JACKSON -- Wade Wacker enjoys his life.
He’s proud of his family. He’s got a successful business. He’s making an impact in young people’s lives through a Christian group called “Reasons for Hope.” He looks back on a high school athletic career at Jackson High School that, in his own words, was “a fairy tale.”
There was a time, however, when he questioned fate. Though today he says his difficult years as a ballplayer in the Minnesota Twins organization helped mold him into a better human being, he didn’t appreciate it while it was happening.
After high school, he became a third-round pick of the Twins -- the 58th pick overall. He went to Elizabethton, Tenn., for rookie ball and suffered a back injury 38 at bats into his career.
“My career was really rough,” Wacker said one recent afternoon while enjoying the summer sun and a slight breeze at Wacker Field in Jackson -- a field named after his coach father, Tyrone.
The first blow was struck in a game in West Virginia.
“We were playing the Cubs, and actually, (former major league player and minor league manager) Cal Ermer came and worked me out. He was the roving advisor. He came and worked me out at noon that day. So we took probably 4- to 500 ground balls. And it was about a hundred degrees that day.”
The two of them then sat and chatted. The team showed up for that day’s game.
“I got up, and I could barely move, I was so stiff.”
But he had to feel better, fast. He was to play in the game and bat second in the order.
Gametime came. The leadoff batter walked, and when Wade stepped up to the plate, the manager called a hit-and-run. Wacker hit a “missile” to the gap, rounded first base and motored to second thinking he might try for a triple.
“I hit second base awkward and my back just exploded,” he recalled. “It felt like somebody shot me with a gun.”
He tried to shake it off. He wasn’t removed. He stayed on second base and, fortunately for him, the next three hitters struck out so he didn’t have to try to take another base.
After the half-inning was over, he went to his position in the field to handle practice balls.
“And I bent over and I never got back up. From that day, it was a struggle,” he said.
Always a fierce competitor, Wacker kept coming back while experiencing off-and-on back problems. In the fall, in instructional league play, he had a recurrence. He came back, and came back, for four more years, but never got healthy. Pushing forward despite the pain, he was finally told that the end of the line had come -- that he had too many other good things going for him to continue attempting a baseball comeback that wasn’t meant to be.A ‘fairy tale’ prep career
That was 1991. Throughout his life, Wacker competed. Hard. He was an athlete who wouldn’t quit, an athlete who had to be told when it was over.
“Zero. I got to do everything. I had a fairy tale for a high school career,” he replied. “I got to letter 16 times in varsity athletics. I got to play right away (as a freshman), and we won. So I don’t have one regret.”
His father Tyrone, now living in Hutchinson, coached Wade while he quarterbacked Jackson to a state high school football championship. The boys basketball team also qualified for a state tournament with Wade leading the way.
Competition is what drove Wade, he said. That may have been, in part, instilled in him by Ty, an old-school kind of coach who played for keeps. But it was also personal.
“Ever since I was born, I could not live with losing. Any game I played -- any card game -- it was my nature,” he said. “And that’s why it’s tough getting old, because you don’t have the chance to compete. Now I just compete at golf, of which I’m no good.”
Wade has been a financial planner since he ended his association with the Twins. In 2011, he sold 80 percent of his Wacker and Associates business to Bank Midwest, but he still owns the name and is still planning financial futures.
He also manages finances for Reasons for Hope, which sends speakers throughout the world encouraging youths in their Christian walk. Eighty-five percent of young people, when they leave high school, don’t come back to the church, Wacker said. They need to be refreshed on why they believed in the first place.
What happened to him with the Twins was a sports tragedy. But Wade smiles easily and often these days. He and his wife Stacey have three children, Joshua, Shadrach and Lacey, and the latter two are continuing their athletic careers in college with the Northwestern Red Raiders. Wade muses that he married up when he landed Stacey.
“I outkicked my coverage,” he says.
He chooses the state high school football championship as his favorite high school memory -- but not the moment it was won.
“You know what the favorite moment was. It was the process. And that’s probably the best coaching my dad ever did. He said, ‘You’ve got to love the process.’”