THE BACK PAGES

ROBERT ‘BASEBALL BOB’ WILLIAMS 1961-2006

Baseball, snowmobiling, hunting, sailing, skydiving. ‘He played hard, like there was no tomorrow.’

CATHY GULLI July 1 2006
THE BACK PAGES

ROBERT ‘BASEBALL BOB’ WILLIAMS 1961-2006

Baseball, snowmobiling, hunting, sailing, skydiving. ‘He played hard, like there was no tomorrow.’

CATHY GULLI July 1 2006

ROBERT ‘BASEBALL BOB’ WILLIAMS 1961-2006

THE END

Baseball, snowmobiling, hunting, sailing, skydiving. ‘He played hard, like there was no tomorrow.’

Robert “Baseball Bob” Alvin Williams was born on April 27, 1961, in Moose Jaw, Sask., where there are as many ball diamonds as there are churches, some 38. His mother, Marion, was raised on a dairy farm nearby. She played baseball as a girl and has always cheered for the Toronto Blue Jays. His father, Don, is an avid outdoorsman, and made a living as a department manager at Sears before opening the All Season Sports store. Bob and his older sister, Debbie, worked there until their parents sold the shop and retired 18 years ago. Back then, the four of them played on a slo-pitch team together. “We did all right,” says Marion.

Bob’s love of baseball began early when, at the age of 8, Don and Marion had him join the local Little League. He was such a natural athlete, his mother recalls, that “he played all the bases as a child. He played the field, and he also pitched.” Though he never took to playing ice hockey—skating wasn’t his strongest skill—Bob excelled at floor hockey. Besides, he was consumed with another winter sport: snowmobiling. He’d speed and spin around the farm, and one time, when he went missing, Don found him stuck between two trees. “He put close to 100,000 miles on snowmobiles,” estimates his father. Don, who was only five when he first went hunting with his own father, was quick to share the adventure with Bob when he turned that age. Nearly every autumn after, the two of them went hunting for alpine and big game

including geese, deer, elk and antelope. In the spring, they’d fish. On one of their first trips out, a young Bob became incurably seasick, but so unbearable was the thought of going ashore he begged to just keep fishing. They did.

His father was also the one who introduced Bob to motorcycling, albeit only after the 12-year-old implored, “Dad, how come you have a shop full of motorcycles and I don’t have one?” Don gave Bob a mini-bike, and he graduated to various dirt and street bikes in the years that followed, eventually acquiring Yamahas from the motorcycle shop where he’d socialize with his travelling buddies. “He would ride them wherever he wanted to go,” says Marion. Bob travelled to California for a chance to ride around a racetrack. In 10 days he rode all the way from Moose Jaw to Mexico and back. He biked across the country to southern Ontario, and throughout

Western Canada. One of his favourite routes was along British Columbian logging trails, where he’d dirt bike with his friend Doug Sears, “just to see if they could get lost.” During his first trip to Vancouver in 1981 with other friends, including John Parsons, Bob was thrown from his bike by a car. While he escaped with few injuries, his bike required a new handlebar. No sooner was that fixed and they were back on the road when John hit a deer at full speed and damaged his bike. The rest of the riders decided to keep going, but “Bob stuck with me, helping me in any way he could,” recalls John.

Whatever Bob did, he excelled at—even when he didn’t enjoy it— if it meant more opportunity for adventure. As a child, he hated school, but he was smart enough to skip two grades and graduate from high school at 17. After All Season closed, Bob took computer courses and was, for the last several years, a computer technician for IBM. “Sports—that’s what he did when he wasn’t working,” says Don. Ever the bachelor, Bob broadened his athletic repertoire to include sailing, skydiving, skiing, golf, tennis, darts and racquetball. But baseball was always his favourite. “Growing up he played ball, but when he became an adult he really got into it,” muses Don.

So much so that Bob joined four or five teams every season, which filled up almost every night of his week, and he played at the secondhighest level of competitive softball in provincial and national tournaments. Bob usually was centre fielder, but this year he decided to try third base. One dusky recent Saturday, however, Bob was filling in as shortstop for his Chiefs team during a pre-season game in a men’s 10-player league. A ball went up the midfield between him and the second baseman. Bob, who Don and Marion say “played hard, like there was no tomorrow,” went for it, and his head collided with his teammate’s shoulder. Bob was knocked out. Fans and players flooded the field. His brain swelled and bled. He was rushed to the hospital and underwent ineffective emergency surgery. Robert “Baseball Bob” Williams, 45, died on June 6,2006.

A week later, some 20 motorcycles ridden by his travelling friends escorted Bob’s hearse around Moose Jaw. On Canada Day weekend, his teammates will participate in a slo-pitch tournament to raise money for a memorial to be put up on the last diamond Bob ever played on. CATHY GULLI