Earl Wilson -- Former Tigers Pitcher
I finished my Monday taping with Fox Sports Net and flipped on the radio to keep me company for the commute home. The news came on and I knew immediately something bad had happened.
"Former Detroit Tiger pitcher Earl Wilson died of a heart attack. He was 70,." the voice said.
Sadness filled me. Wilson has been a friend of the family since I was seven years old and he provided an afternoon I will never forget.
It was the summer of 1967 and I was one of the biggest Tiger fans around.
I sat behind the Tigers dugout with the late Lindell A. C. owner Jimmy Butsicaris. It was a nice warm Saturday afternoon and after the game Jimmy took me to the Tigers club house to hang with Earl Wilson.
I was his guest and it was a big thrill walking through the club house admiring my favorite Tigers. But the biggest thrill came later.
Wilson took me out on the field and we talked at home plate. We all know Tiger Stadium as a band box, a place where sluggers came to pad their home run statistics.
But the stadium looked so huge to this young kid. No one could convince me that the Grand Canyon was any bigger. I'd never seen this much plush green grass in all my life.
It looked like an outdoor museum. I was in shock and awe.
On the drive to the Lindell I thanked Wilson a million times over. He simply laughed and said "No problem."
He was one of my first heroes. Wilson not only could pitch but he could hit also. He blasted 35 home runs and won 121 games in his career. Wilson was a power pitcher who was a bit wild also. Maybe his unsteady arm caused batters to be unsteady at the plate.
He was a trail blazer in that he became the first black player to be signed by the Boston Red Sox and he was also the first black pitcher to pitch in the World Series for the Tigers.
The last time I saw him was last summer at Arts, Beats and Eats in Pontiac. It was a brief meeting because there were so many people jammed around us. He got to meet my kids Celine and Brandon and he seemed pleased to see me as a father.
And he was proud to see me make it in the field of journalism. Wilson would call now and then and leave a voice mail of encouragement. He wanted me to always know that at least one person was reading me and his voice always seemed to hit my voice mail when times got tough.
We were not close at the end. He was running a business and I was establishing my life. But if he only knew the joy and memories he gave me on that fine Saturday afternoon by home plate at Tiger Stadium.
Rest in peace my friend.