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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Interview Part 3: Paul Wilmet, Made It

Centennial Field in Burlington, Vt., in 2011. Paul Wilmet played at Centennial as a member of the visiting Harrisburg Senators in 1988. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: So Focused | Part 2: Roster Filled | Part 3: Made It

Part 3

Paul Wilmet always got up early. On this morning, his Oklahoma City 89ers visiting Indianapolis, that practice helped him at least get something to eat.

Mid-way through his morning meal, Paul Wilmet's manager at Oklahoma CIty Jim Skaalen found him. The team was on the road in Indianapolis. Wilmet, Skaalen relayed, needed to hurry up. Wilmet needed to get on a plane.

It took some back and forth for Wilmet to get what Skaalen was telling him: The Rangers minor leaguer was headed to Texas.

"That," Wilmet recalled recently, "was really exciting. I don't even know if I finished my breakfast. That night, I was pitching in the big leagues."

And he was.

Wilmet, eight years removed from his pro debut, also arrived in time to take part in a Ranger team strikeout record. The three pitchers before him, including starter Nolan Ryan, struck out 17. Wilmet provided the 18th.

"It was kind of surreal, you know?" Wilmet said of making it to the bigs. "Especially at my age. I had gone through a lot of crap, gone through a lot of stuff, and made it there in spite of myself."

Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Mass., in 2011. Paul Wilmet's Harrisburg Senators played at Wahconah Park as visitors in 1987 and 1988. (G21D Photo)
Wilmet spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his native Green Bay, where he was visiting family. Since 2004, he has lived in Nashville, working as a singer, songwriter and producer.

Wilmet's path to the majors began back in 1981, when he was first signed by the Mets. The final push, though, didn't begin until 1987, when Wilmet recalled getting start news by team doctors.

That news: If he didn't stop drinking and drugging, in two years he'd be dead.

Wilmet was then in the Cardinals system. By May, he was in the Pirates system. There, Wilmet recalled coming to terms with his addictions.

It was with the Pirates that Wilmet met Sam McDowell, the former major league pitcher who underwent his own substance abuse problems. He was also a former pitcher-turned-addiction counselor. McDowell helped other young Pirate minor leaguers, including Mike York.

Now, McDowell's focus was on Wilmet.

"I decided I needed to get help, because I couldn't stop," Wilmet said. "I was physically addicted."

"Sam worked with me real hard," Wilmet added. "Sam was pretty tough on me."

Coca-Cola Field, formerly Pilot Field, in April 2010. Paul Wilmet played at Pilot Field in 1988. (G21D Photo)
Wilmet also went into rehab. He remembered taking six weeks to get through a 28-day program. Wilmet said he's been clean since.

When he came back, though, Wilmet recalled, everything was different.

Assigned to single-A Salem, the 28-year-old Wilmet went on a tear. In 22 outings, 36 innings of work, Wilmet gave up just two earned runs. That's a 0.50 ERA. He then returned to AA, a level he'd only first played at the year before.

In September, Wilmet recalled, there was even talk he might get called up that September for a series with the Cubs. The call-up never materialized. That had to wait until 1989, Wilmet then with the Rangers.

He debuted in Texas July 25, 1989.

"It was awesome," Wilmet said of his debut, "everything you dream, all coming true. It's hard to describe that first walk out to the mound, it was incredible."

Wilmet came back and pitched three days later, against the Brewers, then again the next night. He sat for a while, and that was it. Wilmet was back in Oklahoma City and he never returned to the bigs.

In all, he got 2.1 innings of work, giving up four earned runs. He also got that one record-setting strikeout.

His arm was also starting to go, he recalled. It had been going bad for a couple of years, but he pitched through it, not telling anybody. But it never really healed.
Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010. Paul Wilmet played at Rosenblatt in 1989 as a member of the visiting Oklahoma City 89ers and in 1990 with the Iowa Cubs. (G21D Photo)
Wilmet finished out the year back at Oklahoma City. For 1990, he signed with the Cubs, playing the year at AAA. He got 25 outings, two starts. Both starts came in the same week, a week where he relieved in three other games.

But didn't get called up to Chicago. It was also his last season as a pro. His arm problems had progressed to the point where he could hardly feel his hand, his elbow was falling out of the groove. He then underwent Tommy John surgery.

Released by the Cubs, Wilmet made one more go at it the next spring with the Orioles, it turned out too soon after the surgery. In his first game, he recalled striking out five guys in a row. Then he blew out his arm, and that was it.

"I always said, if I play one day in the big leagues, that I'll realize my dream, my first dream," Wilmet said. "My second was dream was to have one of my songs on commercial radio and that's happened already. Now all I've got to do is make some money at it."

His playing days over, it took Wilmet a little bit to return to that second dream. He'd stayed in touch with it over the years. He'd bring his guitar with him on the road. His guitar was with him constantly. He also played in the off-season.

A father of four, Wilmet played music locally in his hometown of Green Bay for a few years. He also did other things, too. He even ran a music store for a couple years.

Paul Wilmet in a promotional image from his web site, (Provided)
"Then I just got tired of playing cover songs and had to go somewhere where I could actually write songs, instead of listen to them," Wilmet said.

So, he went to Nashville and tried to meet as many people as he could and tried to write good songs.

"There's a lot of networking that you've got to do," Wilmet said. "It's similar to baseball in that regard, being in the right place at the right time, having the right person hear one of your songs."

One of his songs, "Why," wound up on the album of Karla Davis. Davis was on "The Voice" in 2012. Wilmet has also recorded his own album, "Reality." Wilmet wrote the songs, sings and plays guitar on the album. He also plays drums on one of the tracks. Wilmet also tours, often getting to New York City. (Download Wilmet's album)

"I've had a little bit of success," Wilmet said, "but it's a tough business. It's a lot like baseball, very similar, actually.

"It's real competitive and you've just got to keep doing the right things and wait your turn and, over time, eventually your number comes up."

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

Paul Wilmet's Web site:

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