Reminiscing about facing Bob Feller
I took Bob Feller deep.
Of course, he was 75 at the time.
It was 1994, and Feller -- on one of his annual tours to promote the game -- was pitching to a few members of the local media before a Class A San Jose Giants game. I was a 30-year-old assistant sports editor at the San Jose Mercury News, and had agreed to stand in for columnist Bud Geracie, who was sidelined by shoulder surgery.
I was scared stiff.
After all, this was Bob Feller, "Rapid Robert," the Hall of Famer who pitched three no-hitters and threw 100 mph. So what if that was 50 years ago? I hadn't played competitive baseball since Babe Ruth League as a teenager. How was I going to even make contact?
By luck of the draw, I got to bat second. But that only made me more nervous, because the TV reporter who batted first didn't come close to hitting any of his 10 pitches (we were supposed to get only five swings).
I stepped into the batter's box wearing spikes, shorts and a Giants jersey and cap the team had given me. I took a couple of quick practice swings and got into my stance. The Giants' catcher -- bless him, I wish I could remember his name -- said, "Watch out, this one looks like he can hit." That made the knot in my stomach only slightly smaller.
Feller was working from a spot a few steps in front of the pitching rubber. He shouted, "Ready?" and whistled one in.
I whacked a one-hopper right past him.
Feller glared at me, and moved back to the rubber.
Oh great. I made him mad.
He whipped another in. Hard grounder up the middle.
Another fastball. Line drive to left. Another glare.
The catcher made some crack, but it didn't register because I was trying to stay focused.
The next pitch was belt-high over the plate, and I drove it deep into the left-center field gap, and it one-hopped the fence.
Feller gave me a look. The catcher said, "Uh-oh, here comes the deuce."
Feller then broke off a beautiful curveball that seemed as if it broke a foot and a half. I waved at it weakly. Feller smiled, as if to say, "How'd you like that, kid?"
I tipped my cap at him and walked to the dugout.
Farewell, Mr. Feller. Baseball couldn't have had a better ambassador.
Alex Kimball is an NFL editor at ESPN.com.