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SideLines: To know him was to know a friend

Published: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 10:32 a.m. CDT

I only met him once in person, which was half as many times as I talked to him on the phone, but it didn’t matter. I considered him a friend.

That’s the kind of guy he was.

As a friend, I was deeply saddened to learn that Robert Schweiger passed away in his sleep March 26, apparently of natural causes.

“Laying down for a nap, getting on his phantom horse and riding into the hereafter. ... (Bob) has entered his last adventure,” Arlene Gochee, a former classmate of his at Shabbona High School, wrote in an email.

“He was a good friend.”

A one-eyed, left-handed catcher on one of Shabbona’s most successful high school baseball teams, Schweiger drove opposing batters crazy with his constant banter behind the plate. Among many other things, the 83-year-old was a freelance writer, penning articles for national magazines; a local radio show host; an animal enthusiast who earned a Life Patron’s Award from the National Bird Dog Foundation; a charter member of the International Long Riders Guild; and a special deputy sheriff in Russell County in Alabama, where he lived for many years.

“I’ve always been a dreamer and I’ve followed those dreams,” he wrote in his 2013 memoir, “The MisAdventures of an Old Saddle Tramp.” One of the more amusing tales was the time he flipped his Ford Model A over at second base while celebrating a home victory with a motorized victory lap around the diamond.

“He was always a character,” recalled former teammate Ed Friestad of DeKalb. “He did all kinds of crazy things. That’s just the way he was.”

Like Saul Bellow’s fictional Augie March, Mr. Schweiger was one of those real life guys who lived life the way it was meant to be: all-out, no questions asked, no looking back and wondering later if he should have done something differently. And when the end inevitably came, I was told he didn’t want a memorial service or any kind of fuss. Those of us who remember him will keep our memories however we want, and for those who didn’t know him, it’s too bad because you don’t know what you missed.

I will remember our two lengthy phone conversations, not only about the book and playing ball, but of local people and places, including trips to my grandfather’s barbershop in Lee. Since my grandfather passed away when I was 8, and my own memories of him are growing dim, that meant a lot to me.

Like my late uncle – whom he also knew and played against – Mr. Schweiger was one of those guys who brings a smile to your face whenever you hear his name. It’s too bad there wasn’t time to write another book; like his life, his first wasn’t long enough.

Speaking of local sports, I recently wrote that the Sycamore High School boys basketball team never reached the state tournament. I based that on Illinois High School Association records, the governing body of Illinois High School sports. A reader called to say the Spartans reached Sweet Sixteen in 1929, 1930 and 1932, which he says was the equivalent of today’s state tournament.

Not being an expert, all I know is that high school sports records are often sketchy. Unfortunately, sometimes, so are our memories of many of those who set those records, so it’s good to remember them while we can.

Actually, it’s good to remember anyone anytime, any way we can.

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