Indians pay tribute to Bob Feller

Updated: February 27, 2011, 10:56 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There's a noticeable absence, an emptiness this year at training camp that the Cleveland Indians will never fill.

Bob Feller isn't around.

The late Hall of Fame pitcher, who played his entire career with Cleveland and whose ties with the organization spanned more than 70 years, was honored Sunday before the Indians opened their exhibition season with a 7-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

[+] EnlargeBob Feller
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesIndians legend Bob Feller, who died Dec. 15, still attended games last season.

Feller, who died in December at the age of 92, epitomized the Indians. Whether throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on a humid afternoon in Florida, signing countless autographs or simply by being the sometimes irascible Bob, Feller -- the Tribe's beloved No. 19 -- was a rite of spring for Cleveland fans, who idolized the legendary right-hander and American original.

He's gone now. The Indians miss him.

"You can't help but notice that he's not around," Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. "He was a presence. I remember back in the days when we would go to Winter Haven, he'd be around playing catch. There never has been a Hall of Fame-caliber guy who you identify so much with one franchise.

"Bob meant a lot to us."

The Indians are planning a season-long tribute to Feller, who won 266 career games and is regarded as one of the game's greatest pitchers.

During pregame ceremonies, a touching video was played on the scoreboard chronicling Feller's storybook life. As players from both teams stood on the baselines, photos appeared of Feller as Iowa farmboy, teenage pitching wonder, eight-time All-Star and war hero. He was the first major leaguer to enlist for active duty at the outset of World War II.

Before the first pitch, a large banner with Feller's name and number was unfurled beyond the outfield wall. It also read: "Always in our hearts."

Feller's 19, outlined in blue, is spray painted on the grass between home plate and the first-base coach's box, across the diamond in Goodyear Ballpark from where the Reds are honoring late manager Sparky Anderson with his familiar No. 10, framed in red.

Anderson, who led Cincinnati to back-to-back World Series titles in the 1970s, died on Nov. 4. The Reds, who share their spring home with the Indians, will honor Anderson on Monday.

Their passings were followed by the death of Hall of Famer Duke Snider, one of Brooklyn's "Boys of Summer" who died Sunday at the age of 84.

"The game has taken a hell of a hit lately," said Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, who called the Reds-Indians opener. "Bob Feller dying and Duke passing away and Sparky Anderson going. We're just losing some really great people."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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