Phil Roof – Catcher from Paducah
Phil Roof was my second interview (and fifth, I’ll explain later), and cornerstone #2 of Just Like Me, along with Jim Hickman, Boog Powell, and a player to be named later. As with Mr. Hickman and Boog, Phil is a great storyteller, and even though he had initially told me in a letter that, “56 years ago is a long time,” and he didn’t remember much from his childhood, once we met, the stories he told me were many and gold.
I got my first Phil Roof Topps baseball card in the summer of 1971, and it was as valuable to me as my Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, or Willie Mays cards. Why you ask is a Phil Roof card as valuable as a Brock, Gibson, Aaron, or Mays? Well, it’s right there, see it …
Phil’s hometown is Paducah, KY. Lou Brock’s hometown is El Dorado, AR., Gibson’s is Omaha, NE, and both Aaron and Mays are from Alabama. I had no idea where those places are, but I knew where Paducah was. That’s where my dad works; my Mom shops in downtown Paducah, and that’s where the local news broadcast. As a seven-year-old kid, there is something special about seeing a town you know on the back of a baseball card, and that made my Phil Roof card untouchable.
As I mentioned, I had written Phil asking for an interview, and he wrote back very quickly. At this point, I must say that Phil is such a gracious and accommodating person, so when he wrote me back, he told me no, without even telling me no. Being someone that doesn’t always pick up on the obvious clues, I wrote back and again asked for an interview. This time … I was ghosted!
Enter my golfing buddy, Tom. As we were playing a round of golf, I mentioned I had tried to set up an interview with Phil Roof, and the next comment I heard was, “I know Phil.” Now, I’m not a believer in “fate,” but after what happened with Jim Hickman and Boog Powell, I’m beginning to think, “maybe this is something I’m supposed to do.” So, I asked Tom if he could ask Phil if he would sit down with me. At that point, I left it up to “fate.” It was becoming apparent that “fate” was going to play some kind of role in this project. I filed this opportunity away and moved on to my next group of players.
Seven days later, I found myself back on the golf course when my phone rang (99% of the time I turn off the ringer on my phone … “fate?”). “Hello, this is Kelly.” “Kelly, this is Phil Roof; I’m in Murray and can meet you at Crackle Barrel for an interview if you’re free.” Within 30 minutes, I was sitting across the table from Phil and his wife, Linda; the problem was, Phil and Linda were sitting with their backs to the window, and I was facing the window. Usually, that would not be a problem, but it was a sunny day, and I was two weeks away from having cataract surgery … I could not see anything in their direction, only the outline of their body. I couldn’t even see the expressions on their faces; it was simply blank. So, as Phil was telling me some fantastic stories from his childhood, here I sat, blinded by the light, without my recorder, and believing I’ve just screwed up this interview completely. I took the best notes I could, thanked Phil and Linda for their time, and we parted ways.
It is four weeks later, and I’ve interviewed and recorded two more players (I finally learned my lesson and bought a digital recorder), and I know one thing … I’ve got to call Phil Roof back for a recorded interview. I called Phil and, with no hesitation, said “Yes” to a second interview. His stories are entertaining, and even though he initially thought he would not remember much from his childhood, his stories were many. The Roof family had ten kids, nine of those being boys. Of those nine boys, five played professionally; two played at the Major League level; they even had two cousins that played professionally. Phil, his brothers, and friends had many adventures that you will enjoy reading. How many high school baseball teams will load the entire team into a pickup truck to travel to an away game? What happened to the truck, the team, and Phil during this trip is something you’ve got to read; I even had other Pros mention they had heard this story before and admitted they never experienced something like this. Phil talks about his first experience with pizza, learning how to throw a fastball with one finger (obviously not the best method), and Phil’s tendency to break his friend’s equipment.
After thinking back over the 36 player interviews for this book, my second visit with Phil is one of the more critical interviews I did for several reasons; the stories, the validation, and the credibility of this project. I very much appreciate Phil Roof having the time and patience to meet with me and add to a growing book of sandlot stories.