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Woodbury author chronicles a lifetime in sports

Bob Wilber’s new book “Bats, Balls & Burnouts” is an autobiography about his life working in sports. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia

Bob Wilber grew up in a St. Louis-area household with a father who worked in Major League Baseball and a mother employed in radio and public relations.

His upbringing might explain how Wilber's life has consisted of a career path found in many people's dreams. Earlier this year, the Woodbury resident published a new book, called "Bats, Balls, and Burnouts: A life of Sports, Marketing, and Mayhem" to chronicle the life he has lived while working in sports.

Wilber decided to pursue his dream of writing the autobiography at the end of 2015, leaving a 20-year career as a team manager and public relations representative on the NHRA tour.

Today, he is going to many of those same race venues to sign his books.

"The thing that I like the most and am most proud of is how many people wrote reviews and said, 'I wasn't a race fan, I don't know anything about this stuff,'" Wilber said about reviews on Amazon. "This isn't a racing book. This is a life story. There just happens to be racing in it, or there happens to be baseball in it.'"

Wilber grew up as the son of baseball player Del Wilber, an MLB catcher who later worked as a coach, scout and manager. His mother worked as a radio personality at KMOX in St. Louis and a front-office employee for the Cardinals.

"Bats, Balls, and Burnouts" dives into how his parent's unique occupations helped shape his life.

"I start the book by saying I am the luckiest kid in the world," Wilber said. "It starts with that. Nobody can pick their parents. It just happens, and I got lucky."

After graduating from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he played baseball, Wilber played in the minor leagues for the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A's systems. From there, his career in sports and marketing included stops as a baseball scout, a general manager for professional indoor soccer teams and eventually a long career in racing.

Interestingly enough, Wilber did not see his first drag race until he was the general manager of the Heartland Park Topeka race track. However, this did not stop him from becoming a manager and public relations expert in the NHRA, including writing a blog at that became a fan favorite. His blog's success was based on the fact that it did not rehash information from the day's races. Instead, it included interesting details about life.

"It just became wildly popular, and it was about nonsense," Wilber said. "It was like Jerry Seinfeld. It was a blog about nothing, the last thing it was about is the race car."

Wilber's decision to write a book included a move to leave a steady paycheck at his NHRA career. After 20 years of traveling the country with different race teams, he was ready for a life change.

"I still loved the people, I loved the racing," Wilber said. "I was just really getting burned out on the travel. It's hard, travel, it's not glamorous anymore. It's really hard. The airplanes are tough, they are all sold out, the lines are long, the rental car lines are long. Everything takes awhile."

Being that the book was self-published, Wilber received help from his fans to cover some of the costs of the project. He and his wife, Barbara Doyle, decided he should do some fundraising for those costs.

His Kickstarter raised $22,500 from just 100 backers — an average of $250 per person.

Wilber says he did not write "Bats, Balls, and Burnouts" with a single message in mind for readers.

Instead, the book explained how he lived his life, which is not the same for everyone.

"I had to do what I loved, and I sought that out, always," Wilber said. "Anytime there was a decision to be made. I did it with my gut. And I followed that dream of, 'I want to do something I love.' If you love it, it is not work."