost every play, enabling his teammates to pound the line from tackle to tackle and run out the clock. The defense was worn down by the end of the game, and MHS had the edge it needed to win.
This role reduced the wear and tear that football might have put on his body, which was just what Bobby had hoped for. He didn't want to take a beating before he competed for a spot in pro baseball. Coaches and scouts saw too that Bobby didn't need the limelight. The decoy role didn't bother him in the least. After ten games, the team stood at 10-0.
If Coach O'Connor could have written the script, it would have ended just like this. Miami was in the finals of the state championship against Ft. Lauderdale. On the way to the finals, Miami avenged last season's loss to Coral Gables with a possession-controlled offense and a stingy defense.
Ft. Lauderdale presented a different set of problems. Their offensive philosophy was very similar to Miami's. The game was tightly played. Neither team gained an advantage, and nobody could deliver the knockout blow. With less than two minutes to play and the score tied, the Miami fullback was injured. A timeout was called.
Coach O'Connor had installed a gadget play for the playoffs that they hadn't used yet, called the Rattler Special. It was a flanker reverse, with the flanker passing the ball to Bobby, who lined up as a tight end at the start of the play. You only get to use a play like this once, so they knew they had to get it right the first time.
At the snap of the ball, the pitch back to the halfback started the play. He handed the ball off to the flanker coming back on the reverse. The Lauderdale safety overreacted to the reverse run and was caught flatfooted as Bobby streaked past him toward the end zone. The pass at the end of the fake reverse was perfect. The game ended at 13-7, and Miami won the state championship. The coach, the team, and the entire school spent two weeks in celebration mode.
As sure as January follows December, indoor track season began. Bobby joked that he saw Coach Fitts waiting for the team bus when it got back from Ft. Lauderdale, but it wasn't entirely a joke. Fitts had plans to expand Bobby's role in this year's track season. The relays were still on the agenda for him, but Coach also wanted to try him out in the quarter mile and the half mile. This fit in with Bobby's near-obsession with playing in the majors. After all, an outfielder had to cover distance in a hurry. Maybe not a quarter mile, but Bobby took no chances. Track season went by quickly. Bobby ran his new distances along with the relay. As always, he learned, and applied his learning to baseball.
On the first day of baseball practice, Coach Calcagno could see that Bobby's muscular development was shaping up nicely, and his speed and style had benefited from the opportunities the coach had given him. In a player's junior year, the college scouts would make their decisions and offer scholarships before the start of the senior season. Bobby considered in the back of his mind that he might skip college and go right to the minor league, but this was only a thought. He knew he had to take the path that would serve him best both during and after his baseball career.
Coach Calcagno was close to Bobby. They discussed his progress in sports, his academics, his personal life, and his plans for the future whenever Bobby needed him. Bobby was apprehensive about playing football during his senior year. He didn't want to take the risk of an injury that might derail his progress. Cal agreed, and Bobby decided not to play football next season. Instead, Bobby ran cross country in the fall. His teammates and Coach O'Connor were disappointed, but they couldn't blame Bobby. Baseball was his life.
MHS won the city baseball championship that year, with Bobby splitting his game time between center field and catching. Cal made sure Bobby practiced in the infield and at first and third as well. He wanted Bobby to play semi-pro that summer, and it wasn't hard to make it happen. Bobby's reputation preceded him.
Homecoming at Miami High School had a new wrinkle in Bobby's senior year. The homecoming game was against Coral Gables High, and MHS had invited the members of the Coral Gables team to join them at the homecoming dance. That included the cheerleaders, of course.
Bobby followed the team even though he wasn't playing, and he was usually close to the action. At the pep rally, Bobby noticed one particular Coral Gables cheerleader. He had seen her occasionally, sitting in the stands at baseball practice. Bobby made a point of finding out that her name was Gayle Herman, and she was a junior at Coral Gables
The basketball arena where the pep rally was held was crowded, and Bobby didn't think he'd get a chance to talk with Gayle. Not being very experienced at getting to know girls, Bobby wondered if they'd ever even meet.
When Bobby arrived at the dance, he saw Gayle dancing with Zeke Taylor, the Coral Gables quarterback. When the dance ended, he saw them walking toward him, and he knew it was now or never. Bobby said hello to Zeke and introduced himself to Gayle.
Excerpted from EXTRA INNINGS by Joe Boschi Copyright © 2010 by Joe Boschi . Excerpted by permission.
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