I met Bob Feller twice, and in those two brief encounters, I saw a little of what all the stories and columns have been saying about him tonight.
The first meeting came when I was a young collector and he appeared at a local card show. I brought a cover of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly that had a drawing on the inside cover of Feller from the chest up, arms raised above his head in the first motion of his wind-up, over a background of a newspaper trumpeting his Opening Day no-hitter. Pulling the cover closer to him to sign in a rote motion repeated throughout the day, he paused when he saw the unique item and flipped it over to see what it was. We chatted about it for a moment after that — I don’t recall anything either of us said — as he signed it. A great memory for a grade- or high-schooler with a Hall of Fame icon.
The second came in 2001 or ’02, when I was covering the Lakewood BlueClaws. Feller spent most of the game signing on the concourse before he was led up to the press box to get something to eat. The few writers there took time out from watching the game to chat baseball with the legend. When a BlueClaws staff member asked what he would like to eat, he simply asked for two hot dogs with ketchup. For all his bravado and boastfulness, he could also be a man of simple tastes.
He’ll be remembered for his blazing fastball, his three no-hitters and his Naval service, which began the day after Pearl Harbor when he enlisted of his own volition.
“I’m no hero,” he said of his service. “Heroes don’t come home from wars. Survivors come home from wars. I’m a survivor.”
It’s a comment that’s been repeated often in these first few hours of remembrance, yet one that can’t be said enough.