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Indians pay tribute to Hall of Famer Bob Feller

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.

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."

The Indians and Reds were both without major components for their first spring game.

Cincinnati's opening-day starter Edinson Volquez was scratched because he has not yet had his work visa approved by the U.S. government. A native of the Dominican Republic, Volquez has a traveler's visa but it does allow him to perform in games before paying customers.

The club does not know when Volquez, who served a 50-game suspension last season for violating baseball's drug policy, will have his work visa approved. It's possible he may have to return to his homeland to get the paperwork accepted.

"It's out of our hands now," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

On Sunday, Volzquez stayed behind at the team's complex and pitched two innings to minor leaguers.

The Indians kept outfielder Shin-Soo Choo out of the lineup as a precaution because of a sore left elbow. Choo had Tommy John surgery on the elbow in 2007, but said the discomfort he's feeling is due to starting his throwing program too early before camp.

"We just want to keep him off the field for a couple days," Acta said. "We do have to be careful. We pretty much won more games than any team last spring and it didn't mean a thing. I need him when the season starts."

Cleveland can't be too cautious. The club is already without center fielder Grady Sizemore, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery and may not be ready for opening day.

Notes: Reds LHP Matt Maloney, trying to hang on as a fifth starter or land a bullpen job, started and pitched two scoreless innings. ... Indians C Carlos Santana was encouraged after playing two innings, his first action since injuring his left knee on Aug. 2 in a home plate-collision in Boston. ... Dave Sappelt, the Reds' minor league player of the year last season, hit a two-run homer in the ninth for the Reds. ... Cincinnati trailed 6-1 in the eighth, but scored six runs in its final two at-bats.