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Bill Ellis: Spring’s sweetest song, ‘Play Ball’

Apr. 14, 2013 @ 10:20 PM

Thousands of people in Putnam County are baseball fans. Many of those fans know about Bob Feller, one of the all-time great pitchers. Hundreds of Putnam students play baseball and dozens of men coach.

Bruce Catton called baseball, “The greatest conversation piece ever invented in America.” For decades, we have called it “the national pastime.”  

Football flips a coin to see who kicks off and who receives. Basketball tosses a ball in the air to see which tall man can tip it to a teammate. In baseball, the umpire yells “Play Ball,” the home team takes the field, the visiting team picks up their bats and the game begins.

Since I was 10 years old, I have followed baseball closely and played baseball or softball as long as I could. After a long exciting autumn of football and a winter of basketball, I’m more than ready for baseball.

I have attended Major League games at Yankee Stadium, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco and always a television fan of Big League Baseball. It has been my pleasure to meet many stars in the game — like Carl Hubbell, Dizzy Dean, Walter “Boom Boom” Beck, Ernie Banks, Carl Erskine, Larry Milbourne, Bill Madlock who played on our church’s junior basketball team when I was a pastor in Decatur, Ill., and Roe Skidmore of the same church who played for the Chicago Clubs, Del Unser, John Montefusco, Bob Knepper and many others.  

The first Major League player I met was Bob Feller in 1941 when his Cleveland Indians played the New York Giants in an exhibition game in Charleston W.Va. We met again 33 years later in Decatur, Ill., where I was pastor of Peoples Church of God.

Bob Feller, the farm boy from Van Meter, Iowa, who came to the Cleveland Indians when he was 17 years old, may well have been the greatest right-hand pitcher of all time. He threw three no-hitters and often topped the American League in all major pitching categories.  

Feller returned from World War II years to lead the Cleveland Indians to a World Series Championship in 1948. He was 92 when he died on Dec. 15, 2010, as one of the most revered figures in baseball history. Holding numerous records in spite of losing four years in the military during his prime, he was the youngest player ever inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

On Christmas 2011, our daughter Elizabeth sent to me “Bob Feller’s Little Blue Book of Baseball Wisdom.” I sat down and read it all before I laid it aside. I have met and talked with many baseball players — stars of the minor leagues and Major Leagues — and served on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Giants Class A farm team in Decatur, Ill.

I still carry in my automobile, two old gloves, a baseball and softball in case I meet someone who would like to play catch for a few minutes. “Play Ball” is always music to my ears.  

Bill Ellis is a syndicated columnist who can be reached at P.O. Box 345, Scott Depot, WV 25560; phone 304-757-6089.