On Wednesday, November 6, I attended the first annual Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was invited as a guest of Rear Admiral Michael Jabaley. This year’s recipients were Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees; Justin Verlander, AL MVP, All-Star and Cy Young Award-winning pitcher for the Detroit Tigers; and Chief Petty Officer Garth Sinclair of the U.S. Navy. It was so exciting to be there.
The Act of Valor Award honors Bob Feller, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1956. Feller threw no-hitters in 3 different years, and 12 one-hitters throughout his career. “Rapid Robert” Feller was also called “The Heater from Van Meter” after his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa because he threw some of the fastest fastballs in baseball history. In a game against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium, military equipment tracked his pitch at 107.6 miles per hour. He pitched 3,287 innings, threw 44 shutouts, and rang up 2,581 strike outs in his career.
But Feller wasn’t only a baseball player. He was also a Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy. He interrupted his baseball career to serve as a gun captain on the U.S.S. Alabama during World War II. Feller was the first American professional athlete to enlist in the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He enrolled just 2 days after the attack. His service inspired other pro baseball players like Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Hank Greenberg to serve their country.
The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Award winners are selected because they are dedicated to serving our country and share the values and integrity of Bob Feller. The award was created by Peter Fertig, author of the children’s book “The Deal Is On Strike Three” about what happened after the Mighty Casey struck out. Feller wrote the introduction to the book, and Fertig wanted to do a favor back to honor his career and service.
Fertig was present for the award ceremony along with other VIP guests such as Mrs. Anne Feller, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, retired four star admiral Hank Chiles, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens, who is the most senior enlisted member of the Navy.
The funny thing is, although the award is honoring Tigers and Yankees players, all of the presenters seemed to be fans of other teams! There were lots of Indians fans in the house, like Mr. Feller’s wife, two sons and grandson, Sen. Brown, and Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for the Indians, Bob DiBiasio. Admiral Jabaley is a Nationals fan, which is obvious by his Twitter name @NavyNatsFan. And Secretary Mabus is a Red Sox fan, even though he is from Mississippi (his favorite player is Big Papi David Ortiz!). There were also Phillies and Padres fans in the house.
Yogi Berra is one of the greatest catchers in the history of baseball. He is a 15-time All Star, winner of 10 World Series championships, and a three-time league MVP. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy. Berra saw combat during the D-Day invasion of Normandy in WWII. He attended boot camp in Maryland. He received his award on October 19 at the Yogi Berra Museum in Little Falls, NJ at the campus of Montclair University because was unable to travel to Washington to receive his award. David Kaplan, executive director of the Yogi Berra Museum, received the award on his behalf.
Justin Verlander is in his seventh season as a Major Leaguer and has already won the AL Rookie of the Year, MVP, Cy Young award, and is a four-time All-Star. He has pitched two no-hitters and has made two World Series appearances with the Detroit Tigers. Verlander received the award because he started Verlander’s Victory for Veterans, which hosts wounded warriors and their families to a luxury suite at Comerica Park in Detroit. He has also donated $1 million of his own money to the Wins for Warriors initiative, which is devoted to supporting the mental health of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in Detroit and his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
He was humbled and surprised when he was notified that he was receiving the award. “I don’t do what I do for the veterans to get recognition, but when they contacted me and notified me that I was the recipient of the inaugural Bob Feller Act of Valor Award it was a pretty humbling experience and I’m glad to be able to be a part of it,” Verlander told me. Justin Verlander is passionate about veterans because they made it possible for him to play America’s sport. When accepting his award, he said he met Bob Feller a few years ago and thought it is “such an honor to have my name linked with his.”
Chief Petty Officer Garth Sinclair has been in the US Navy since 1986. He is married with three kids. He is currently serving his country as a diving instructor in San Diego, where he is a big San Diego Padres fan. Chief Sinclair has spent 21 years coaching kids’ sports teams and has devoted thousands of hours to community service. He is currently getting a degree at George Washington University, where he has a perfect 4.0 GPA. Chief Sinclair told me that he felt “very honored and humbled to be considered among the greats that received the award and also with Bob Feller who the award is based on.” When he was nominated last spring for the award, he said, he had no idea how big a deal it would be. He also thanked his shipmates for their support.
Other award nominees included Nick Swisher of the Cleveland Indians, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, Justin Morneau, formerly of the Minnesota Twins but now playing for the Pirates, and Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler.
Admiral Jabaley led the award ceremony. I learned from Secretary Mabus that Admiral Jabaley is one of the heroes of the Navy Yard shooting in DC this year. I asked Admiral Jabaley what life lessons the game of baseball can teach:
Baseball teaches the life lessons of perseverance and hard work; they can improve your ability, and it will make a difference in your life if you see that by working really hard at something, you can succeed. The other thing that baseball teaches you is that it’s OK to fail at times. Even the best hitters only get a hit 3 out of every 10 times they go to bat. And so they fail 7 out of every 10 times. But sometimes they fail in a very good way, whether it’s a sacrifice fly, a sacrifice bunt, advancing a runner from second to third with a groundout to the right side of the field – those at-bats are still recorded as an out, but they help your team. So baseball teaches you that hard work can make you succeed, but also, that no one ever succeeds 100% of the time.
You could tell there were a lot of people at the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award ceremony on Wednesday night who were thinking about the values of hard work and sacrifice. As Mr. Feller’s wife said, “Bob would be so proud to be here today.”
It was so fun being at the Act of Valor Award ceremony to get to meet meet national leaders and heroes, a famous fireballer, and even some of the people who I talk to on Twitter but have never met. Thank you to Bob Feller and all members of the military for their service to America. Thanks to Justin Verlander for his charities that recognize and help veterans. I appreciate that I was able to interview him and get an autograph. I’m also lucky that Secretary Mabus gave me a challenge coin. I am glad I got to meet Chief Sinclair and was happy that all of his family could surprise him by being at the awards event. I was so happy to be invited to this great event, and I hope to get a chance to attend next year.
As today is Veterans Day 2013, I dedicate this post to the service men and women who risked their lives and made personal sacrifices. Thank you for your generosity to the country. Learn more about the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award at http://www.actofvaloraward.org/