Thursday, July 04, 2013

South Dakota adventure part 1: Van Meter and respect for Rapid Robert

The Gnome of Victory and Celebration at the museum.

RAPID CITY, SD – There are two ways to approach life.

You can sit on the shelf. Safe, to be sure, collecting dust with a never-changing view. It is a dull, unchallenged existence.

Or, you can get out there in the world. You can see and experience new things, face challenges and even danger. And, you might face peril at the hands of a giant jackalope. (That's called foreshadowing)

Such was the decision facing the Gnome of Victory and Celebration as we headed on our family adventure to South Dakota.

We left early Thursday, making our way from Illinois through Iowa with the goal of meeting up with Jeff, Kris and Zack at a hotel in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The thing with road trips is that you have to be open to stopping when glorious opportunities present themselves. We might never pass this way again.

That led to our first stop. 

Heading east on I-80 in Iowa, I saw the sign for Van Meter. Of course, that’s the birthplace of Hall of Famer Bob Feller – and current site of the Bob Feller Museum.

There’s not much to Van Meter, so the museum was not difficult to find. It’s a small, tidy brick building with a large bar relief on the side with portraits of “Rapid Robert.”

Feller, who died in Dec. 2010, was outspoken, proud and protective of his legacy. I had the pleasure of meeting him at least twice, and he was friendly and chatty. He was also famous for granting every autograph request.

There are stories about Feller appearing at minor league baseball games to sign autographs, signing for everyone on line, then walking through the stands signing some more. This frustrated people who sold autographs, saying he flooded the market. Everybody else liked meeting one of the best pitchers ever.

You have to respect that.  And there are signed items – many of them – at the museum at very reasonable prices.

Feller led the Junior Circuit in wins six times, compiling a career 266-162 record with 2,581 strikeouts. 

“Rapid Robert” was a war hero in addition to a Hall of Fame pitcher, enlisting in the Navy two days after Pearl Harbor at the peak of his career, costing him four seasons.

We arrived just before closing time and couldn’t stay too long -- enough to grab some things in the gift shop and admire some of the displays.  The price of admission was nominal, and the two exhibit rooms were filled with Feller memorabilia.

But we could tell that the folks in Van Meter are proud of their native son, with good reason. It was a fine way to start our adventure.

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