FROM THE PRESS BOX: LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS WORLD LOSES A FRIEND, ADVOCATE IN BOB BAKER
Longtime Daily Review sports editor Bob Baker, 64, passed away Wednesday after a long battle with cancer.
I toss around the expression “he’s a good guy,” or "he’s a great guy,” a lot — probably too much. When it comes to Bob Baker, I could say “he’s a great guy,” and it wouldn’t come close to measuring the goodness in the man’s heart.
A sweet soul, with an affable disposition, Bob never had a cross word for anyone, nor did he ever utter an unkind word about anyone.
More remarkably, I never heard anyone say a bad word about Bob.
Bob Baker, along with Glenn Rolfe — his counterpart at The Evening Times — were the last of the old-time sports editors in our area. Bob lived it, he breathed it. The sports section was a direct reflection of him, and he was so good at what he did.
He was also highly-respected by coaches, parents, and fans alike. Those who knew him, loved him.
I first crossed paths with Bob in 1989. He was about 10 years deep into a nearly 25-year career at The Daily Review.
It was March, and high school sports was in between seasons. My first night on the job, Bob put me through the paces, teaching me how to put together the daily paper — from sending a story to be printed on film, trimming the film with a pair of scissors, running that film through a wax machine, and then placing it on a page, using a light board to make sure everything was straight before sending it to the camera to be shot and “burned” on to a printing plate. High-tech it was not.
I had done a great deal of what Bob was showing me in college, and I was fairly comfortable with the process.
After we put the paper to bed that night — did I say it was my first night on the job? — Bob asked me if I had any questions. I told him I was good, assuming I could ask him questions as needed. Bad assumption.
“Ok great, I’ll see you next week. I’m off to spring training,” and out the door Bob went, which left me in stunned silence.
Unbeknownst to me, Bob hadn’t had a day off in three months, and he was getting out of Dodge ASAP.
It all worked out. I got through the 10 or 12 days Bob was on vacation, and ended up working with him for about 6 1/2 years before taking a job at The Evening Times.
For the next eight years, we were at rival newspapers, but we remained good friends, and saw a lot of each other on the sidelines at basketball and football games, and other sporting events. I went to his wedding, and he went to mine.
We bonded not only through high school sports, but through our love of professional baseball, football, and basketball, and especially through fantasy sports. We remained close friends because of those fantasy sports.
Anyone who has spent much time talking with Bob will tell you that if a person’s last name had more than two syllables in it, he would mispronounce it. He had an uncanny knack for mangling last names.
Of course, when at the paper, Bob would always respond, “I don’t have to know how to say it, I just need to know how to spell it.”
That reminds me of another of my favorite exchanges with Bob. Early on in my time at The Review, Raul Azpiazu was coaching basketball at Wyalusing.
“The first time I was writing a Wyalusing game story, I asked Bob, “how do you spell Azpiazu?”
“A-Z-P-I-A-Z-U, just like it sounds,” said Bob with a smile.
He left The Review in 2003, and took a “9-to-5” job with a local bank to have a normal life with his wife because the life of a sports writer definitely does not allow for normal
Bob began a second “career” in sports journalism shortly after, teaming with Mike Miller to broadcast football and basketball games for area radio stations.
Of course, I ribbed Bob about his inability to pronounce names correctly.
“I’ll leave the tough ones to Mike,” he answered.
In the early years of Valley Sports Report, he would broadcast a Valley football game on Choice Radio, then head home, and e-mail me a written game story.
During the Covid lockdown, Bob reached out to me, after reading a series of columns by Glenn Rolfe, and asked if he could share some of his memories. Of course, I obliged, and he added his witty and beautifully-written pieces to the pages of Valley Sports Report.
Several years ago, he had a malignant tumor removed from his heart. He stopped by my house shortly after the diagnosis to tell me what was happening because he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to make our fantasy baseball draft in person. He was worried about leaving the league short-handed.
After the surgery, he battled back to do more radio broadcasts, and he even covered a few football and basketball games for Valley Sports Report, but another setback and Covid sidelined him for good.
He called me from time to time with updates on his health. In February, he had another setback — this time brain cancer, and another round of treatments.
He once again phoned me. He told me not to worry, and that he would be back to cover baseball and softball in the spring if I needed him.
In early May, I received a string of texts from Bob:
“Sorry I haven’t been much help lately. The road to recovery has been longer than I thought.
“I tried a couple of softball games, but things didn’t work out well. Hopefully, at playoff time I can be ready to go.
“Recent treatments have taken a lot out of me, but doing well. Talk with you down the road.”
Those texts tell you all you need to know about the man. He apologized to me for not being around to help, despite the fact he was fighting for his life.
As I type this, I fight back the tears, and mourn my friend of 30-plus years. My heart aches for his wonderful wife, Tina.
Bob, my friend, you were one-of-a-kind. You will be missed by your fantasy baseball buddies, and by everyone who was lucky enough to call you a friend.
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