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Cleveland Indians honor tickets 52 years after accident

August 12, 2018

CLEVELAND (AP) — Jennifer Annis had been looking forward to seeing the Indians. Having earned straight A’s at St. Rose School, she was awarded two tickets to the game on Aug. 20, 1966.

It was a treat. Her mother was a widow with several children, so “going to baseball games was not in the plan,” she said. Her favorite players were Rocky Colavito and Vic Davalillo.

The Indians faced the White Sox on what turned out to be a pleasant afternoon, the temperature reaching a comfortable 77 degrees. Fans in Cleveland saw a stellar pitching performance from Chicago’s Tommy John, who hit one of his five home runs over 26 big-league seasons. He went the distance, allowing only three hits and one walk. The White Sox won, 4-1, in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

Jennifer, though, didn’t make the game.

A week earlier, she rode a bike to visit a friend and waited at a train crossing on the West Side. An eastbound train passed, then she crossed. She didn’t see the westbound train coming.

It slammed into her, sending her 23 feet off her bike. Her friends Elizabeth Rooks and Mary Jane Torrence raced to Jennifer’s home and told her younger brother Jeff what happened.

“Yeah, sure,” came the response. The he realized they were serious.

She suffered a fractured skull and broke 13 bones in her arms. She spent four weeks in the hospital. The effect of the injuries would linger the rest of her life. She would lose much of her hearing and would not remember anything that happened on Aug. 13, 1966. It remains a lost day.

But she kept the tickets. And thanks to a whimsical decision, she would see a game in Cleveland because of them.

The 11-year-old — now 63-year-old Jennifer Wells living in Juno Beach, Florida — visited Cleveland for the first time in years and brought the tickets with her.

The Indians, 52 years later, honored them.

This week, Wells recalled the moments leading to the accident and how she got to Cleveland.

“It was early Saturday morning,” she said. “I was on my way to see my friend Elizabeth. My mom had taken me shopping the night before. ... I had new clothes, and I was going to show my friend the new clothes.

“There were two houses on the other side of the tracks” near 112th Street and Detroit Avenue, she said. “There was this woman living in the house next to the tracks, and she saw me get hit. First she called the priest, then she called the ambulance. The priest came down and gave my last rites. The ambulance came ... and they had to pull the train apart to get to me.

“People were not very happy. They had to wait so long for the train. Nobody knew. If you were on 117th Street, the train stopped (traffic) for a long time. I’m sure they didn’t know some little girl got hit.”

Wells’ aunt, uncle and cousins had left that day on vacation, but heard the news on the radio and turned around.

Wells spent her 12th birthday in the hospital.

“I asked my mom ‘How come they didn’t put casts on my arms?’ ”

″‘They thought you were going to die’ ” came the reply.

“They put blood in me. That’s what saved me. All my veins were collapsed, but they cut open my ankles and put blood in there. I don’t understand that, but that’s what they did.”

Then the day came for her to go home, and she showed a persistence that would stay with her later in life.

“They came with a wheelchair. I said ‘I’m not going to ride in that wheelchair. I’m walking out of here.’ And I did. My legs were not broken.”

She would graduate from Lakewood High School in 1972 and Keuka College in New York, and go on to receive advanced degrees. She is an occupational therapist.

Because of the injuries she lost most of her hearing, she said. A few years ago she received a Cochlear implant in her left ear and a hearing aid in her right.

“I’m a bionic woman,” she said.

It was only recently that the idea to visit Cleveland came about.

“I didn’t have a plan to go to Cleveland,” she said. “I only had a couple cousins and the one aunt in Ohio. My mom and brother live down here in Florida and my son. And I just never think of going up there. I’m in a running club. One of the guys in the running club who I barely know said ‘I’m from Cleveland. I’m going to go up and visit and have my friends get on the Goodtime III.’ I said ‘That sounds like fun.’ ”

She brought her tickets along with that persistence she found as a 12-year-old.

“I went to the stadium,” Wells said. “I wanted to go to the Saturday game (July 7, vs. Oakland). I asked a security guard — I had these old tickets and wanted to exchange them. He sneered and said ‘Go to the box office.’ ”

She met a box-office attendant who was kind but said he didn’t have authority to exchange the tickets. She found her way to the executive offices, where one person thought they were stubs. She convinced him they were genuine. Other staffers checked them out. Finally, she said, Estee Arend from Fan Services told her ‘This is terrific. We’re going to give you a ticket.’

The Indians actually gave her two additional tickets for her aunt and cousin. The original tickets were for upper-reserved seats and worth $2.50 each. They came with a letter signed by Indians president Game Paul and Cleveland Press sports editor Regis McAuley.

“It was so terrific,” she said. “It was just the most exciting day for me. And then they brought some gifts to me. They gave me a bobblehead and a Cleveland Indians bag and a rally rag.

It was just a great day. I wish they had won, though.” (The Indians lost, 6-3.)

For Wells, it was a bit of closure to an empty memory more than half a century ago.

“I did everything I wanted to do,” she said. “I had such a great time in Ohio and Cleveland.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2MnI6UT

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Information from: cleveland.com, http://www.cleveland.com

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