Friday, August 30, 2013

Advancing the Runner

Advancing the Runner:  (in baseball)  to move a runner ahead safely to another base. Often the conscious strategy of a team. This increases the chances of the runner scoring.

I am the runner. The one trying to "advance", move forward, reach a goal, complete a task. In life, as in baseball , it helps to have a good team.  A handful of people focused on advancement. A shared journey. Here is my team:

Pat Hughes, play by play announcer for CUBS on WGN Radio.
Pat Hughes photograph from
A few weeks ago, I wrote yet another email to WGN Radio. Someone there must have taken pity on me and forwarded my email to Pat Hughes. Pat's broadcasting partner was Ron Santo, who was a player when my dad coached.

Pat Hughes answered my email. He simply said " Leigh Ann, I want to help you". WGN had given all of their radio archives to a guy named Ron Barber who wrote a book about Jack Quinlan (Cubs Broadcaster) a few years back. Pat gave me Ron's number.

Ron Barber- Author and Cubs Fan
I contacted Ron ,who is currently going through the archives to see if any audio exists (fingers crossed).  Ron is encouraging me to "stay the course" in my quest no matter what.

Pat Hughes also put me in contact with George Castle and accomplished journalist (author of several books) and baseball historian who lives in the Chicago area--still writing...still talking baseball.  George wrote an article about me for the Chicago Baseball Museum

George Castle
He is encouraging me to write my own book---about my dad, my quest, and the baseball history that keeps falling in my lap as I reminisce with players from the 60's.  George gave me names and numbers of players, baseball executives, and avid fans that would have known my dad. Here is where the journey get interesting.

Making Calls
Staring at the list of names and numbers for days, I decided to start with the ones I knew. Opening each conversation by introducing myself and asking "Do you remember my father Verlon Walker?"  I have made countless phone calls on this "quest" so I can assure you I am no shrinking violet . I can handle myself on the phone, but these calls are strangely different. I feel myself changing from this self assured 45 year old woman to a painfully shy little girl.The minute they answer  my voice gets shaky. The kindness coning through those phone lines is nothing short of divine. I can feel the presence my father when I talk to these guys. They ALL remember him and have generously shared their memories and themselves with me. Enthusiastically they ask me who else I have talked to....who am I going to call next...can they take this journey with me too? George Castle pointed out to me that I am becoming my father's voice by reaching out to these players, listening to their stories, allowing them to reconnect and remember . Some of these guys have been forgotten by the big business machine of baseball. I find myself in a beautiful unassailable place with baseball historians, old school broadcasters, beat writers and gentleman who simply love the game of baseball. It is a sweet place for this "little girl" to be.  I cry a little and they let me.

I'm not giving out any details. All will be revealed in my book (WINK).

Joey Amalfitano  (Cubs 1964-1967) was the first one I called. He had actually kept in touch with me and mom after my father died. I remember getting autograph baseballs and pictures for Christmas one year (LA Dodgers). He works for the SF Giants organization now. We talked for awhile. One of the most interesting things he told me was Leo Durocher really liked my dad. We talked a bit about another Caldwell County native Madison Bumgarner who is currently a pitcher for the SF Giants and a home town super star.
Joey Amalfitano during his Dodger days
Ferguson Jenkins, everybody knows this Hall of Fame Cubs pitcher (1966-1973). I will just say from person experience, he is a class act. I called him and cried and it was ok. 
Ferguson Jenkins
Jack Rosenbergretired sports editor for WGN, philanthropist and lovely gentleman. He thought highly of my father's work ethic and character. AND thought it was wonderful I am researching my father. I loved talking with him.

Jack Rosenberg
Chris Krug Cubs catcher 1965-1966 immediately remembered my dad as his first base coach. Chris is charismatic and interesting. He designed the cornfield/ball-field in the movie Field of Dreams. 

Chris Krug

Dick Ellsworth ,Cubs pitcher 1960-1965, remembered (among other things) my dad's quiet sense of humor and dry wit. His wife played him the voicemail I left and he made a special trip home to call me back.
Dick Ellsworth

Don Kessinger, Cubs shortstop 1964-1975. Don and I have emailed. He says my dad was one of the nicest guys he ever knew.
Don Kessinger

Al Yellon,  Editor for Bleed Cubbie Blue. I sent him an email asking for help. I thought he might be able to reach a Cubs fan somewhere via his website/blog which has readership numbers through the roof! He wrote an article about my quest. Read it HERE.
Al use to sit with George Castle at Cubs games years ago---what a small world. Interestingly, one of the readers ( suggested I contact the Mets organization. Maybe my dad & uncle did and interview together in NYC when my uncle was a Met and my dad was a Cub. Hi Ho Hi Ho its off to New York I go.

Al Yellon
The runner (that's me) is advancing and might even be in scoring position. Only because I have an amazing team that grows everyday. Maybe I am my father's voice (like George said). I have had it all along---here at home (plate).

Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions please contact me


  1. I just saw your story on Olbermann on ESPN. It's absolutely amazing and after reading every word on your blog, I was almost brought to tears myself. I have no connections to you or your family or anything related to the Cubs or Verlon Walker, but this story is more than that. It's so...human. My father left when I was about 10 and he's God knows where right now but every so often I say something and I stop and realize, "that sounded exactly like my dad". It's those little things that make you realize you're a chip off the old block. As soon as you hear his voice you'll know his voice carries on through yours. I hope you can find something.


  2. George Castle is a great guy. He's got a lot of good connections.

  3. I saw your story on espn, growing up in chi town and a lifelong cubs fan I remember your father , a great cub and gentleman.good luck on your quest