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Ex-big leaguer Bob Wickman enjoying his time as River Valley's head coach

By: DENNIS SEMRAU: Jun 18, 2015

GRAND CHUTE -Coaching high school baseball originally was going to be a temporary gig for former major league pitcher Bob Wickman.

But Wickman, who prefers to talk about his current team and not his 15-year career in the big leagues, is in his element in his fourth full season as head coach at River Valley.

A two-time All-Star relief pitcher who spent five years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Wickman took over the Blackhawks during the 2011 season, when the former coach at the Spring Green school was fired.

“It was the right situation. I didn’t take anyone’s job and I had helped the program and it kind of went from there,” said Wickman, an Oconto Falls High School and UW-Whitewater alumnus.

 “Bob is just a down-to-earth guy, whose main focus is on the kids,” River Valley athletic director Eric Briehl said. “He has done a lot for our athletic program anonymously. He doesn’t want to have the spotlight on himself.”

Wickman retired after the 2007 season, following a 15-year big league career during which he played for the Yankees, Brewers, Indians, Braves and Diamondbacks. He appeared in 835 games and posted a 63-61 record with a 3.57 ERA. He finished with 267 saves, including a career-best 45 in 2005 with Cleveland.

Wickman, though, admitted he has developed a passion for coaching at the high school level. “I like seeing young kids grow. This is my first team that I’ve had for four years, from freshman through senior year. I’ve enjoyed being part of the program,” said Wickman.

Bob's son, Ryan Wickman, is a sophomore second baseman who got one of the team’s three hits and scored the Blackhawks' only run Wednesday. Ryan’s sister, Kaylee, qualified for state in track and field.

The Blackhawks made their fourth state trip and first since 2003. They lost four of their last five regular-season games, but then got hot. Pitcher-shortstop Lucas Price, who is batting .482 with 32 RBIs and has an 8-3 record and 3.04 ERA, is one of only five seniors for the sixth-ranked Blackhawks.

Sophomore Elijah Alt (9-1, 2.82), who won the sectional title game, and junior Matthew Yanke (4-1, 2.30) also anchor the pitching staff. Ryan Wickman is batting .425 with 23 RBIs.

Wickman, who also serves as a youth football, basketball and baseball coach in Spring Green, is proud of the way his team has competed this season.

“They handle the pressure of playing baseball, knowing it’s just a game,” he said. “They keep it in perspective that’s it’s just a game. “No matter what happens in school, if they do bad on a test or something like that, when they come to the baseball field they relax for the couple of hours I do get to work with them.”

Who says closers, MLB's tightrope walkers, are overrated?

By Paul Hoynes, cleveland.com
on April 23, 2016 at 12:40 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio –Cody Allen went from the bottom to the top in less than a day. It is the best part of being a big league closer and the worst, too.

On Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field, Allen started the ninth inning with the Indians and Seattle tied, 7-7. Managers use their closers in tie games in the ninth inning or later when they're at home because the save situation is off the books for them. The percentage move for a manager is to use his closer, usually his best reliever, to protect the tie and try to win it in baseball's version of sudden death – the bottom of the ninth.

Allen retired the Mariners in order in the ninth, but the Indians were held scoreless as well. Allen came out for the 10th and walked leadoff hitter Steve Clevenger. He retired the next two batters on long drives to center that Tyler Naquin tracked down. The red lights were flashing and they continued to do so when Allen walked Franklin Gutierrez.

Up came Robinson Cano and out went Allen's first pitch, long and deep over the center field wall for 10-7 Seattle victory. He threw 30 pitches in 1 2/3 innings. It was his longest outing of the season and there was some question if he'd be available when the Indians opened a three-game series Friday night at Comerica Park against AL Central rival Detroit.

But since Thursday's game was a noon start and Friday was a night game, Allen's arm had more time than usual to recover. When he came to the ballpark Friday afternoon and played catch, he told manager Terry Francona that he was available.

In the seventh inning, Marlon Byrd gave the Tribe a 2-1 lead with a lead-off homer off Justin Verlander. Good relief work by Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw protected the lead through the eighth. Then it was time for Allen and all he had to do was face the heart of the Tigers' order – Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez.

Welcome to the life of closer, baseball's tightrope walkers.

Allen fell behind Cabrera 2-0, but evened the count and got him to foul out to first baseman Mike Napoli. He fell behind Victor Martinez 3-1, but Martinez scorched a line drive to shallow right field where second baseman Jason Kipnis was stationed to make the catch. Infield coach Mike Sarbaugh, who calls the shifts in the Tribe's defense, gets a gold star for that. J.D. Martinez sent a first-pitch 85 mph spiked curveball to right field for the final out.

A lot of smart baseball people say closers are overrated and that the save is a lightweight stat. They say too much emphasis is put on the ninth inning and that it's really not that different than pitching out of tight spots in the seventh or eighth innings. I've never agreed with that line of thought. I believe a closer is a closer for a reason and that Allen showed why on consecutive games Thursday and Friday.

Wickman's River Valley baseball team having strong season

Posted: May 23, 2015 By: Jon Griffith

WHITEWATER (WKOW) -- Saturday may not have been River Valley's day, but the Blackhawks are still off to a strong season. The River Valley baseball team dropped a pair of games to Beloit Turner 3-1 and 3-1 Saturday in Whitewater, but Blackhawks are still 17-4 on the year. The team is coached by former Major League Baseball relief pitcher Bob Wickman, who also played his college ball at UW-Whitewater. Wickman pitched 16 years in the majors, playing for the Brewers from 1996-2000, before retiring after the 2007 season. Now he is in his fourth season coaching River Valley.

"We know what he's telling us is the right stuff and if we follow what he says then we're going to be pretty successful," River Valley sophomore Elijah Alt said.

"We're extremely lucky. I was really young, I don't really remember him much in the majors, but to be able to get lessons from a guy like that, that gives us a step in front of everybody else. He's incredible with all that," River Valley senior Lucas Price said.

Bob Wickman (right) signs a baseball card for Dakota Rice of Oconto at The Mill Bar & Grill in Oconto Falls on Saturday. Wickman signed autographs during a fundraiser for Oconto Falls Youth Baseball and Abrams Youth Baseball. Sports memorabilia was sold at a silent auction. (EagleHerald/Jody Korch)

A career defined by durability
Wickman enjoying family time away from baseball

By Jody Korch 4-10-2008

OCONTO FALLS - You could say Bob Wickman exceeded his expectations for a baseball career.

"Just pitching in one game was enough for me, let alone 15 years," Wickman said Saturday after signing autographs as a fundraiser for Oconto Falls and Abrams Youth Baseball.
Sixteen years and 835 games later, Wickman's remarkable Major League career appears to be over.

"I'm retired," Wickman said. "I knew at the end of last year I wasn't going to play anymore.

Wickman said two teams contacted him about the possibility of playing this season, but he declined.

Instead, he has moved his family - his wife Sue, 11-year-old daughter Kaylee, and sons Ryan, 9, and Ethan, 4, from the town of Wagner to Sauk County in south/central Wisconsin.

"Just relax and spend some quality time with my family," Wickman said.

Judging by Mary Lou Wickman's description of her son, quality family time will be frequent.
"He's a very caring person," Mary Lou said. "He's very family-oriented. I'm proud. He's a very wonderful father, a wonderful husband."

Not everyone is surprised by Wickman's successful career. His former Oconto Falls High School baseball coach, Fred Peterson, saw big-league potential early on.
"He had a fastball, and the scouts would come to our high school games to watch him," Peterson said. "And they were very interested in him.
There were teams that wanted to sign him right out of high school."

Instead, Wickman went on to pitch at UW-Whitewater, where his older brother, Bill, was an outstanding slugger.
Not surprisingly, Wickman was Falls' No. 1 pitcher. "You could depend on him, no matter what kind of weather," Peterson said.

Dependability defined Wickman's career, which spanned 16 years with five Major League teams.
A member of the 1987 North All-Star team which was coached by Peterson, Wickman got to pitch at County Stadium, where he would return nine years later as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Wickman's mother also saw exceptional baseball talent early on.
"I would say even in Babe Ruth it started," she said.

A second-round pick by the Chicago White Sox in the 1990 draft, Wickman worked his way up through the Minor League ranks on teams in the Gulf Coast, South Bend, Ind., Sarasota, Fla., and Columbus, Ohio.
He was traded to the New York Yankees in January 1992 and made his Major League debut that August.

Wickman built a reputation as the Yankees' bullpen workhorse. He made 70 or more appearances in four straight seasons in New York and Milwaukee. In 1996, he was traded to the Brewers in the midseason and was converted from setup man to the closing role. That Yankees' team went on to win the World Series, an achievement Wickman never experienced.

An American League All-Star with Milwaukee in 2000, Wickman's career was jeopardized by a shoulder injury with Cleveland in 2002. He underwent Tommy John surgery, which consists of replacing a ligament in the medial elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.

Wickman sat out the 2003 season and retore a tendon, so he didn't return to the Indians until the 2004 midseason.
A season later, Wickman was back in the All-Star Game, and he tied for the AL lead with 45 saves that year.
"I wanted to prove I was one of the oldest guys to ever come back from Tommy John," Wickman said.
Wickman had two of his best seasons in 2004 and '05, with respective earned run averages of 2.47 and 2.67. He was released late last season by Atlanta and finished the regular season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"Never would I have imagined playing until I was 39," Wickman said.
Wickman's description of his own big league career?
"Good enough to just keep hanging around," he said.

D-Backs notebook: Wickman appears ready to hang up his cleats

As the Diamondbacks carry on, Bob Wickman and his 267 career saves quietly moved on Monday, perhaps for good.
Wickman retired the only batter he faced on a comebacker Sunday in Colorado, stranding a runner at third base, and said later it might be a fitting way to retire.
“This gives me a chance to walk off on my own terms if I do walk off,” he said.
“I got the last out that I faced and ended up being pretty successful. Hopefully, I helped this ball club and took some pressure off some of the guys. All I wanted was a chance to pitch, and to show to myself that I still could pitch.”
Wickman admitted to doubts after being waived by Atlanta before signing here Sept. 8, but he proved a valuable stretch-run addition, giving up one earned run with a 1.35 ERA in eight appearances.
He is ineligible for the playoff roster because he was not with the D-Backs at the Aug. 31 deadline.
“I thank Bob Melvin and the whole Diamondbacks organization for giving me an opportunity,” Wickman said.
Wickman has three children — ages 10, 8 and 4 — and said it might be time to save a few pitches for them.
“I’m 38. I’ve got a wonderful wife and three wonderful kids that I want to be able to throw ‘bp’ to,” he said.
The Wickmans have taken their children to spring training every year, and the family has spent summers in New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Atlanta, wherever he was playing.
“It’s getting to the point right now where maybe it’s about time to get settled and let them meet some friends that they are going to have every day. Whatever decision it is going to be, it is going to be a good one,” he said.
“If I don’t play, I’m going to be happier than heck being with my family every single day. If I do play, I’m going to be happy doing the thing I love to do.”

A Farewell to Arm

Two days after the August 24th meltdown against Adam Dunn in Cincinnati, Bob Wickman was at home in Wisconsin hangin’ around the pool with the family. They all knew something wasn’t quite right. The Atlanta train wreck just wasn’t the way a 14-year MLB career should end. His reputation was mangled, and he couldn’t even finish the season he struggled so hard with starting in the first place.

The closer needed closure.

He was unofficially retired, having been unceremoniously dumped by the imploding Braves, with every sports media writer that covered the story dragging his name through the mud.

He was called a selfish, brooding and aloof player that only cared about his own stats. He was said to be a clubhouse cancer that complained every time he was given the ball in a non-save situation. He was said to have openly bad-mouthed his teammates and actually refused to pitch in a 6-2 game against the Mets.

Bob made a few phone calls and reached out to some of the many baseball people he had known throughout his time in the Bigs, letting it be known that he was available to pitch if someone wanted him for the September stretch run. When his old friend and teammate Bob Melvin of the Arizona Diamondbacks said, “Come on down, we’d love to have you,” Bob saw it as a chance to repair his slandered reputation, prove that he could still get guys out and contribute to a playoff contending team. Choosing to join a bullpen that had the #1 closer in all of baseball in Jose Valverede made the accusations against Bobby seem even more ridiculous to me. He had virtually no chance to take the ball for a save opportunity with this team.

So when I heard that Arizona picked Bob up, naturally I went directly to their schedule like any fine upstanding Wickman Warrior would do.

They’re in Pittsburgh the last week of the season! “Thank You, Lord!”

I dashed off a quick note to Bob that the whole gang was coming down, and he responded with tickets for everyone and plans to meet up at their hotel.

It seemed like a perfect night for baseball when we took our fantastic seats right off the first base side of the field. That all changed in a hurry when a freak storm blew in like a tornado in the 3rd inning and drenched the field before the grounds crew could even get the infield tarp unrolled. Luckily, our seats were well protected under the overhang of the upper deck, and we kicked back and laughed as everyone else ran for their lives. They showed a Styx concert recorded in August at PNC on the big screen during the delay as we talked with Pirates fans while they worked on the field.

Everything just seemed right about the trip. I’ve always been big on setting things right before moving on, and was really glad that my friend’s career wasn’t going to end in that pile of dust and ashes in Atlanta.

Bob came into the game in the fifth with a guy on second with the Snakes down 5-1, and promptly plunked his first batter in the side with his first pitch. A ground ball double play and a strikeout quickly followed as Bobby got out of his mini-jam. Just like old times.

We high-tailed it back to the Westin immediately after the game, pulled 3 tables together to set up the retirement party and waited for the Guest of Honor. Bob introduced us as his “Warrior faithful” to his teammates as they got off the bus and entered the lobby, and after a few autographs we all sat down to catch up with our favorite ballplayer. The “Guest of Honor” made sure none of us paid for a drink the rest of the evening.

Like a bunch of kids that just got the keys to the candy store, we took turns peppering the Big Guy with baseball questions. He told us the circumstances that led to his trade from the Tribe, and that he held no animosity toward anyone in Cleveland. He vigorously defended Eric Wedge and said he always felt he was the right man to lead the young Indians team to the Promised Land. He told me again, as he did in this same park a year ago, that he was concerned about Wedge taking all the heat for the Fausto Carmona closer disaster and the demise of the 2006 Indians team. Bob said that would be totally unfair to him, and felt genuinely sorry if he had added to his troubles last year.

He told us that he had just called Mark Shapiro to congratulate him for winning the division. They had discussed his possible return to the Tribe after the Braves released him, but they both agreed that it would more likely disrupt the bullpen rather than strengthen it. The media and sports blabbers would turn the situation into a circus the first time closer Joe Borowski struggled, and they didn’t need that fiasco heading into the playoffs.

He said the Braves ordeal was largely overblown. He felt that because he only signed a one-year deal with Atlanta that they were going to use him up until his back broke or his arm fell off, whichever came first. When I pointed to Cox using him 5 times in one week back in April and landing him on the DL as the start of his injury problems, he nodded in agreement. He indicated that unless you were in a select group of players on the Braves, anyone with any injuries on that team was deemed a goldbricker that didn’t want to carry his load. We noted for the record that a squabble that spilled over into the press at mid-season between two of the “big-boys” over the seriousness of injuries was quickly hushed up.

 He said his daily routine, which he followed religiously since his 2004 comeback from Tommy John surgery, was misinterpreted as him being a selfish and aloof loner. He said he never once refused to take the ball in a non-save situation as was falsely reported by the Atlanta media, and that Andruw Jones seemed to have a personal axe to grind with him. His demeanor was never a problem to them last year when he saved 18 of 19 games after giving up one earned run in the final 2 months of 2006.

As the evening went on, Bob gave us the good, the bad and the ugly as we ran the gamut of major league players that he had known through the years. There was no bitterness or regret as he spoke about his career, and he refused to dwell on the negatives as he smiled and patted little Garrett on the head and greeted Dback players and coaches that came over to see what all the fun was about. We finally closed the place down at about 2 o’clock after they started flashing the lights to get us up and out.

The clubhouse-cancer jerk tag that was hung around his neck when he was railroaded out of Atlanta was nowhere to be found. That guy with the sour attitude never did exist. This was the same Bob Wickman that I’ve known for the past 7 years. My personal guess is that he just didn’t fit in on a clannish team that should have been torn down and rebuilt a couple of years ago, starting with their out of touch manager.

He caught me off guard when he turned to me and said, "Joe, I think the game has passed me by." Sadly enough, I couldn't disagree with him. Not knowing quite how to answer, I think I told him that his leaving would be baseball's loss. I always felt that Bob belonged more to my father's era of ballplayers rather than this modern group of distant millionaires. It felt like we were all catching up over beers at a family reunion. 

Looking back to how sick I felt when he was released, I was relieved and grateful that he was given this second chance to repair his slandered reputation. Another chance to help a young team make it to the postseason even though he wouldn’t be there with them. His assignment here was to help spell the bullpen so they’ll be fresh for October. To prove he’ll take the ball whenever his team will give it to him, and to finish the season that he started. To finish it his way: on Bob Wickman’s terms. J. Ladd 9-28-07

Click here for more final road trip photos

Cleveland fans click here for in-depth coverage of  Bob's years with the Indians as well as his entire MLB career

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