Bob DeFries loves to talk sports, particularly baseball. Sit in his Farm Bureau Insurance office for a little while, and sooner or later you’ll be talking about the trade deadline. Happen to be a Cubs fan? Good luck leaving.
DeFries, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, ironically loves the Cubs. Growing up just blocks from where the White Sox play, he understands if his Cubs fandom might seem preposterous. But he won’t hesitate to tell you how it came to be.
And he won’t hold back his feelings from watching his beloved Cubbies finally win that elusive World Series title.
Hesitation creeps into his mind, though, when speaking of one specific baseball star: Bob DeFries.
DeFries was inducted into the Brother Rice High School Circle of Champions a year ago, and, frankly, he didn’t jump at the chance to broadcast the news. Sure, he was appreciative and honored, but he’d rather talk about the Cubs’ chances to repeat.
Humble or not, DeFries was no slouch on the mound. He led Brother Rice to a Catholic League title in 1966, a season in which he struck out 86 batters. He struck out 59 a year later. He finished with a 14-5 record and one no-hitter.
He became the school’s first player taken in the MLB Draft, selected by his hometown White Sox in 1967.
But don’t ask DeFries about it. He’ll mostly shrug it off and joke that his bio for the draft gave him a bit too much credit.
But an induction into the Circle of Champions and a Cubs victory parade opened the big right hander’s mind. He still won’t give himself much publicity as a player, but the recent baseball victories in his life have given him a chance to reflect on his career and his life as a baseball fan.
“With age, emotion kind of comes with things,” DeFries told me one afternoon in his office as we discussed his recent induction. “And they certainly surface even more when I reflect back on this.”
The term “taking it for granted,” may be a bit harsh, but DeFries admitted baseball came pretty easy to him back in the day. He was good at it and in love with it, so it became a part of his day-to-day routine. He simply became a prisoner of the present.
Now, a prestigious award on his shelf next to his desk and his 50-year class reunion looming, his memory has triggered those good times he may have once overlooked.
“I wish I would have had a better appreciation of that at that time,” he said thinking back to his high school days.
Quickly, DeFries’ recollection of his high-school career shifted to memories of playing catch with his dad. It became a discussion of watching White Sox and Cubs games growing up and what it meant for him to be a baseball fan in Chicago.
He focused on his teammates and coaches and how they kind of lost touch over the years. They’ll reconnect at the reunion, something he’s most looking forward to.
But DeFries’ jog down memory lane became less about him as the discussion progressed. He didn’t have regrets, per say, but he had sage advice based on the experience.
“Sometimes you take things for granted like that,” he said. “I think that’s where my mistake was. I was just having fun; it came easy for me. I didn’t really focus on it when I should have.”
DeFries shares his memories because it brings him joy, and he hopes that joy resonates with younger athletes today. He wants kids to soak in the experiences now so they’re even more enjoyable as memories down the road.
Sports don’t last forever.
“If you can just grow up, advance in your years mentally even though you’re 17 years old or 18 years old, I think that will speak volumes for you going forward,” he said.
DeFries is digging deep into the vault of his memory bank as he prepares for his class reunion. He’s excited to see his old teammates, share stories and soak in as much of the good times as he can, all while creating new memories.
And he won’t hesitate to share those memories down the road.
“At my age,” he quipped, “there’s more time for reflection than there is forward planning.”