This is a story about heroes — good people doing good things. The cast of characters in this performance shares one thing in common: They are strangers to one another. They will meet for the first time via this column. That is what makes this such a good story.
Hero No. 1: Rob Neely, a longtime friend, discovered recently that he would require serious surgery. Fortunately, the procedure seems to have been successful but his recuperation will be lengthy.
Robbie, as he was known back then, and I were classmates at Russell High School in East Point. Neely was the epitome of the scholar-athlete; a member of the National Honor Society and a star on the Wildcats baseball team.
His prowess as an all-star infielder landed him a spot on the Georgia Tech baseball team, where he was part of the Southeastern Conference championship. (This was in the days prior to the Atlantic Coast Conference.) Following college, he became the owner of a successful heating and air-conditioning company in the Atlanta area with a loving family and a host of friends, including me.
Then life decided to take a swing at Rob Neely. As with everything else he does, he faced this difficult moment armed with a strong faith and quiet dignity. There was little that I or anyone else could do but support him through the crisis.
Enter Hero No. 2: Wayne Hogan is the assistant athletic director at Georgia Tech. A few years back, I took one of my snarky shots at Tech after some genius with too much time on her hands decided the way to boost attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium was not necessarily by winning football games but with halftime rap concerts. That was too funny to ignore and I gleefully depicted a bunch of old white guys in tweed coats watching Huff n’ Puff sling his bling and wondering if their T-Square world was coming to an end.
A large number of Tech fans took umbrage with me (go figure) but Mr. Hogan wrote and complimented me on my humor, if not my subject. That is the way to deal with smart-aleck columnists — disarm them with kindness.
When I learned of Neely’s situation, I contacted Hogan and asked if it would be possible to get a baseball signed by the Georgia Tech baseball team, not realizing they were in the midst of the ACC tournament in Charlotte and would be headed to Nashville competing for a berth in the College World Series. It wasn’t like he didn’t have anything else to do. However, he made the request a priority and got the baseball, signed by Coach Danny Hall and all the players.
Just one problem: Hogan had to be in Nashville immediately and couldn’t get the ball to me. He mentioned his travels would take him through Marietta en route to Nashville. Was there any place there he could drop off the ball?
Enter Hero No. 3: Donna Krueger runs a successful art gallery in Marietta. I made a semi-panicked call to her, trying in 30 seconds or less to explain what was going on. Would it be possible for a nice man who was in a big hurry to drop off a baseball at her gallery? After all, what is an art gallery without a baseball or two? Happily, she said “yes,” and the transfer was made.
A couple of days later, I was able to pick up the baseball — along with a Georgia Tech baseball cap and shirt — and deliver it to Rob prior to his surgery. The gift was — pardon the pun — a home run. The fact that it came from an unrepentant Georgia Bulldog made it even more special, I suspect.
As the curtain comes down on our story, Neely is on the slow road to recovery. Hogan is getting ready for the upcoming Yellow Jacket football season — minus Huff ‘n Puff and his bling. Krueger continues to promote and purvey fine art at dk Gallery in Marietta.
The Georgia Tech baseball team didn’t make it to the College World Series this year but they are collective heroes for the boost they gave one of their own when he needed it most.
My sincerest appreciation to a group of people who didn’t know each other until today and now understand the part they played in the story of good people doing good things. They are strangers no more.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.