Rick was a neighbor, friend and my first baseball favorite. He was a local legend, starring at Mendel High School and making the major leagues. You can read his stats etc. on any number of sites. I'd like to devote today to a few personal memories of Rick.
Back in my day, everyone collected baseball cards. There were bigger stars in baseball, but Rick's cards were always the ones we wanted. The neighborhood corner stores (remember those?) could not keep the shelves stocked. When one of us pulled Rick's card in a pack, we were both cheered and booed by our friends who were happy for us, but also upset they hadn't gotten the card.
His wife Kathy was my 3rd grade teacher in th 1973-84 school year. They planned on moving to California that summer, because Rick was with the Angels. That plan got changed drastically, when Rick was traded to his hometown Cubs.
In 1975, he played the entire season in Wichita (the Cubs top minor league team). My family made a road trip there to see a couple games. We spent two evenings with Rick and Kathy.
That winter, he was traded to the Yankees, but never made it back to the majors. A few years later, his coaching career started with the Wisconsin Rapids Twins. My family made another road trip there to see Rick again.
In 1981, Rick joined the Minnesota Twins as their bullpen coach, a position he held for 32 years (the third longest tenure of any coach with one team). We would always go see the Twins when they were in town playing the White Sox.
At the end of every season, Rick would call me to his house and present me with a signed team ball or a player bat. I really appreciated these bits of memorabilia, but I also loved spending that time with him, hearing his stories of Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky and the rest.
He was especially fond of Puckett, another Chicago area player. Rick was too modest to brag, but he played a big part in the Twins drafting Puckett, who wne ton to a Hall of Fame career.
Fast forward many years and I became a bit of a reporter. One of the coolest moments was when I got to interview him in the Twins dugout in Minnesota. Thirty five years prior, I was staring at his Cubs baseball card and now I was talking to him as part of the media in the major leagues. It was crazy.
My longtime friend, former Lerner Newspapers colleague and sports writer George Castle wrote a very nice piece for the Chicago Baseball Museum. George asked me to be a contributor. You can find the story at ChicagoBaseballMuseum.org.
Rick's passing is the end of an era. It's another part of my childhood gone. Life goes on, but Rick will be missed.
Good bye, my friend. Rest in Peace and thank you for some great times.
Rick Stelmaszek and me in Minneapolis, MN-Summer 2010.