We called him "Waldo."
Alan Wallace, Brainerd High School class of 1973, former standout pitcher for the Warriors' baseball team, died Thursday following a battle with cancer.
Those of us who knew Waldo would probably agree he was a maverick, and a character. And, a lifetime of strange things happened to him.
One winter near the Twin Cities his car quit along Highway 10. He got a ride to the nearest town and hired a tow truck. With Waldo as his passenger, the tow truck driver slid in the icy conditions smack into the back of Al's vehicle.
Alan Wallace was a star pitcher for BHS in the 1970s.
After college, he got a job as a photographer at a North Dakota newspaper. After struggling to make ends meet on a newspaper salary, Waldo wound up working on nearby oil rigs. There he got hit in the mouth by a steel pipe, knocking out or damaging his front teeth.
One night in North Dakota or Montana his car quit in a remote area and again he hitched a ride to get help. A guy with a truck agreed to pick up Waldo's car and haul it back to town for repairs. On the way back to town, again with Waldo a passenger in the truck, something snapped and Al's car rolled several times off the truck.
For a while he lived in Los Angeles and drove a cab. He then established a homestead in Alaska, where he lived in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Then he landed in Las Vegas, driving truck.
One winter day in Alaska, his snowmobile quit on a trail. Nearby was a young moose, whose mother thought Al was threatening her youngster. The mother moose proceeded to nearly kick Waldo to death before she left.
My fondest memories will always be of playing baseball against or with Waldo, whose fastball was as quick as any in the state.
My first at bat in Pony League was against Al and the Carmen Pirates team. I will never forget the exhilaration I experienced when I smacked one of his fastballs off the fence, missing a home run by inches. But he probably struck me out the rest of the game and the rest of the season.
As juniors at BHS we were starting pitchers with Wayne Caughey, who went on to play in the minor leagues. We won our first 12 games that year, then Caughey was dismissed from the team. We finished 13-3 and lost in the semifinals of the District 24 tournament.
Our senior year produced two of the most memorable games I ever played in or I have ever seen. Both were pitching gems by Waldo.
At Bemidji on May 5, 1973, he struck out eight consecutive Lumberjacks in a 2-1 victory over the eventual one-class state champions.
That summer, in Legion ball, Waldo threw a perfect game at Ironton. He struck out 10, fielded five ground balls back to the mound and caught a pop-up. One ball left the infield that night. He finished that summer 9-1 with three no-hitters, five shutouts and games with 18 and 15 strikeouts.
In Lowell Scearcy's 33 years as the Warriors' head coach, Waldo's average of 12.25 strikeouts a game rank first. His 81 strikeouts in a season are second.
About 15 years ago, Al returned to Minnesota, eventually landing a job hauling mail for the U.S. Postal Service in Minneapolis.
I haven't seen him for a few years. The last time was after one of the Warriors' state baseball tournament appearances. I was walking out of Midway Stadium in St. Paul, we chatted briefly and went our separate ways, as it turns out, for the rest of our lives.
Two years ago, I called him the day of our 30th class reunion. I urged him to come back to Brainerd but he declined.
The next time we talked was in June after I found out he had terminal cancer. We talked again, briefly, about 10 days ago. That would be the final time we spoke.
One of our former teammates e-mailed news of Al's death Thursday. He closed his e-mail by saying, "Make every day count with your family."
I regret Al and I didn't make every day count in our friendship in recent years. But he will always be one of my best friends.
Mike Bialka, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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