I have been living in Wood County off and on since 1981. I have been coming to Wood County since my birth in 1950. In that time I have had the opportunity to meet many unforgettable people.
We lost one of Wood County and Mineola’s real “characters” this past week. Robert Daniel Speights, 77, of Mineola was a unique individual. He was Bobby Dan to everyone who knew him, and he was a special person who basically lived his life doing things for other people, trying to help youngsters and adults find their way through the ups and downs we call life.
He worked for many years as Wood County Probation Officer. In that capacity he helped many young adults, and probably a few older ones too, change their lives and become productive citizens in the world. He believed everyone should get a second chance, and many times he made sure some folks got all the chances they needed to make it in the world.
I met Bobby Dan through summer baseball and his Mineola Bomber organization, which became one of the state’s premier baseball operations over the years. For many years it was the American Legion Bombers. Over the years it developed into more than one team and included several age groups.
Bobby Dan took his teams all over the Southwest and would go just about anywhere he could find competition. His teams won state and national recognition. His former players have played professionally, and many have a college education through his efforts on their behalf. David McNichol from Grand Saline said, “A lot of us would have never played college baseball had it not been for Bobby Dan.”
He was a uniquely interesting person with a dry sense of humor who probably forgot more baseball than the rest of us will ever know. He based his teams out of Mineola, but players came from all over East Texas to wear a Bomber uniform.
Mineola Athletic Director Luke Blackwell said Bobby Dan will be missed. “There is just no way Bobby Dan can ever be replaced. He meant so much to the kids and people of our school district. He had a servant’s heart and was always doing things for others,” Blackwell commented. “He did all the things behind the scenes that nobody else really knew about. He made sure our kids had everything they needed in the way of rings and snacks and things for out-of-town trips. He always had a couple of barbeques for the coaches. He had an incredible gift for organization, and he made sure everything was done exactly right. I could never overstate his value to our program and this district.”
Many of his former players entered the coaching field. My son Cory is one of them. Cory is now a softball coach at Lake Highlands High School after a stint as head baseball coach. “I enjoyed playing and learning the game of baseball from this man. When he invited me to play with the ‘big guys’ when I was just 13, I was so excited,” Cory noted. “And even though we may have had our differences in the last year I played for him, I respected him. What I didn’t understand then, I do now, because I know he saw more in me than I could see in myself, and that was his way of pushing me to become more confident in my abilities.”
Kyle Slaton, a former Mineola Yellowjacket and National High School Baseball Coach of the Year at Nashville, Ark., played for Bobby Dan. “He was an American Legion legend. He loved his players and loved the game of baseball. There were some great times in my life playing for the Mineola Bombers,” Slaton observed. “He will be missed by many.”
Texas A&M University head baseball Coach Rob Childress from Harmony was one of Bobby Dan’s Bombers. Childress’ catcher was a big guy named Doug Lindsey, who played professionally for many years, I believe in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Lindsey was legendary for the mammoth homeruns he blasted as a high schooler at Harmony and for the Bombers. One night I saw Lindsey knock out the lights in Mineola on the little league field which was beyond the left field fence of the Bombers field some 400 feet away with one of his moon shots and Bobby Dan just said, “That ain’t nothing, you ought to see him when he really hits one.”
Frankston High School legend Paul Coleman, who played in the St. Louis Cardinal organization, was one of Bobby Dan’s guys. Coleman set hitting records in Texas that still stand today. If I’m not mistaken, Lindale phenom Pat Mahomes, not the Kansas city quarterback, but his dad, played for the Bombers and went on to a successful pro career as a pitcher primarily with the Twins, but also the Mets, Red Sox, Rangers and Pirates.
Even in the past couple of years, you could always find Bobby Dan at one of the Mineola athletic facilities feverishly working to make sure concession stands were working smoothly and special projects were getting done. He was known for his fish frying expertise and making sure everybody had plenty to eat during the spring track meet in Mineola.
Bobby Dan Speights was definitely a one-of-a-kind man, a damn good man. He will be missed by many. I miss him already. Rest in peace my old friend.