Yesterday was a great day in my long baseball fandom: I got to see a great game pitched by a guy who is 6 months older than me and I got an autographed baseball from one of my all time favorite Brockton Rox, first baseman Melvin Falu. The only bad thing about the game was that Falu (Pronounced FAH-loo with lots of ooo’s when he comes up to bat) was injured and couldn’t play.
One of the great things about being in a small independent league ball park is that you are very close to the action. The other is that fans are generally really friendly. I had struck up a conversation with two young women sitting behind us. They were clearly fans, and they commented on the game in both English and Spanish. We talked a little about Bill Lee‘s appearance while Bob was off finding us a beer. Then later in the game they started talking about Melvin Falu and how he couldn’t play. I turned and asked them if he were hurt as I had wondered by he wasn’t playing. The one of the woman answered that he hurt his knee and had had a cortisone shot, but would be OK. I asked if he would be able to play in the the play-off and she said yes. I said I hoped to see him in a play-off game as he was one of my favorite players.
A short time later, one of the women walked down the steps to the dugout and came back with an autographed ball which she handed me. Falu was standing up in the dugout waving at us. It was a great moment. Turns out she is a relative of his. He plays hard and well, clearly for the love of the game. He is one of the Can-Am league all-stars again this year.
So on to Bill Lee. The Spaceman. Lee last pitched for the Red Sox in 1978 and pitched his last professional game in 1982 for the Montreal Expos. According to NESN, the Rox had first asked him to throw out the first pitch and he agreed only if he could do more. So he did for 5 1/3 innings getting the win. Two runs, 5 hits, one strikeout and no walks. Pretty good for almost 64.
The Rox beat the Worcester Tornado who just happen to be managed by another Red Sox alum, Rich Gedman.
They are part of the Boston Red Sox alumni club, one player from the 1970s and the other from the 1980s.
Bill Lee’s stay with the Red Sox ended in 1978 and Rich Gedman made his debut in Boston late in the 1980 season, so they just missed being teammates.
On Sunday afternoon, though, their paths crossed in a Can-Am League game at Campanelli Stadium with the 63-year-old Lee pitching for the Brockton Rox against the Worcester Tornadoes, managed by the soon-to-be 51-year-old Gedman.
For Lee, the game meant a chance to venture into new territory, starting a professional game for the first time since being released by the Montreal Expos in 1982.
For Gedman, the game meant a chance for his team to stay alive in the race for the final playoff spot with the regular season ending today. [Monday]
With his team’s playoff hopes damaged, Gedman could only shake his head in amazement.
“I didn’t know whether to clap or be angry with him,’’ said Gedman. “I’m happy for him. There’s not a lot of people who can do what he did. First of all, they don’t think they can do it. That’s the thing that he has.
“How many people could pull that off? That’s what is special. He did it because he believed he could do it. He loves to play. That’s a wonderful tribute to him. Despite all the other stuff that people talk about, baseball is special to him and it’s fun to watch him.’’
I lift wood and make bats for a living,” he told reporters. “This is fun for me. It doesn’t take anything out of you to pitch.”
Yes, the “Spaceman” was otherworldly. Lee, who in his day job makes bats for David Ortiz(notes), among other major leaguers, is thought to be the oldest pitcher to appear in a professional game, let alone win one.
Satchel Paige was 59 when he pitched three innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965. Another longtime Negro Leagues player, the legendary Buck O’Neal, batted twice in the Northern League All-Star Game in 2006 at age 94. He swung at one pitch and walked in both at-bats. Earlier that year, Jim Eriotes, 83, led off the game for the Sioux Falls Canaries and struck out. He did foul off a pitch.
His first pitch was an eephus, a slow blooper that the batter banged up the middle for a single. Was that all he had? The 6,126 in attendance had to wonder.
Then Lee got down to business. He got out of the first without giving up a run. Nick Salotti homered to lead off the second, but Lee allowed only three hits and a run the rest of the way. Perhaps after giving up the homer, he reminded himself of one his most famous quotes: “I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.”
The Spaceman was obviously having a great time and so were we. And he’s added another great quote to his collection:
“It felt good out there. Everything was where I wanted to be,” the 14-year big-leaguer said, believed to be the oldest pitcher to earn a victory in a professional game. “I got pulled before I could use all of my pitches today,” Lee added. “I was hoping to be able to break out my Juan Marichal screwball.”
Thanks to the Spaceman and Melvin Falu for a great day. For Lee, it is back to Vermont and making bats and for Falu and the Rox, it is play-off time.