I gotta give Bob Feller a call …


   A week or so ago, I did a blog piece about the “Field of Dreams” ball field in Dyersville, Iowa, being up for sale for $5.4 million, and pretty promptly got a weblog comment from Randy Marks.
   He was inquiring if I knew that “Field of Dreams” was an act of plagiarism, which is certainly a sufficiently inflammatory accusation to get my attention. Technically speaking, if such a charge were true, I suppose it would be directed at the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, rather than the adapted screenplay for the movie, but I don’t need to quibble.
   Marks referred to Bob Feller’s 1947 autobiography Strikeout Story in noting that the ball field now being sold in Dyersville “wasn’t even the first ‘Field of Dreams’ in Iowa.
   I’ll quote him directly:
   “Strikeout Story” tells how Bob’s father (Bill) in 1931, during the height of the Depression, took some of their farm acreage, a corn field and some oak trees, if I’m not mistaken, and leveled it. The two of them proceeded to convert that land into a fine baseball field complete with a scoreboard and stands for the spectators. They named it Oak View Park … Their farm was just outside Van Meter, Iowa, a suburb of Decatur. Bob’s father, who was very involved in amateur baseball in the area for years, then organized a team, the Oakviews, as this park’s home team. He also recruited other area teams to come play the Oakviews there. Spectators came and paid 25 cents, I think, to watch the two teams play each other … lots of fans. The main attraction was little Bobby Feller, age 12, striking out men mostly in their early to mid-20’s.
   I remember when I told Feller that I had just finished reading his book and he said to me something like, “What did you think of my boyhood ball field?” I replied that it sounded just like “Field of Dreams.” He got this big smile (Bob is a rather serious man most of the time) and said “That’s right!” He then told me how he almost sued when the movie came out in 1989 because they clearly had stolen the idea of building a ball field on a former Iowan cornfield from his book. But he didn’t.

   I’m gonna give the Hall of Famer a call one of these days; I don’t want to do it now because as I write this it’s the start of the Memorial Day weekend. But my suspicion is that he didn’t sue because the prospects in court were probably iffy.
   Even if Kinsella, a noted baseball fan, had read Feller’s autobiography – as I did many, many years ago – I don’t know if Feller’s dad’s plowing under a cornfield to make a baseball diamond is precisely the same thing as what the fictional Ray Kinsella did at the behest of an ethereal voice, which in turn provides the opportunity for the banned Joe Jackson and other Black Sox to get another chance to play ball, albeit in a ghostly fashion.
   But that’s just me. I’ll try to get Feller’s take on it as soon as I can. I know he’s an SCD subscriber, but I haven’t gotten any phone calls from him in awhile now. It used to be he’d call from time to time, identifying himself on the phone with his gravelly, “This is Hall of Famer Bob Feller.”
   It got to where I could do a pretty fair impression of the great hurler, but I don’t believe I could ever get up enough nerve to try it on him.

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One thought on “I gotta give Bob Feller a call …

  1. Randy Marks on said:

    Hi again T.S.!

    I’m glad you were interested in my comment. And I’ll really be interested to hear what Bob says when you talk to him. Also, I agree that this weekend would not be a good time to call him. Being a World War II veteran, Memorial Day weekend is very special to him indeed. During the war, he was in charge of the big guns on the deck of the U.S.S. Alabama. That battleship was involved in the Mariana Turkey Shoot in 1944 when about 400 Japanese Zero airplanes (Kamikazes) were destroyed in about 30 hours. What a battle that was and it essentially rendered the Japanese Air Force a non-factor for the remainder of the war. I certainly consider him to be a war hero but he doesn’t consider himself to be one. He has said many times that the heroes are the ones who didn’t return from the war.

    I actually met with Bob on May 16, just two days after your blog about the Field of Dreams being up for sale. But I hadn’t read it yet; otherwise, I would have mentioned that to him. He was in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio to throw out the first pitch at a Clippers (Cleveland Indians AAA affiliate)game. I don’t know how many "first-pitches" he has thrown out this year but I do know it has done it at least three times because he did it in Goodyear, AZ at an Indians Cactus League game and then again at their home opener. After all, this is the 70th anniversary of his Opening Day no-hitter on April 16, 1940 in Chicago which remains the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history. But I would be surprised if he has not thrown out several other "first-pitches" this year. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has done that more often in his lifetime than anyone else. Bob still throws from the rubber which, at age 91, has to put him in a very small group…maybe in a league of his own. His pitch was a little high and outside but definitely had the distance. He also has lost something off his fast ball in the 54+ years since he retired but, then again, maybe he was throwing a change-up?

    He was also in a booth signing autographs before and after his ceremonial toss. He started signing autographs when he became a pitching sensation, striking out 15 batters in his first Major League start in 1936- during the summer between his junior and senior years of high school!! Several weeks latter, he set the AL record and tied the MLB record with 17 K’s!! What were you doing the summer between your junior and senior years? Anyway, that was 74 years ago and he has been signing about everyday since. It is also my belief that no one in the history of mankind has done more autographing. Unfortunately, Guinness hasn’t established such a record.

    So there you go. I’m contending that "Rapid Robert" has signed more autographs, thrown out more "first-pitches" and is the only 91 year-old who still throws from the mound. If I’m wrong, please let me know.

    You wrote that Bob is a SCD subscriber. So perhaps he is reading my comments. If so: thanks, Bob, for being so kind to me when we met again in Columbus about two weeks ago.

    Sincerely, Randy Marks.

    PS. T.S., I did take some pictures May 16 of Bob Feller at that Clippers game. I can’t post them here but, if provided with an e-mail address, I could attach them. Also, I know this is really off-topic but, as a long-time Rocky Colavito fan, I want to thank you for mentioning his Hall of Fame petition in your blog.

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