Your name was Gary Alan Kolb.
But everybody called you “Kolbie.”
Most people knew you. Especially if they were connected to baseball. You were a baseball icon in the Kanawha Valley, Kolbie.
That’s because you had been to “The Show.” You played all or part of seven seasons in Major League Baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals (1960; 1962-63), Milwaukee Braves (1964-65), New York Mets (1965) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1968-69).
That made you very special in our eyes, Kolbie. But it wasn’t just that you had been there, done that. You knew baseball. And you loved to help young players.
Besides that, at 6-foot, 195 pounds, you were a tough guy, Kolbie. Our friend Steve Brown called you the “John Wayne of baseball around here.” It was an apt description.
That’s why we were so stunned and so saddened when we lost you on Wednesday night at the age of 79. You were one of those guys that seemed immortal. None of us are, of course, but you seemed to be.
Remember how we used to sit in our favorite local watering hole named “Bobby’s” in Cross Lanes, Kolbie? I’d watch you salt your beer and then coax you into telling some of your great baseball stories.
My favorite was when you were a teammate of ace pitcher Bob Gibson and catcher Tim McCarver on the St. Louis Cardinals.
The first time McCarver caught Gibson, he flashed the tough-as-nails pitcher a sign. Gibson reacted by motioning McCarver to the mound.
Then, Gibson pointedly told McCarver, “The only thing you know about pitching is it’s hard to hit” and sent the young catcher and his bruised ego back behind the plate.
What a great story, Kolbie. I never got tired of hearing it or telling it. We loved to hang out with you, Kolbie, because you had experienced so much notoriety in your life.
Remember Sept. 29, 1963? That was the day the immortal Stan Musial got the final hit of his Hall of Fame career. So, who came in as Musial’s pinch-runner after that historic hit? None other than you, Kolbie.
The day before the start of the 1964 season, you were traded by the Cardinals to the Braves for a guy that everybody knows — Bob Uecker.
And that’s not all, right, Kolbie?
He also was the last St. Louis Cardinal to wear No. 20 before Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock. The number eventually was retired in Brock’s honor.
You sure did rub elbows with some celebrities, Kolbie. Maybe that’s why we treated you like “our” celebrity. Because you were.
Then, there was the time we got into a conversation about the late Sonny Randle. Long before Randle was Marshall University’s football coach and, later, a broadcaster, he was a star wide receiver for the St. Louis Cardinals in the NFL.
Randle was so fast, the Busch family, who owned both the baseball and football Cardinals, sent him to baseball spring training as a running instructor.
Remember what amazed you about Sonny, Kolbie? He could sprint down a gridiron and catch an 80-yard touchdown pass, but when Randle went into the outfield to shag fungoes, he couldn’t catch anything.
When asked about it, Randle replied, “Kolbie’s right.”
Your name was Gary Kolb, but we called you Kolbie.
You were a “man’s man” and we loved you for that.
Swing away, Kolbie, you’ve been called up again.