Opening day is one of my favorite days of the year. It is right up there with Christmas, the first day of the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten opener for Iowa football and Iowa’s first game in the NCAA Tournament (I think, don’t remember much about the last time, so long ago).
Being an Indians fan, and living amongst a bunch of Cubs fans, I considered today opening day instead of Thursday. It was disheartening to see the Indians lose in such an embarrassing fashion to the White Sox, but that wasn’t what made me really sad today. The two teams that were most relevant to me today, the Indians and Cubs, both said goodbye to perhaps their most historic figures and biggest fans.
The Cubs said a fond farewell to Ron Santo. No matter how anti-Cubs I am most of the time, I always had respect and admiration for Santo. I remember listening to him call Cubs games in my Dad’s car and later in my own. My friends and I would often laugh at his frustration as the Cubs lost yet another game, but we couldn’t deny his passion for the Cubbies. There have certainly been better Cubs (Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins) but none were more beloved than Ran Santo. Even by a Cubs hater, he will be missed.
My favorite team, the Indians, also said goodbye to a legend today when they held a ceremony for the late Bob Feller. I have always had a love and interest for Feller. Maybe it is because we are both Iowa boys and share a November 3rd birthday. Maybe it is because he is considered the best player in the history of my favorite franchise. Maybe it is because my beloved grandpa grew up watching Bob Feller and later served in World War II, just as Feller did. Whatever the reason, I have always felt a connection to Feller.
Feller was born in Van Meter, Iowa, and was drafted by the Cleveland Indians. He loved the franchise and the city of Cleveland so much, he chose to live there until his dying day. Feller was always involved with the franchise and would make his voice heard regarding issues surrounding the Indians, especially concerning the pitchers. He usually came off as a gruff old timer who thought all kids were sissies, but I loved his comments and thought he was usually spot on. When I read about his passing this winter I was sad, but I don’t think it hit me until today. When Bob Feller’s wife, Anne Feller, placed the ball reading “Bobby Keep Pitching Anne” on the pitcher’s mound, I was choked up. It was a beautiful ceremony and everybody in attendance at Progressive Field had to have had goose bumps.
Feller would occasionally pop up at Indians games, and was there as recently as this past season. I went to a game last year with my girlfriend to see Kenny Lofton get inducted into the Indians “Heritage Park”. Feller was there to help induct the newcomers into the park. My girlfriend, who knows very little about baseball, couldn’t understand why I was so excited to see Bob Feller in person. She couldn’t understand why I was so in awe of someone who I had never seen play and looked like my grandpa.
The reason I was in awe was about respecting the history of the game of baseball and the teams we all love. Feller and Santo knew about the effect baseball and following franchises like the Indians and Cubs can have on people. It is a love affair shared by generations of families, friends in a sports bar, or two boys from Iowa who were born almost 70 years apart and never met.
I wish both teams, even the Cubs, could have gotten a win today to honor their legends. Both teams did however, wear a patch honoring the men and will wear it all season. Both teams also got behind early, but showed no quit, just like Feller and Santo would have wanted them to do. It is just a shame that if these two long-suffering franchises ever win a World Series again that Santo or Feller won’t be around to see it.