Teammates take care of teammates, even holding their hands on airplanes!
By GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball
The driving distance from the Akron-Canton Airport to the Lee County Sports Complex is 1,200 miles. The estimated driving time, according to Google maps, is somewhere between 17 and 19 hours, depending on variables in the route.
The only way to reach the World Series quickly from so far away is flying. That means getting on a big airplane and zooming thousands of feet into the sky and flying at hundreds of miles per hour.
Until 2003, Eric Wheeler had never been on an airplane. He didn’t like the idea of flying. But teammate Dean Testa convinced him to join his Redskins teammates on a plane and fly to Fort Myers.
“He was petrified about this flight,” Testa said.
Help was required. Wheeler’s wife, Johnna, was there to hold Wheeler’s hand, both literally and figuratively, as Testa pointed out.
Testa recalled that Wheeler looked pale at the airport. Then the flight was postponed for what Testa remembers were mechanical issues. That didn’t help sooth Wheeler’s anxiety.
Wheeler recalled that his wife was adamant that he board.
“She said we’re going to Florida, no matter what,” Wheeler said. “She wanted to go to the beach.”
They reached Atlanta for a connecting flight and Wheeler joked about renting a car and driving the rest of the way to Fort Myers. Instead, he boarded for the second fight of the day and the second of his life.
That’s what teammates are for – support and encouragement. But one gets what one receives. And Wheeler is liked and respected so teammates such as Testa are there to help.
Ask Testa what makes Wheeler a good teammate and he started out with a big picture assessment.
“I would start with the fact that he’s a great person,” Testa said. “We got a great group of guys who care about each other on and off the field.”
“He knows the game,” Testa said.
Wheeler and Testa also know each other well. They’ve been teammates since 2000 when they started their team in the NorthEast Ohio Roy Hobbs League.
They’ve played under a number of names. R&S Drywall. Century 21 Belden Realty Redskins. Akron Redskins. And now the Crystal Clinic Indians.
Six of the original 2000 members of R&S Drywall are still together.
Going back to the 20th century, Wheeler and Testa were competitors for 10 years in the Hot Stove League. Now, they’ve been teammates longer than they were competitors.
Wheeler has earned Testa’s respect for more than his character. He’s also a good player.
“Excellent hitter who can drive the ball to the gaps with power,” Testa said. “He drives in a lot of runs and always seems to come up with the big hit when the team needs it. As a catcher he calls a great game and seems to have knees made of rubber.
“Not sure how many innings he has caught, but it must be nearly 40 years of catching and counting. He has a quick release to second base and when we were opponents was one of the few catchers to throw me out stealing.
“I think it has to do with him being so short. He doesn’t have far to raise up.”
Wheeler is certainly a study in endurance. He started catching at age 12. That’s 34 years of squatting and getting hit by foul tips and balls in the dirt. But he’s still at it.
A man who can overcome a fear of flying won’t be scared by foul tips or 56-foot curveballs.
Now, Testa and Wheeler are back in Fort Myers for another World Series. These days Testa doesn’t need to worry about convincing Wheeler to board planes.
“Now he loves it,” Testa said of flying.
He added that his friend and teammate now regularly goes up in two-seater planes and sometimes has even had the pilot of one of these small planes let him take the controls very briefly during the middle of flights. No takeoffs or landings for this now experienced flier.
And what about driving the 1,200 miles to the Roy Hobbs World Series?
“No thanks,” Wheeler said.
He’ll fly. He’ll fly with his teammate Dean Testa.