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The gift: This summer, Wanda Foil touched all the bases, and it was a sight to see

SALISBURY — For almost 10 years, Wanda Osborne Foil had been attending Rowan County American Legion baseball games at Newman Park.

She used to listen to the radio play-by-play in the stands until George became so adept at describing what was happening on the playing field that she just depended on him.

They eventually secured reserved seats in the grandstand behind home plate. From there, Wanda could often hear the umpire’s calls and tell from the ping of the aluminum bat whether a ball was in play.

Wanda, 56, has been blind since birth, and this season she shared a wish with George.

“You know, I’ve never really walked on the baseball field,” she told him, describing how she would love to get a feel for the actual distance between the bases or stroll up the pitcher’s mound or dig around with her feet in the batter’s box.

During the summer, George Foil spoke to Rowan Legion head coach Jim Gantt, who promised to make it happen some day. But the season wore on, and Wanda knew her chance to be on the field might be running out.

“Finally, I told George, ‘This is the last home game; I better do it,'” Wanda recalled. She dressed for the possibility of being on the diamond, and the couple headed off for Newman Park.

When the Rowan Legion game was over that night, and many of the fans were filtering out of the ballpark after a Rowan win, they stopped to see something happening on the field.

Coach Gantt and his team weren’t leaving, and their attention seemed to be focused on Wanda Foil. Soon, Gantt was explaining to Wanda how they were going to run the bases together — first, second and third — before heading for home and scoring the night’s final two runs.

“Yes, ma’am,” Gantt said, “we hit a good one.”

Wanda came prepared. As they set off on a jog from the batter’s box, with Wanda holding one of Gantt’s arms, she turned on a small digital recorder she had brought with her.

Wanda planned to record the experience for two blind friends, Rickey and Vickie London in Elizabethtown in eastern North Carolina. The Londons had become Legion baseball fans with Wanda and listened to the streamed games over the internet every night at home.

“All right, Vickie,” Wanda said as they started toward first. “I’m running! I’m running! I’m running!”

She and Gantt paused at each base to savor the moment, with the coach trying to describe where they were in relation to everything else. Wanda remembers feeling surprised at the 90-foot distance between the bases. It didn’t seem as far as she had imagined.

Wanda was laughing with excitement and woo-wooing much of the way as she also kept talking into the recorder.

“I’m almost home!” she yelled, coming down the third-base line.

The American Legion players had poured out of the dugout and were waiting for their coach and Wanda at home. When she reached the plate, Wanda proclaimed they had scored two additional runs (to the seven Rowan had racked up that night) and declared the final score to be 9-7.

The players — and the fans left in the stands — exploded with applause.

“I thought it was excellent,” says a proud George Foil, looking back on a night the couple will always cherish. “Jim did not ask the players to do what they did.”

Wanda Foil says Gantt’s gesture wasn’t just for her.

“He actually created a good experience for three people who could not see the baseball field,” she says. “That was special because it was such a sweet, natural act of kindness on the part of Jim Gantt and the Rowan County players.

“He did not want a lot of fanfare for that.”

Wanda has never been a person to sit on the sidelines — her parents, Mildred Osborne and the late Grover Osborne — would not allow it. Neither would some of her friends.

They encouraged her to excel and take chances. A deeply devout Christian, Wanda has always been a person who stresses the positive, keeps herself busy and takes on responsibilities.

From kindergarten through seventh grade, Wanda attended the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh. By age 7, she was making the bus trip home to Salisbury on the weekends by herself.

She attended North Hills Christian School as an eighth-grader and starred as Helen Keller in a school production of “The Miracle Worker.” She graduated from East Rowan High School in 1981 and became a summa cum laude graduate in psychology from Pfeiffer College, maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average.

Wanda was fifth in her class at Pfeiffer, and she wasn’t done.

She earned her master’s degree in speech communication at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and went on to teach the fundamentals of speech for two years at Catawba College and speech and communication courses at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for 20 years.

Wanda has conducted communication workshops and often is called on as a motivational speaker. For many years, she was heavily involved with Toastmasters International, serving as a local president and an area governor.

But many people know Wanda from something else. She became interested in music when she was only 2. By 7, she was playing the violin and piano before becoming a devotee of the guitar — she favors the Martin brand.

Wanda sings beautifully. Baxter Myers helped her start her own band when she was 14. At Pfeiffer, she toured the country and traveled to England and Scotland with the school’s elite chamber singers.

As an adult, she sang and played often with the late Paul Hill and the Sunnyside Band. They appeared at church homecomings, reunions and fiddler conventions and on stage at the N.C. State Fair.

Wanda has had plenty of big events in her life, including many when she was a child.

Dolly Parton once dedicated a song to her during a stop in Rowan County. Roy Rogers, the famous cowboy, kissed her on the cheek when he was in Salisbury promoting a movie.

As a kid, she met Barbara Mandrell after a show and decided to devote herself to the guitar after meeting that country star. Wanda can sing about anything — from gospel to Broadway tunes to classical music.

She sang the national anthem once at Newman Park and says she hopes for an opportunity to do that again.

But, maybe, Wanda’s greatest accomplishment was giving birth and raising with George their daughter, Robin, who is now 23.

Wanda’s eyes were not fully developed when she was born. So it was a joyful moment when Robin was born with perfect eyesight back in 1995.

George Foil, a longtime barber just as Wanda’s father was, says he would love to do something else with Wanda when the next American Legion baseball season rolls around. Maybe they could do it some afternoon before a home game.

George thinks it would help Wanda to walk from home plate to the centerfield wall and then along the wall over to the foul poles, just to have a better idea of how expansive the ball diamond is.

But for now, Wanda still holds close to her heart the thought of running around the bases with Coach Gantt.

“You would have thought I was in the major leagues,” she says.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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