COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Anne Feller didn't address the crowd at the Hall of Fame Classic. Her presence alone was enough.
Seven months after her husband died at 92, Bob Feller was honored Sunday by the organizers of a game the Cleveland Indians great wholeheartedly embraced. The game's most valuable player was given the inaugural Bob Feller Player of the Game Award.
"It's an honor. It's wonderful for them to remember him. He would have been so grateful," said Anne Feller, who kissed Dick Williams as she made her way to the mound to a standing ovation and placed a baseball on the rubber before the national anthem.
"It's just wonderful for them to ask me to come and I'm proud to be here to represent Bob, who loved this game. He loved being here. He always loved coming to Cooperstown. He was just so proud of being in the Hall of Fame."
When major league baseball stopped participating in the annual Hall of Fame Game at Doubleday Field three years ago, this one-stoplight village found a hero in Feller, who was used to playing that role. Feller, who was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1962, didn't want to see a tradition die after nearly seven decades.
"Bob loved everything to do with Cooperstown," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. "He was the first to enlist in World War II. He was the first to enlist for the Hall of Fame Classic three years ago. He meant a great deal to the game and he stood for everything the Hall of Fame is all about — character, integrity, sportsmanship and great interaction with the fans."
Killebrew and Feller were captains at last year's Classic.
"You have the highest respect for Harmon Killebrew. The highest respect. It's a bittersweet day," said Rich "Goose" Gossage, who started for the Wizards. "Human beings just don't come any better than Harmon. To lose him and Bob is very, very sad."
"I hate to see the passing of anyone, but a Hall of Famer who touched so many lives over the years and meant so much to the Hall of Fame itself will be certainly remembered," Andre Dawson said, referring to Feller. "That's what makes this weekend that much more special. Bob was here last year. He had a dream with this game, so you want to keep that going."
On a sun-splashed afternoon, the dream was alive. There was former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy posing behind home plate with former Kansas City Royals standout Willie Wilson while Murphy's 30-year-old son, Chad, snapped a photo.
"Spaceman" Bill Lee then took Murphy aside: "The key is you don't have to look good. It's a lot less testoserone at this level," said the former Red Sox star, who then went out and both pitched and caught barehanded during the game.
And a lot of fun, to be sure.
"Just look around, the ballplayers that are here. It's the whole reason to become a baseball player," said Joel Bennett, who fashioned a 2-1 record in two seasons as a major league pitcher and now coaches in high school in Windsor, N.Y. "To get a chance to play with them is fantastic. I just couldn't believe it. Either way, whether it goes well or bad, I don't care. This is amazing."
As was his day on the field. Bennett lined a double to left-center and scored in the third inning. He later singled and turned a game-ending double play as the Knucksies won the six-inning affair 8-6.
Dmitri Young, who hit 171 homers in the major leagues before retiring three years ago, won the pre-game hitting contest, beating Reggie Sanders. After former Detroit Tigers pitcher Jon Warden, a modern-day clown prince, squirted Young with a foam water gun, Young pounded a home run and then hit another in the three-swing final round to win it and the Tiffany watch that goes with it.
"I wanted the watch more than anybody else," said Young, an avid baseball card collector. "I'm loose. I'm ready to go out there and play now. But once I run the bases and pull something, they'll know why I'm retired."
Not necessarily. Young also hit a three-run shot off Lee in the game to capture the Feller award before a crowd of 5,687.
"It's wonderful to be here, and it's also the 47th anniversary of my first major league win," said Rick Wise, a star right-hander for the Phillies. "Father's Day, 1964. It's very special. It's a very special day in my life, my career."