I don’t care much about autographs. An A’s employee for almost 9 full years, I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of current and former baseball players, such as Lenny Dykstra in a restroom, Mudcat Grant’s chauffeur at a golf tournament. More recently I ran across actors like Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. I didn’t ask for their autographs, they didn’t ask for mine. One day last Spring Training, however, I did ask for an autograph. Hall of Fame Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins visited Phoenix Municipal Stadium to draw awareness and raise funds for his charitable foundation. He’s been to Phoenix Muni multiple times the past couple years. He brings with him former baseball players. On March 27, 2010 he brought Bob Feller.
I wasn’t a sports fan when young. Then, in my teens, I became an A’s fan. Baseball has the greatest history of all American sports. For over a hundred years, thousands of men have taken the field. There’s equally as many stories, some more unique than others. Bob Feller was a unique story. Making his debut for the Cleveland Indians at 17-years-old, he pitched his entire 18-season career with the Indians, which was interrupted by three years of military service. Most astounding to me, he was enshrined in Cooperstown on his first ballot in 1962. For 48 years he lived as an active member of the Hall of Fame.
We were honored to accommodate when Jenkins’ group asked if Feller could throw the ceremonial first pitch. At 91 Feller was unable to walk the stairs to the field. Our stadium operations coordinator offered to drive him around the ballpark and onto the field through the outfield fence. As Feller took the mound he was announced by an exuberant Mark Andrews. To cheers, Feller tipped his cap and fired a strike to home. I would not have believed a man of 91 could do such a thing. In good shape, sharp mind, and kind spirits, Feller talked a bit with guests and staff on field, recorded a short radio interview, and headed off the field on the cart that brought him on. Amazingly, our vintage stadium gate usher, Chet, 90-years-young himself, was at Bob Feller’s 1940 Opening Day no-hitter (his first of three career no-hitters). Chet recounted the events of April 16 in Chicago with Feller, agreeing on the batting order and how the outs were recorded. Chet attended that game rooting for the White Sox. Chet departed the ballpark in 1940 with a lifelong respect for Bob Feller.
As that afternoon’s Spring Training game continued I reflected on Feller’s contributions to the game of baseball. How much he enhanced the game and how much baseball meant to him. I fetched a clean baseball and troubled Bob Feller, with a donation, for an autograph. Sitting in my office, just over my shoulder, it’s the only autograph I keep on display.
Travis LoDolce, Digital Ticketing Operations Manager & Spring Training Operations Manager
(Photos copyright Travis LoDolce)