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Monday, March 25, 2013

Interview Part 1: Paul Wilmet, So Focused

Oneonta's Damaschke Field in 2009. Paul Wilmet played at Damaschke in 1981 in his first year as a pro at short-season Little Falls. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: So Focused | Part 2: Roster Filled | Part 3: Made It

Part 1

Paul Wilmet worked hard to get back into baseball twice, first after scouts passed him over out of high school and later returning from injury.

Now, in spring 1987, Wilmet had more hard work to do, getting himself clean of alcohol and drugs.

That winter, the career minor leaguer played ball in Venezuela, using the time in between outings to drink and abuse prescription drugs, all activities he had become familiar with in the years previous.

Returning to the states, and undergoing his team physical, Wilmet was given the stark news: If he continued with his drinking and drugging, it wasn't just his career that would be in jeopardy, it was his life.

In fact, the doctors even put a timeline on it: If he didn't stop, in two years, he'd be dead, Wilmet recalled recently.

"I knew I was in trouble," Wilmet recalled to The Greatest 21 Days. "I was down to about 140 pounds. I had no concentration."

So, Wilmet set about to do just that, clean himself up. Soon, he was in rehab.

"When I came out - I've told this story a million times - the first time I got into a game after that, I was so focused. I felt so healthy. ... I was just in really good shape, and the concentration level - I just went on an unbelievable roll."

A pitcher delivers to the plate at Reading's FirstEnergy Stadium in 2010. Paul Wilmet made Reading's Eastern League rival Harrisburg in 1987, after coming out of rehab. (G21D Photo)
Two years later, Wilmet was far from dead. He was in the major leagues.

Wilmet not only used that new-found focus to reach his ultimate goal in baseball, he's also used it in the years since, to reach his ultimate goal in his other profession, music.

Wilmet has always loved music, touring with regional bands out of high school, playing bars around the upper Midwest after the scouts passed him over in baseball.

He now lives in Nashville, serving as a producer, as well as a singer-songwriter. He's put out his own album, "Reality," and he's even gotten one of his songs, "Why," recorded by singer Karla Davis, who appeared on TV's "The Voice." (Link: Download Wilmet's album)

Wilmet spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his native Green Bay, where he was visiting family.

He covered his youth in Wisconsin, growing to love both baseball and music, his time away from the game after high school, living off his music. He also spoke of the letter-writing campaign that got him back in baseball.

Once back in the game, it then took him into his ninth pro season, getting past all his personal obstacles and the obsticales put up by the game itself, to make it to the majors.

And, while his major league stint was brief, just three outings, Wilmet also recalled it as the fulfillment of a childhood dream, to play in the bigs.

Reading's FirstEnergy Stadium in 2010. Paul Wilmet made Reading's Eastern League rival Harrisburg in 1987, after coming out of rehab. (G21D Photo)
He has since gone on to realize another childhood dream - to have one of his songs played on the radio.

Wilmet grew up around Green Bay in both an athletic family and a musical one. His brother Steve Wilmet was good enough to play pro ball in the Dodgers organization. On the music side, his mother was choir director at their church, a post she held for 65 years.

Wilmet remembered starting to play the piano when he was 10 years old. He remembered starting to play baseball as soon as he could walk.

"That's all I've ever really done is baseball and music," Wilmet said. "They kind of just share the time."

In baseball, Wilmet always seemed to play against the older kids. He also got to play catch with his hard-throwing brother Steve.

Green Bay's Lambeau Field in 2006. Paul Wilmet grew up in nearby De Pere, Wisc. (G21D Photo)
"That's all we did in the summertime, play baseball," Wilmet said, "from the time the sun came up to the time the sun went down."

In high school, Wilmet pitched well, but he also ran into injury. On a cold and rainy day, Wilmet's foot slipped out from under him at first, dislocating his hip. "It was one of the worst things I've ever felt lin my life," Wilmet recalled. "That was pretty tough."

He let it heal, but that and that he was from off the beaten path for scouts up north, combined to result in no interest from the pros.

That's when he turned to his music. He'd started on the piano when he was 10. In junior high, though, they needed a drummer and he was the one asked to do that, "and I kind of took to it."

After high school, he also took it on the road, playing with multiple bands, touring around the region making good money playing mostly Top 40 hits.

A few years of that, though, and Wilmet's thoughts turned to another kind of hit, trying to stop those hits as a professional pitcher.

He wanted to at least try.

"I knew I could play," Wilmet said. "I've never been one to have the 'what ifs.' I didn't want to wake up when I was 50 say 'well, what if I'd have done this."

"I just knew I could play and I really wanted to play," Wilmet said, "and I pestered everybody until somebody gave me a shot."

Somebody finally did and Wilmet was on his way to the pros.

Go to Part 2: Roster Filled

Part 1: So Focused | Part 2: Roster Filled | Part 3: Made It


  1. Would love to reconnect with Paul he was a great roomy Springfield redbirds 1984, luv that guy

  2. Great guy! Great Story