I once got a hit off Bob Feller.
Of course, he was probably in his 60s at the time. And there were no infielders or outfielders on the field that I can recall.
I remembered this moment in time recently when I heard that Feller passed away at 92. He was one of those pitching phenoms who made it to the majors at 17 years old and eventually was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after a long career with the Cleveland Indians. He struck out 17 batters in a game his rookie season, much like what the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg did in his debut last season. Strasburg struck out 14 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Don’t ask me why I was batting against Feller. All I can remember was he was at Municipal Stadium before a Hagerstown Suns game and someone asked me if I would like to take a few swings off Feller.
Would I? It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lover of baseball and a sports reporter.
I hit a line drive to left field that eventually struck the base of the cement wall. Of course, Feller was throwing batting-practice speed, not the 100 mph fastball he was known for in his prime.
I think I took a few other whacks, but the one to left is all I can remember. I hit the sweet spot on the bat and it was like a laser to left. It felt like when you catch a golf ball on the sweet spot and it goes forever. You always hope to duplicate that swing, but you rarely can.
Feller basically grooved one.
Interestingly, I had another encounter with another baseball legend around that same period in time. Darrell Kepler, who was the sports editor of The Morning Herald at the time, sent me to Baltimore to do a story on then Detroit Tigers’ infielder Tom Brookens, who was from the Chambersburg, Pa., area. The Tigers were in Baltimore to play the Orioles.
I interviewed Brookens, who was a heck of a nice guy, and then I asked his manager, Sparky Anderson, if he could tell me what he thought about Brookens. He said something to the effect that Brookens was the kind of player every team needed. He could play a multitude of positions and he could get you a key hit when you needed it. I read last year that Brookens was now the first base coach for the Tigers.
But I was interviewing Sparky Anderson.
After we talked about Brookens, I asked Anderson how he went about filling out his lineup card each day. He could have scoffed and sent me away packing, but instead he painstakingly took the time to outline how he filled out his lineup, how he batted so-and-so in the leadoff spot, and that guy in the cleanup position, and so on.
I walked away fully impressed with Anderson for giving a lowly sports writer from Hagerstown a chance to chat baseball with a legend.
I thought about Anderson and his family recently as he, too, passed away. The picture I have etched in my mind is Anderson in his manager’s uniform, his cap pushed back slightly, pushing the dirt around with one foot and his hands in the back pockets of his uniform pants as he stood by the batting cage on a warm evening at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.
It was like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.
When I think of baseball, I think of spring and newness. Every team is in first place when spring training starts. Pitchers and catchers will report in about a month.
I’m looking forward to another baseball season. I’m looking forward to seeing if the Baltimore Orioles can carry over their success from the second half of last season under new manager Buck Showalter.
I’m looking forward to going out to Municipal Stadium to watch another phenom in Suns’ right fielder Bryce Harper, an 18-year-old slugger who has been cast with the “can’t miss” label.
Tony Mulieri is community editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7647 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.