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3 posts from December 2010

December 17, 2010

A man who saw his duty ... and fulfilled it

Bob Feller's baseball career overflows with achievement and records, which is to be expected from the man who once was voted the "greatest living right-hander." With Feller's death this week, his accomplishments once again are getting attention.

And they are impressive: 266 victories, 2,581 strikeouts, seven seasons leading the American League in strikeouts, three no-hitters and, a figure to me that is even more astounding, 12 one-hitters. When Feller was on, he couldn't be touched. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and remains today the greatest of all Cleveland Indians.

But there's something I find even more admirable than all the victories and all the times he sent batters trudging back to the dugout after yet another futile attempt to hit him. Two days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Feller, at the age of 23 and just coming into his prime as a pitcher, enlisted in the U.S. Navy, the first major-leaguer to do so.

Can you imagine a professional athlete nowadays volunteering to go fight in Iraq or Afghanistan? Let's see, we had football player Pat Tillman, we had ... well, he's the only one I can think of.

But it was different in the 1940s. When we went to war then, Americans weren't told to take the kids on vacation, as our former president suggested after the terrorist attacks of 2001. No, they sucked it up and sacrificed and the thousands who were young enough and healthy enough joined the fight.

Many major league baseball players were drafted. Others enlisted. Ted Williams not only lost prime playing years during World War II, he was back in uniform flying fighter jets during the Korean War.

Feller lost the entire 1942, '43 and '44 seasons and most of the 1945 season while in the Navy. Instead of winning games, he won eight battle stars serving as chief of an anti-aircraft battery on the battleship USS Alabama.

In the three years before the war, Feller won 24, 27 and 25 games. In the first two full seasons following his return, he won 26 and 20 games. His strikeout totals in those five seasons: 246, 261, 260, 348 and 196.

So, it's reasonable to assume that had Feller not served -- and as the sole supporter of his family he could have received a deferment -- he would have had 90 to 100 more victories, which would have put him well over 300, and about  1,000 more strikeouts. But Feller never whined about his lost numbers because he felt he was doing something far more important. He often said his greatest victory was winning the war.

Feller was blunt and outspoken. You could say that at times, he was a grouch. Pam would use the word crotchety. But I had no problems in the only two professional dealings I had with the former fireballer.

When I covered the opening of his museum in Van Meter in 1995, Feller was the perfect host and signed autographs until the last fan was satisfied. Several years later, I returned to the museum for an appearance by Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson, forever entwined in baseball lore because Branca threw the pitch that Thomson hit for the home run that became The Shot Heard 'Round the World. Now they were friends and even had developed their own little schtick. It wasn't Rowan and Martin or the Smothers Brothers, but they were entertaining and fun to be around.

When I introduced myself, Feller fixed me up with a seat between Branca and Thomson so I could talk to them while they signed autographs. Afterward, he thanked me for coming and asked if I got everything I needed.

So, I have nothing but positive memories of Feller. And as a beleaguered Indians fan (that's probably redundant), oh how I wish he was still pitching.


December 15, 2010

Des Moines Actress, Playwright and Mom with a Dream


When Diandra Lyle was a child in Des Moines she was good at—and loved—so many things, that I wondered how, when the time came, she would ever choose one career path. Well, she hasn't!  Now living in Chicago, she's a model, mom to Tamryn, actress and has an upcoming short film, "Mission: Mom-Possible," on the calendar for early 2011.

Diandra wrote the light-hearted film that's loosely based on herself, Tamryn, the tooth fairy and Mission Impossible. It's about the lengths parents go to preserve special childhood memories and magic for their young ones. She's also producing and starring in the film which will be shot over two days in February. An independent project, "Mission: Mom-Possible" will be festival-bound around the world. 

Energetic and indefatigable Diandra has assembled the donated services of an award-winning director, a cinematographer, and three other producers (plus herself). But production (equipment, insurance, set design, etc.), post-production (editing, sound mixing, dvd production, etc.), marketing and festival submission fees all take money. 

For Christmas Diandra is asking Santa (and maybe the tooth fairy, too) for $4,000 to fund expenses for "Misison: Mom-Possible." For $10 you can be a probationary secret agent (with a handwritten thank you note from the heart) and for $1,000 you'll be the top special agent (which will earn you associate producer credit on the film). 

So if you've ever wanted to tell your friends you're connected to the film industry, visit "Mission: Mom-Possible."  You'll be helping a wonderful young woman from Des Moines make her dream come true for the holidays.



December 06, 2010

Wreaths Provide $$$ for Patient Care

Whether you're looking for something new and colorful to spice up your wall for the holiday or searching for a tasteful, long-lasting seasonal gift, here's a chance to "do good" with your purchase. The second Walk of Wreaths to benefit Hospice of Central Iowa is Thursday, December 9, in Valley Junction (downtown West Des Moines). 

Approximately 70 one-of-a-kind, hand-decorated artificial wreaths will be available for silent (beginning at 5 p.m.) and live (beginning at 7 p.m.) auctions at the West Des Moines Community Center, 217 5th Street. The wreaths currently are on display at participating Valley Junction merchants, many of whom created the themed wreaths from a variety of materials. There are wreaths for dog and cat devotees, peace-loving and patriotic folks, Harley riders, and Coca-Cola, nature and toy enthusiasts. Plus, much, much more.

The Historic Valley Junction Foundation spearheaded the event last year in memory of Caren Sturm, founder and owner of The Lagniappe, a Valley Junction business; Caren benefitted from the services of Hospice of Central Iowa in 2009. Proceeds this year go to patient financial assistance, a need that increases every year in the 35 counties served by the state's oldest end-of-life provider of compassionate and effective community-based care. Hope to see you there helping out my favorite non-profit organization.