Few, outside of classmates and area coaches would have cause to remember him. And that’s a shame…because former Fairborn attorney and high school basketball official Gary Wright was, in a word, special.
A few weeks ago I received an email from a baseball acquaintance and former teammate of Fairborn native Gary Wright in the Kansas City Royals organiation.
“I don’t know if you’re aware,” the email read. “But this week is the anniversary of Gary Wright’s death in 2004. I know you wrote about him back then and just wondered if you still remember his passing?”
Sadly, almost embarrassingly, I had forgotten, as it goes with many things after that many years.
Gary, were he living today, would have been 64 years of age, my own age, and the circumstances of how I came to know him stick out in my mind as if they happened last summer.
As I was coming up through the minor league umpiring ranks in the late 70s, Gary Wright was a promising lefthanded pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. I had him in Double A (Jacksonville, Fla), and in Triple A (Omaha, Nebraska) for parts of three minor league seasons.
But it was in Jacksonville, during a rainout one night, when he approached me in the dugout of old Wolfson Stadium and introduced himself.
“I see in the Southern League umpire roster that you’re from Piqua, Ohio,” he said. “I wonder if we didn’t play against each other in high school because I graduated from Fairborn.”
If we had met previously I didn’t remember, but he went on to share with me that while I had pitched at Ohio State he had played at Miami, in Oxford. He apparently was very good, drafted by the Royals after his graduation (magna cum laude) from Miami in 1974.
He was good minor league pitcher, but never a great one, working primarily in relief and very effective against lefthanded hitters, as I remember. He threw strikes with movement, and he was dependable.
But he was otherwise unique, as well. For all the while he was working on getting to the big leagues…he was also working on getting his law degree from Ohio State University.
I remember nights in Omaha, seeing Gary in the bullpen, not partaking in regular professional baseball time-killing activities, but rather studying his law books. He shared with me that he carried them with him everywhere, intent on preparing for life when baseball was over.
“Let’s face it,” he would tell me. “If they wanted me up there (Kansas City) they’d have me by now.”
I don’t really know when Gary left baseball, but after I was done after the ’81 season I lost track of him and didn’t see him again for several years. Until…at a basketball game one night in Tipp City, writing for a different sports website at the time, I was sitting on the baseline and recognized Gary Wright as one of the game officials.
We smiled and introduced ourselves again, like old army buddies from WWII, mutually glad to see each other. He was interested in what I was doing, while sharing that since baseball he had been practicing law in Fairborn. He also had become one of the area’s most respected referees.
Gary could do a lot of things, and apparently did them well. He was a member of several halls of fame, including Miami University’s, he served on the Fairborn school board for a decade, and was just generally one of those people that everyone respected, especially coaches. More than one commented at the time that Gary took officiating as seriously as he took the law.
And then on December 16, 2004, I received the awful news that Gary had passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a car wreck. At the time it was a shock – a guy who had worked so hard, for so long, to do so much, to have passed before he could fully appreciate the fruits of his commitment. My friend from Indy actually sent me the copy of what I wrote back then.
“Gary Wright took with him a lot of things good…his character, his commitment, and a most interesting background.”
Some of us still remember.