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Remembering Rapid Robert

Bob Feller, one of baseball’s all-time great pitchers, died Wednesday. He was 92. His fastball flirted with 100 (miles per hour), back in the day.

Feller pitched his entire big league career in a Cleveland Indians uniform. He first took the mound in 1936 and struck out 15 in his debut. He went on to throw three no-hitters and a dozen one-hitters. He won 266 games, but probably could have tacked on another 75 or 80, or more, as he enlisted and served four years in the U.S. Navy during World War II at the peak of his career.

He retired from baseball in 1957, one year after I was born, but he was always one of my favorite players. I forgave him for tossing the only opening-day no-hitter in history against my beloved White Sox in 1940. He was the first big leaguer I’d ever met, and a Hall of Famer to boot.

I was lucky enough to get behind the plate to catch a handful of Feller’s pitches. It was 1968 and I was a Little League catcher in my suburban Chicago village. Feller was in town to appear at a banquet and also give a clinic to the pitchers in our four-team league. I was one of a handful of catchers, and crouched behind the dish as Feller threw. Rapid Robert was grooving them in at about 60 mph. He could see the fear in my eyes between the bars of my catcher’s mask. He had mercy on the 11-year-old kid wearing the shin guards.

Thanks for fueling the baseball fire in my belly, Bob.

Watch a video of Feller’s fastball being timed by the equipment used to measure the velocity of artillery shells:

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