Joe Galbato and I sat in the same row in calculus class when we were seniors at Jamestown High School. He was in the first seat, I was in the second.
He knew what he was doing.
Joe received good grades in that class.
I received passing grades.
Joe graduated magna cum laude from SUNY Fredonia with a degree in finance and economics.
I graduated summa cum laude from Point Park University with a degree in journalism and communications.
Joe was a stud baseball player at JHS and Fredonia State - he honed his skills as a kid playing pickup games at Rogers Elementary School and ripping the cover off the ball in Little League at Allen Park - and, years later had a "cup of coffee'' at the Philadelphia Phillies spring training facility.
I never made it past Little League.
So when I learned last fall that Joe (JHS Class of '79) had been named deputy commissioner, chief financial officer and chief of the Administration Bureau at the Tennessee Department of Transportation, I wasn't really surprised. Whether it was in calculus class, on the diamond or on the job, Joe, who has also worked in banking and hospital/health care industry, has always produced when the lights were the brightest.
"I've been fortunate,'' Joe said last night from his home in Franklin, Tenn. "I've had a pretty good career.''
But I admit I was stunned to learn that Joe also has an avocation I knew nothing about until he posted a few comments/photos on Facebook over the last year or two: He loves to sing. Well enough, in fact, that he and some buddies have formed their own band - called 4gone - that plays once a month in the Nashville area.
"We're OK,'' Joe said. "We're a bunch of fat, 50-year-old guys, who play Billy Joel, Tom Petty, ZZ Top, John Mellencamp and throw some Beatles in there as well. It's an eclectic mix of '60s, mostly '70s and some '80s stuff. All rock.''
Keep in mind, I was in A Cappella, played bit parts in several school musicals and honked out a few notes on my alto sax for three years and not once did I see Joe in any of those activities.
"I guess some people have mid-life crises,'' Joe said with a laugh. "Some jump out of planes, but I'm not that brave. I like to sing.''
The band, which also includes a guitarist, drummer, keyboardist and bass player, has been practicing/playing gigs since October 2010. Three of the five - the guitarist, the drummer and the keyboardist - have had years of high-level experience, making a night with 4gone quite an event.
"It's a fun party,'' Joe said. "It's kind of a once-a-month thing where we go down to a barbecue place that has a nice big stage. They open the garage doors to an outside patio.
"The last show was a killer."
Several hundred people usually show up there, but at a Franklin festival last year, 4gone played for as many as 600.
"It just kept getting bigger and bigger,'' Joe said.
The band is also writing its own music, but it might be a while before it's played publicly.
"We're like woodworkers,'' Joe said, "and we're tinkering in the garage. At some point, we may make a chair."
But Joe has the ability to keep everything in perspective, dating back to when he was nearly signed to a professional contract by the Phillies in 1987.
"Spring training actually went pretty well,'' Joe said.
In fact, during batting practice one day he took the first pitch he saw from coach and former Major Leaguer Tony Taylor "over the light tower.''
"As soon as I hit it, he screamed,'' Joe said. "I hit the ball well and I got released the next day.''
Upon his release, Joe hopped in his car and drove from Clearwater, Fla. to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was planning to stay with an aunt and uncle. During the five-hour trip, he listened to Midnight Blue by Foreigner and Don't Dream It's Over by Crowded House.
He cried the whole way, knowing his baseball career was over.
But, in many ways, Joe's baseball experiences are serving him well now that he's traded his bat and first baseman's glove for a microphone.
"When I go on stage, it's like when I went on a field for a game,'' he confided. "(I'm thinking), 'Here we go!'''