Thursday, June 25, 2009

I owned Bob Feller. Well, sort of.

Rapid Robert Feller can still bring it.

OK, so his 100 mph fastball is now a 40 mph meatball.

But, what the hey, cut the guy some slack. He is, after all, 90 years old. The mere fact he can still deliver strikes from 60 feet, 6 inches off a 10-inch high mound at his age is pretty amazing.

Feller, the oldest living Baseball Hall of Famer, took the hill for two batters in last Sunday's Father's Day game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. The author of three major league no-hitters yielded a single to fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and delievered a high-and-tight pitch that prompted former Rochester Red Wing Bobby Grich to charge the mound in mock anger.

Feller then came out of the game to loud applause from the more than 7,000 spectators.

Rapid Robert provided me with one of my favorite baseball-playing moments back in the summer of '77 (that's 1977, not 1877 for all you smart alecks out there. ;-)

I was a 22-year-old sportswriter covering the Mets' Class A, New York-Penn League affiliate in Little Falls, N.Y. for the Little Falls Evening Times, and Feller came to town to sign autographs at the ballpark.

Before the game, he took the mound, resplendent in his old Cleveland Indians uniform, and threw four pitches apiece to a handful of local 'celebrities.' I put that word in single quotes because yours truly was one of the designated celebs.

As a sold-out crowd of 3,000 looked on, I dug in. Feller went into his trademark, high-kicking windup and delivered a batting practice offering straight down the pike. I was so excited to be batting against one of the most dominant pitchers of all-time that I almost cork-screwed myself into the ground while fouling the pitch off my right foot.

The crowd roared with laughter.

"Now, we see why you write about sports rather than play them,'' bellowed one of the leather-lunged spectators, who sounded as if he had already imbibed a few too many Utica Clubs.

I turned as red as a St. Louis Cardinal.

Feller's second serving was every bit as good, and I lined a base hit to right field.

I stroked the third pitch to center and the final offering to left.

Three hits in four at-bats vs. the immortal Bob Feller.

I could now tell my children and grandchildren, and anyone else who would listen that I once had my way with a Hall-of-Fame hurler.

Years later, before interviewing Feller at an oldtimer's game in Buffalo, I mentioned that night in Little Falls to him.

Feller grew defensive.

"Geez,'' he said. "I was 58 at the time and I wasn't throwing hard because I didn't want to embarass anyone.''

I told him I understood that and that I didn't bring it up to be disrespectful. I just wanted to thank him for taking it easy on me and giving me the thrill of a lifetime.

I wasn't bothered by his response. In a way, it was kind of cool, hearing that kind of fire from a guy in his 60s.

And I thought it was even cooler when I read that he had taken the mound as a 90-year-old.

Once a competitor, always a competitor.


The Chinese government reported that the 2008 Olympics in Beijing turned a profit, not counting the construction costs for the venues and infrastructure. Yeh, right. And nobody was killed during those protests in Tianenmen Squre. In fact, the protests never happened. Just a bunch of propaganda created by the Western media.


For those soccer fanatics who believe the United States' upset of top-seeded Spain yesterday marks the arrival of their game as a major sport in this country, consider this: The news of Shaq joining LeBron in Cleveland received bigger play, as did several mid-season baseball games. The upset was a step, but the reality is that soccer will never be as big here as it is in most countries beacuse we have too many sporting alternatives already firmly established. That's not meant as a knock, just reality.

Speaking of Shaq, if he helps LeBron win the NBA championship, the big guy will be able to say that he helped Kobe, Dwayne Wade and King James get their rings. And, therefore, he'll claim that HE, not THEY, was the difference between being a champion or an also-ran.

David Stern has to be hoping that it's a Lakers-Cavs finals next year. Imagine what a soap opera that will be? You'll have two great story lines: Kobe vs. LeBron and Kobe vs. Shaq.

I was among the minority of writers who said the Yankees should have kept Joe Torre as their manager. What Joe T has done with the Manny-less Dodgers and what Joe Girardi isn't doing with a stacked roster in the Bronx is just further validation that the Steinbrenner boys and Brian Cashman made the wrong choice.

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