Life should be a walk in the park…Monday, December 09, 2013

Okay, so I needed a headline and that one popped into my head. Unlike most newspaper reporters, I actually write my own headlines, so 99.9 percent of the time I write a blog I come up with the headline first and then go from there. Wait, you didn't know that most newspaper writers don't write the headlines that go over their stories? Well, it was that way "back in the day" when newspapers were the prime source of news, and therefore sold a lot of copies, and therefore (the second therefore) were heavily staffed. Writers wrote the stories, editors wrote the headlines. These days, with most newspapers relying as heavily on their websites as they do their print editions, which means they therefore (third therefore) are shrinking in size not only in terms of the number of pages in each edition but also the number of people in the building, it could be that times have changed, but I'm pretty sure they haven't, for one key reason. Headlines in newspapers don't just have to quickly encapsulate what the story is about, they also have to do that in a specific amount of space, and until the paper is laid out no one knows what the amount of space will be, so an editor gets the last crack at filling the space above the story with the right amount of perfectly chosen words.

Anyway, back to this particular story. There is a story here, but I'm having a little trouble actually getting to it. Truth is, yesterday I went for a "walk in the park" and it was great chance to clear my head, enjoy the great outdoors, and get some exercise. It's wonderful when the park is just right outside your back door, too. With the golf course closed for the winter, we once again have a gigantic 18-hole park as the enormous version of our backyard, and I love taking advantage of the winter season, to get out there and follow the trails (cart paths) and to marvel at the scenery (water hazards) while avoiding the pitfalls of loose sediment (sand traps).

While on my walk, on a brisk but still invigorating 14-degree day, I did take the time to stop and stare a few times, just to remind myself that time is fleeting and you need to take a moment to admire the scenery every now and then. Here, we are surrounded by what I call mini-mountains (because they're really too big, in my book, to be called hills) and they're gorgeous, but over time they become so "normal" as the background, a person can forget to admire them. Life is like that, right? Whoever came up with the line "Sometimes you need to stop and smell the roses" was onto the same thought wave.

What really motivated me to attack this theme was a short string of text messages I shared the other day, with my actor buddy Buck Hujabre (who, for the record, is nothing short of hilarious via text message). Buck had just come back from the big NASCAR "Victory Lap" deal in Las Vegas, where he and some cast mates from "Jersey Boys" sang the national anthem, and he was having one of those moments when it hit him just how far he's come and what his life has turned out to be. One of his sentences was "I feel like I'm living someone else's life" and as soon as I read that I knew exactly what he meant and how he felt. Every now and then, when I stop and smell the roses, I wonder if I'm also living someone else's life, because there are times when this one doesn't seem real, and there are times when the magnificent scenery goes unnoticed.

It's not uncommon for me to be telling a story at a party, about something I did or saw years ago, and then hear Barbara say "It never fails. There's always one more story that I've never heard before. When do you run out of stories?" I hope I never do.

With Thanksgiving still fresh in my memory, I guess I've just been in a thankful mood. I'll talk to Wilk on the phone and when we're done I'll think "I work for Tim Wilkerson, and that's pretty cool. Actually, in the big scheme of things, that's pretty unbelievable." I sit here in my office and if I look to my right, I see two baseball bats hanging on the wall. One has my autograph burned into it by the fine folks at Louisville Slugger, and the other has my father's signature. Really? I played baseball in front of thousands, and got paid to do it (okay, I didn't get paid much and sometimes in Class A ball it was more like hundreds rather than thousands, but I digress). Now, I walk to the starting line in front of even more thousands, and I get paid to do it. It's crazy and yet it all seems so normal. It's really enough to make my head spin, to be honest with you. These days, I sometimes make sure I stop and smell the nitro. And I truly do remind myself to stop and look around when I'm with the team on the track, taking it all. It's mind boggling to be there.

I write this blog, often about pure nonsense, and each time I meet someone at the races who compliments me on it I'm a little bit stunned. But, I should've always known I'd do something like this. My first published work was a story I wrote as a sophomore in high school that was picked up by a local St. Louis magazine, and it was all about running around the outfield at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., catching batting practice fly balls hit by big leaguers during the summer when my dad was a coach for the Washington Senators, and then the next summer being the bat boy for his minor league team in Denver (the Denver Bears), when he was the manager. There you have it. That magazine story was the first official intersection of the two things that have guided my life. Sports and writing.

You can't pick your parents, and I'm eternally thankful for having been so ridiculously lucky in that regard. I've done things, gone places, and met people that all seem surreal, as if I was watching a movie and I just happened to be in it (and if that's the case, it explains why Buck and I are such good friends, because apparently we're in the same movie). But, the bottom line is that my parents instilled in me everything that I eventually ended up being. Without my dad's athletic genes, I wouldn't have experienced so many incredible things in terms of sports. Without my mom's communications skills (she was a fantastic writer and an ace PR person) I would not be sitting here right now, typing this blog. I just wouldn't be doing this. I've had these skills handed to me by two fantastic parents, and it's been my responsibility to hone them and develop them, to make the most out of it what I was given. It's my way of honoring them, and this blog is a big part of that. My mom would've loved this blog. Thinking about that keeps me motivated, and I think you need to be pretty motivated to have written as many blog installments (1,097, I’m told) as I have over the past eight years.

So, I guess that's what got me going here today. Just smelling roses, admiring the scenery, and kind of marveling at how this script has played out over the course of 57 years. And, I hope, there's still a hefty bit of script left to go, with twists and turns I can't even imagine yet. It's not lost on me how lucky I am, and it's pretty easy to sometimes feel I'm not worthy of some of the success I've achieved and the places I've been, but then I think of Del and Taffy Wilber and I remember why I'm here. And it's my job to keep getting better at whatever I do. It's too late to play in the big leagues, but it's never too late to be a better communicator, a better writer, a better PR guy, a better teammate, and a better person. Those are all things I try to work on. Just like in baseball, you can go through slumps where the stories just don't seem as captivating, or the press releases seem so uncreative or a burden to write, but over the course of a season the object is to look back and see that you had a good year.

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Sometimes you need to stop and admire the scenery.
And typing that last sentence connected the final few dots for why I've been writing all this. The season is over, and the year is just about done, so it's time to look back and see if I got through the slumps well enough to say I had a good year. I think my on-base percentage was pretty good, and although I didn't hit for as much power this season, I still kept my average up where I want it to be. I had a good year, and I was a productive part of the team, but I'm already working out and getting ready for 2014. I plan to hit more home runs next year…

I think our team is getting better, with the rookies coming along well, and if we all play the way we're capable of playing, we should get a chance to do some celebrating after some big wins. That's when I'll hit my home runs, rewarding the guys for their hard work by making sure everyone knows just how it happened, play by play.

I didn't see my first drag race until I was 35, so it's not hard to understand that I never thought I'd be here. But, now I've replaced the crack of the bat with the roar of a Funny Car, the smell of pine tar with the aroma of nitro, and the green grass of a baseball field with the sticky surface of a race track. The best part is, I'm still part of a team, I still wear a uniform, and there's nothing like the roar of the crowd or the appreciation shown by individual fans, all season long, to make you appreciate how great this all is. I'm very lucky, and I wouldn't trade this movie I'm in for anything.

Is it 2014 yet? Man, I'm ready to get out there and get going again. Fire 'em up!!!

Wilber, out!

PS:  Wow, I totally almost forgot one of the first things I was thinking about when I sat down and dove into this blog. Have you heard about the Ford Racing "Tournament of Ovals" on Facebook?  We were part of it last year, and it's a pretty cool deal for any of you who are Facebook members and willing to cast your vote.  There's a whole bunch of drivers from various forms of racing in the tournament, and each day another pair face off in an elimination-style fan vote. You just go to Ford Racing's page on Facebook (I think you have to "Like" the page) and every day there will be a new vote.

Our first round match-up is a tough one, especially on social media, and it's this Thursday (December 12). Yep, it's Wilk against Courtney Force and considering she's probably the most prolific and most popular driver on things like Facebook and Twitter, I know we're in for a David vs. Goliath style day, but maybe our Wilk's Warriors can do us proud. If you're in, make sure to go to Ford Racing's FB page on Thursday and vote for Wilk!!!