An Air Force vet with time on his hands won the chance to be Hal McCoy's driver. See how Day 1 went.
By HAL MCCOY FS Ohio
CINCINNATI — Ray Snedegar pulled his Lexus into the driveway about 35 minutes ahead of our scheduled departure — and, no, I didn’t choose him to be my driver because he drives a Lexus. That’s just an, uh, side benefit.
“I’m early,” he said as he showed up at the front door. “I’m so excited I couldn’t wait.”
Snedegar was about to make his first 75-mile journey down I-75 from my Engelwood, Ohio, home to Great American Ball Park, his first voyage as my driver/chauffeur to Cincinnati Reds games.
The ride went without a hitch, other than a slight delay north of Cincinnati when a tractor-trailer flattened the back end of a black Toyota station wagon.
“Welcome to I-75,” I told him.
But he is used to it. He drives even farther during the winter from his Centerville, Ohio home to Lexington, Ky., whenver his beloved Kentucky Wildcats play a home basketball game — a 270-mile round trip.
On our trip today for Opening Day, he regaled me with his story of a famous airplane disaster, one on which he was aboard as a military loadmaster.
It was 1975 and the government put together Operation Babylift to rescue kids in Saigon because North Vietnam was encircling the city.
There were 310 people aboard a C5 transports. At 23,000 feet, a rear door on the plane blew out, sucking out some passengers. And the plane crashed in the jungle near the Saigon River, 4½ miles from a runway.
There were 135 children and adults killed. Snedegar was one of the 175 to survive and he helped rescue survivors.
He picked up his credentials at the media gate and quickly discovered it read, ‘Ryan Snedegar,’ instead of Ray, a big disappointment for a guy who looked forward to having the credential. But the Reds quickly and graciously issued him a new one with ‘Ray Snedegar’ on it and he made the rounds as I introduced him to everybody — including a quick stop in the radio booth to meet Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley.
He met famous Los Angeles Dodgers scout Carl Lowenstein and all the support people and said, “It is still three hours until game time and I’ve already had a great day.”
Snedegar has a lot of drive in his life — and he needs a whole lot more.
Snedegar is the sole survivor of 437 volunteers to be my driver to and from Reds games this season — a 180-mile round trip from his Centerville to my Englewood home to Great American Ball Park and back.
For 81 games, that’s 14,580 miles, more than halfway around the earth.
For 10 years I have been legally blind from strokes of the optic nerves in both eyes and the last time I drove a car, shortly after the vision blurred in my eyes, I wrecked it. Then parked it. Forever.
Snedegar is replacing my former driver, retired school administrator Larry Glass, who did it for five years and was late twice, both times with car problems.
Glass was forced to take his foot off the pedal due to health reasons, so in search of a replacement I posted a notice in my personal blog, hoping to receive a dozen or so solid offers.
My inbox filled, 437 offers after last count. Some were for weekend duty, some wanted to do it one time, some wanted to be part of a carpool.
There was an offer from a man in Dubai, who wrote, “If I can be your driver, I’ll return to the United States.”
There was an offer from a man in Florida, who wrote, “I have an RV here in Florida, but If you want me to drive I’ll bring the RV to Dayton and be your driver.”
Amazingly, offers came from all over — male, female, college students, senior citizens, budding journalists who wanted to pick my brain, firemen, policemen, lawyers, truck drivers, professors and the unemployed.
Snedegar’s email jumped out at me. He said all the right things.
He was the first I contacted and I invited him to lunch. Within five minutes, I knew: “This is the guy.”
He is retired from the Air Force, “where I was a loadmaster for 31 years, four months and 21 days, but who’s counting?”
He lost his beloved wife, Barbara, on Nov. 19, 2011 and said to himself, “What now? I’d still get up at 6:30 in the morning, read the paper, drink my coffee and ask myself, ‘What now?’ ”
To keep busy Snedegar volunteers at the National Museum of the USAF at Wright Patterson Air Force Museum and works part time at Routsong Funeral Home in Centerville.
When he saw my blog, Snedegar sent his email, “Because it would give me a chance to mix and mingle with a lot of new people after losing my wife. I love baseball and I love Hal’s writing.”
To be certain he was the right man, I emphasized there was no pay, just 55 cents a mile and he said, “No problem there,” and I made certain he knew there were long, long hours. For day games, I leave my home at 1:30 in the afternoon for the hour-and-15 minutes it takes to get to GABP and usually it is close to 1 a.m. when we return.
“That’s fine with me,” he said. “I’m used to long hours. As loadmaster, I also flew on the planes, and some flights were 12-and-14 hours and a few were 15-to-17 hours, so I’m used to long days.”
And the driving?
“I love to drive,” he said. “I’m a season-ticket holder for University of Kentucky basketball games and it is 2
½ hours one way for the drive to all the home games. I’m also a season-ticket holder to the University of Dayton basketball games.”
And now he is a media credentials holder for the Cincinnati Reds.