Although 10-year-old Matt Arehart is too young to have seen Indians Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller on the mound, his grandmother and great aunt certainly did.
Some tweens wouldn't be interested in attending remembrances of long-ago athletic legends they never witnessed in person with dewy-eyed elders needling them with all the plum details of the great times they missed.
But his grandmother Carolyn Cassidy and her sister Martha Mooney didn’t have a problem convincing Matt, along with his 14-year-old twin brothers, Andrew and Jack, to attend a memorial service in tribute to the Cleveland sports legend this morning.
Dignitaries from Ohio Gov. John Kasich to Indians owner Larry Dolan paid tribute to Feller’s life as a Major League Baseball player and World War II veteran at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, likely hoping it wouldn’t be lost on a younger generation.
But Matt and Andrew understood Feller’s appeal before any of them took to the microphone in front of 600 at the church, with many more watching a live broadcast on SportsTime Ohio. Their grandmother and great aunt made sure of it.
“I like the Indians a lot,” Matt of Medina said. “And he was one of the best of all time.”
Chiming in a second later, Andrew balanced his younger brother’s understanding of Feller.
“I like that he was a part of the Navy,” Andrew said. “That’s cool.”
Feller was 92 when he died Dec. 15 with complications from leukemia at a hospice following months of health setbacks. He was born Robert William Andrew Feller on Nov. 3, 1918 in Van Meter, IA.
Feller, who started at age 17 for the Indians in 1936, pitched three no-hitters, including the only Opening Day no-hitter in baseball history against the Chicago White Sox on April 16, 1940. Feller also had 12 one-hit games and won 266 games in 18 seasons with the Indians, a Cleveland team record. Feller was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1962.
In the midst of his prime years, Feller signed up for naval duty two days after the Pearl Harbor bombing on Dec. 7, 1941. In the Navy, he rose to chief gunner's mate and served for 26 months on the battleship USS Alabama where he received eight battle stars for combat.
Kasich talked of hanging out with Feller at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, marveling at the time he spent with one of his idols. Kasich said he jumped at the chance to speak at the memorial service when Feller’s widow, Anne, asked him to share his memories of Feller.
“I’ve never had a greater honor in my life,” Kasich said of the request, “because Bob Feller put his country first, never thought twice about interrupting a brilliant career (to go to war).”
Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall of Fame, Bill Tunnell, who represented the Battleship USS Alabama on which Feller served, and Bob DiBiasio, vice president of public relations for the Indians, also spoke during the memorial service in front of the Feller family.
Among the Indians who attended but didn’t speak were Travis Hafner, Justin Masterson, Chris Perez, Shin-Soo Choo, current manager Manny Acta, former manager Mike Hargrove and former players Sandy Alomar Jr. and Andre Thornton. Members of the Indians front office included team CEO Paul Dolan, General Manager Chris Antonetti and baseball operations president Mark Shapiro. John McHale Jr., an executive vice president for Major League Baseball, also attended.
The Rev. T. Conrad Selnick, the rector of St. Christopher's-by-the-River Episcopal Church in Gates Mills, led the service. Feller lived in Gates Mills and attended the church, but the ceremony was held at the larger St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to accommodate parking and a bigger crowd.
Cassidy, 76, of Medina, and Ursuline sister Mooney, 70, of Cleveland, lived in Cleveland Heights from 1940 to 1958 and witnessed most of Feller’s career, which ended in 1956. They came to the memorial service to say goodbye and remembered having a chance to chat with him at Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau’s funeral in 2001.
Cassidy went to Cleveland Municipal Stadium and said she obtained his autograph during the filming of The Kid from Cleveland, which debuted in 1949 and included both Boudreau and Feller after the Indians won their last World Series title in 1948.
Mooney said she wanted the younger members of her family to have a deeper understanding of Feller.
“He was a good man,” Mooney said, “a really good example to young people.”