I was bummed to hear that the legendary Bob Feller was moved to hospice the other day. And yes... maybe I'm "going Iowan on you"... but this dude is awesome.
We all know his story. Amazing arm... he probably could pierce brick walls with his pitches. But on top of all the strike outs, no hitters and all the things that make him the epic hall of famer that he is... You baseball historians also know that left the game for four seasons during arguably the peak of his career. The Heater from Van Meter signed up for the Navy THE DAY after Pearl Harbor. Becoming the first Major League player to sign up and fight. Talk about bad ass. Over to you Ricky Stanzi. After his decorated stint in the Navy, he came back to doing what he did best... dominating the mound.
Anyways... anytime I hear the name Bob Feller... I'm always reminded of one my early and favorite experiences on the campaign trail.
I was a young college punk when I joined John Kasich for President in 1999. (yes, for you people smirking at home, John Kasich briefly ran for president). Rapid Robert endorsed Kasich early and did appearances for the campaign. It was mid summer and we had a tour for Kasich as we were building up our Ames Straw Poll efforts... and Bob Feller was going to tag along.
A week before our tour, Kasich dropped out of the race and endorsed George W. Bush. But we had already sent the postcards for all of the house parties. Our supporters were bummed John decided to get out of the race, but still wanted host John at their homes. So the campaign decided to make it a farewell tour... And Bob was still willing to tag along.
The day before the last day of the tour we were up in Humboldt County. I was a make shift advance man for the day. Just lending in on what needed to be done. The schedule was an event in Dakota City and end up in Des Moines for a staff dinner with John and Bob at the Iowa Beef Steakhouse on Euclid (great joint if you've never been).
The event up north ended and this is when I was told, "You're going to drive Mr. Feller back to Des Moines." Insert instant feeling of awesome. Good thing I cleaned my car the night before! After being given my instructions... Mr Feller and I jumped in my red Cutlass Supreme (great car) we were on our way. Was told Bob might wanna stop and check out some farm machinery along the way, which was fine. We had all afternoon to get back to Des Moines. (awesome sidenote, you can take the farm kid out of Iowa... but never the Iowa out of the farm kid, right?)
So we were on the road.
Bob was reading the newspaper and I'm just kind of freaking out... in a good way. For the first 15 minutes of the trip, we didn't talk much. I didn't think he would want some young punk political hack being all chatty. Which is when I started saying in my head, "DUDE, you have BOB FREAKING FELLER in your car! When are you ever going to be doing this again?!"
So I started the small talk. And then... we started chatting it up. "Hey Mr. Feller, you knew Babe Ruth, didn't you?" "George?" Feller smiled. "Yep, good man." And it was on. You name the legend? He knew him and had a story. I started rattling all of them off.
"Hey Mr. Feller, Ty Cobb. Everyone says he was a jerk, is that true." He smiled again. "Well, I got along with him. He was a great player."
"Joe DiMaggio, you knew him too?" Remember, Joltin' Joe had just passed away in the spring of that year. He again replied with a smile, "Joe and I were great friends. We went out to dinner all the time if we were in New York or they were in Cleveland."
The great thing about guys like Bob Feller, they love telling stories... and his are off the charts.
"So, when you went out for dinner, did you meet Marilyn Monroe?" "Yes, when they were married, on many occasions."
While I soaked up in my brush with greatness road trip with Bob... I couldn't stop thinking, "Dude, you are in the car. With a legend. And you are having a conversation about Marilyn Monroe. This is epic before things became epic." I kept asking, he kept answering. I'll never forget that trip. We made it back to Des Moines, scored steaks on the Eastside, such a good day. A great freaking day.
The last day of the Kasich-Feller tour ended at my parents' house up in Jewell. We had a great crowd... not only for John and Bob... but the Nadas were going to play in the backyard. You see, we had them signed to play the Straw Poll for Kasich... and since that wasn't going to happen... they played to end the tour.
It was you know, a typical event up in God's Country, Iowa. A politician... pork burgers... a living legend signing baseballs... a good band playing. No big whoop. (smirk)
I'll never forget the way Feller was with everyone on that day and on that tour. Always gracious. Always took a picture when asked. My Grandpa scored a click. I think he was pretty excited. That picture of him and Bob is still up on my Grandma's fridge. Not only was he meeting a great baseball hero of his... but a fellow Navy guy who served in World War II. It was pretty cool.
Anyways... anytime I hear Bob Feller's name... It takes me back to our little road trip. And again, I'll never forget it.
Here's to you Mr. Feller. I hope you're spending your time being comfortable. You're one of the greatest people I've met. Warm wishes and thoughts to you, your family and friends.