I am thrilled to host Wanda Fischer today and let her share a new book release!
GIVEAWAYS: During this tour, the author is giving away (1) $10 Amazon Gift Card, (2) $5 Amazon Gift Cards, (2) e-book copies of EMPTY SEATS & (1) copy of the author’s acclaimed “SINGING ALONG WITH THE RADIO” CD which features many prominent folk music singers (a $15 value)! For your chance to win, all you have to do is leave a comment below as well as leaving a comment on the author’s 4WillsPub tour page. GOOD LUCK!
When I was writing my novel, one of the more difficult choices was to decide to whom I should dedicate the book.
The obvious choices, of course, are my husband and children, who supported me through the process, who put up with my baseball obsession, who heard me dole out countless advice to a slew of Red Sox managers (“Don’t take that guy out! He’s doing great!” “Why are you leaving him in? He’s terrible!” “How many pitches has he thrown? HOW MANY???”), who knew I stayed up too late watching games, and all that.
But if you look at the dedication, I didn’t mention my family. This is not to slight their contributions at all; instead, I think they understood when they saw the novel was in memory of five people in professional baseball who meant a great deal to me: Jack Lanzillotti, Dick Radatz, Bill Monbouquette, Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew.
I’ll tell you why, first by addressing the people you may know, because they played Major League Baseball on the field.
Dick Radatz was a reliever for the Red Sox in the 1960s. His nickname was “The Monster,” because he was a huge guy for the time—6’6” tall, 230 lbs, and an imposing presence on the mound. He dominated legendary Yankee Mickey Mantle to the point that Mantle hated facing off against him. Although Radatz never made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Red Sox inducted him into their team’s hall of fame, and he was ecstatic about it. After his MLB career was over, he did charity work for the Jimmy Fund, which is the Red Sox main charity. He died at the age of 67 after falling down a flight of stairs. Those of us who watched him pitch—and also who talked to him at Fenway Park—appreciated his sense of humor and kindness. He was always available to “us kids,” and I have his autograph in my cherished “little red autograph book.”
Bill Monbouquette was one of the Red Sox’s “native sons,” born in the Boston suburb of Medford. Known as Monbo to Red Sox fans, he pitched when the Red Sox had little to cheer about. And yet, when it was “Monbo Day,” the crowds at Fenway grew slightly because fans knew they’d get a great game from a scrappy local kid who’d give it his all from the mound. Monbo pitched two no-hitters in a Red Sox uniform.
Many years later, when he coached the Oneonta Tigers, a low-A minor league team (of the same NY-Penn League that my characters play in), then based on Oneonta, New York, I watched as one of Monbo’s proteges pitched a no-hitter against the Tri-City Valley Cats (affiliated with the Houston Astros) in Troy, New York. I went to the edge of the dugout and yelled for “MONBO!!”
“Wha’dya want?” he asked, poking his head out.
“Congrats on the no-hitter,” I replied. “And the kid’s wearing YOUR old number, 27.”
“How do you know that?” he asked.
“I’m old-school Red Sox.”
“You must be, if you remember that.”
“Not only that—I have pictures! And old yearbooks!”
“Why’d you want to keep stuff like that?”
“Because I remember…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
Then he looked up and gave me the biggest grin I’d ever seen from him.
Monbo passed away in 2015 after battling leukemia; he was 78. I was glad he had the chance to see the Red Sox win the World Series in both 2004 and 2013.
I met Harmon Killebrew many times when he played for the Minnesota Twins. My friends and I always went to Fenway Park early so that we could see both teams take batting practice. The Twins had some of the nicest guys on their team. Harmon and Rod Carew were two of the friendliest. They made a point of talking to us kids before baseball games.
In 2009, I went to Cooperstown for Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame induction. Harmon, once known as “The Killer,” was signing autographs along Main Street. I stopped to talk to him and told him he was one of my favorite players.
“So why are you wearing a Red Sox jersey?”
“I can be a Red Sox fan and still like Twins players. In fact, I love Kirby Puckett, too!”
“I’m so mad at Kirby!”
“Because he went and died before me! He was supposed to sing at my funeral!”
“Oh…Okay…Well, did you get someone else to sing at your funeral? I have a CD made by MLB players called ‘Oh Say, Can You Sing?’ Ozzie Smith is a great singer on that CD.”
“Nah, I don’t want a National League singer. I have someone lined up.”
“Mudcat. Mudcat Grant. Ever heard of him?”
“Of course. That’s great. What do you want him to sing?”
“You ever heard that song, ‘What a Wonderful World?’”
“You mean, ‘I see trees of green, red roses, too…?’”
“Yes, that’s the one! That’s what I want him to sing!”
We kept on chatting for about ten more minutes about baseball and other things. I told him I’d made a CD and gave him a copy. I kept calling him “Mr. Killebrew.” He kept correcting me, asking me to call him “Harmon.” I just couldn’t. He was so much of an icon to me. When I go to the Hall of Fame, I start by visiting his plaque.
Kirby Puckett has the distinction of having had a dog in my household named after him. That’s an honor in my house, and my dog Kirby was one of the best I’ve ever had. Kirby’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and my dachshund Kirby is definitely in the Dachshund Hall of Fame.
My late grandmother’s name is Puckett, and I can’t help but think that, way back, somewhere, Kirby and I are related. Can’t prove it, but can’t dis-prove it, either.
I always admired the way Kirby played the game. Every time he came to bat, it was with a smile on his face. He loved baseball; he loved being on that field. He hadn’t started playing baseball until he was past Little League age, and never played on anything except asphalt and hard-dirt fields in Detroit until he was a teenager. As the youngest of nine children, he lived with his family in Detroit’s projects, rarely having luxuries in his life.
He was also a fireplug of a player—stocky, short and stoic—always thinking the game could be won, whether or not his team was down by ten runs with two down in the bottom of the ninth inning. His ability to get up to the plate and keep a game going, or to haul in a tough line drive in center field to end a game were legendary.
I always visit his plaque when I go to Cooperstown as well. I talk to him and tell him I hope he’s found peace. Kirby had to leave the game when his body was still young, but his eyesight failed him after he was diagnosed with glaucoma. He had several rounds of surgery, but nothing seemed to help. I remember his tear-filled retirement ceremony in Minnesota in 1996. It was a sad day for baseball.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001 during the first time of his eligibility. He died in March 2006 following a stroke. He was only 46 when he left this earth.
Finally, let me tell you about the extraordinary Jack Lanzillotti.
Jack was part of the team working at Fenway Park to produce every baseball game every day.
When Fenway Park lost its long-time public address announcer Carl Beane due to a car accident in 2012, they had no one to be in the in-park announcer. I decided to try out for the position. But first, the Red Sox had a “guest in the chair” program, for which I also applied.
On August 5, 2012, I served as Fenway Park’s public address announcer, seated above the game, telling people at the game things such as who was batting, who the Dunkin Donuts person of the day was, who the National Anthem singer was, etc. Now, even though I had 30 years’ experience in radio at the time, when I took the elevator to Fenway’s third floor, I kept asking myself, “What have you done?”
Then I met Jack.
Jack was the producer. My producer. He gave me a script. When I do radio, I don’t work from a script. I have to decide what to say spontaneously. Jack told me he’d point to the lines in the script when it was time for me to say the appropriate thing. He also showed me how to work the antique (and I mean antique) microphone (“you have to press the button before you talk”).
“Jack,” I said, “this is so easy. I work in public radio, and I have to do everything myself—log in the CDs, clean the studio, answer the phone, everything.”
“Oh, no,” he shook his head, “we try to make things as easy as possible. If there’s anything you need, let me know.”
That was Jack. Incredibly talented and helpful. He had already won an Emmy for a short video he’d done with Jacoby Ellsbury on how to steal a base.
The last time I’d done anything even close to this was when I was the PA announcer for a Babe Ruth game in Schenectady, New York. But thanks to Jack, everything went smoothly. I only made one minor mistake, and Jack showed me how to correct it.
Talent and kindness. And he was young.
A couple of years later, I was checking the Boston Globe online. I saw that someone who had worked for the Red Sox was walking near Copley Square with his fiancée, and both had been killed by an unlicensed driver who mowed them down with an SUV. The guy’s name was Jack Lanzillotti.
I called the Red Sox, and, indeed, it was their Jack, and his fiancée as well. Both of them gone in a second.
I went to his wake, even though it was a six-hour drive, round trip, and I had to work the next day. I stood in line for a couple of hours as well because so many people came to pay their respects. It turned out his mother worked at the same medical school my husband had attended many years ago.
At a Red Sox event about six months later, someone else whom I met during that August day told me Jack really respected my work as the PA announcer. He respected my work? I was bowled over by his talent, despite his youth, his kindness, his expertise, and his acceptance of a woman who could have been his grandmother, as he escorted me to the chair and explained everything to me.
I think of these five people every day, and what they contributed not only to baseball, but to my personal life. May everyone be as fortunate as I have been in encountering people such as these.
What Little Leaguer doesn’t dream of walking from the dugout onto a Major League baseball field, facing his long-time idol and striking his out? Empty Seats follows three different minor-league baseball pitchers as they follow their dreams to climb the ladder from minor- to major-league ball, while facing challenges along the way—not always on the baseball diamond. This coming-of-age novel takes on success and failure in unexpected ways. One reviewer calls this book “a tragic version of ‘The Sandlot.’”
(Winner of the 2019 New Apple Award and 2019 Independent Publishing Award)
Following a successful 40-year career in public relations/marketing/media relations, Wanda Adams Fischer parlayed her love for baseball into her first novel, Empty Seats. She began writing poetry and short stories when she was in the second grade in her hometown of Weymouth, Massachusetts and has continued to write for more than six decades. In addition to her “day” job, she has been a folk music DJ on public radio for more than 40 years, including more than 37 at WAMC-FM, the Albany, New York-based National Public Radio affiliate. In 2019, Folk Alliance International inducted her into their Folk D-J Hall of Fame. A singer/songwriter in her own right, she’s produced one CD, “Singing Along with the Radio.” She’s also a competitive tennis player and has captained several United States Tennis Association senior teams that have secured berths at sectional and national events. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern University in Boston. She lives in Schenectady, NY, with her husband of 47 years, Bill, a retired family physician, whom she met at a coffeehouse in Boston in 1966; they have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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