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Baseball Bob, 72, still plays and has this advice for Tribe: Relax and enjoy

October 8, 2018

Baseball Bob, 72, still plays and has this advice for Tribe: Relax and enjoy

CLEVELAND, Ohio – For so many baseball fans, some of whom are only fans when the Indians are in the postseason as they are now, the games bring back long-ago memories of the sandlot, rubbing infield dirt on your hands and jumping on fastballs when you’re ahead in the count.

Baseball has that effect on Bob Leech of Seven Hills, who isn’t just a fan during the postseason and isn’t just an Indians fan. He’s known to many as “Baseball Bob.”

“For us older guys, it brings back the kid in us,” the 72-year-old told me last week. “Putting your spikes on, stepping onto the grass, oiling your glove, the sound of a bat, a wood bat, smacking a ball.”

He’s not digging deep into the memory banks for that one. Not thinking back to his days at Lincoln High School in Cleveland, or The Plain Dealer AAA league where he faced future big leaguers. He’s not thinking back to his six years in the U.S. Army where his job was to play on the Army baseball team.

He’s thinking two weeks ago, when he tore the cover off the ball and pitched in an all-ages  tournament in Cooperstown. And he’s thinking about next month, when he is to play in the Roy Hobbs World Series in Fort Myers, Fla., in the 60-and over, 65-and-over, and 70 and over divisions.

Leech, like so many fans, will watch from the family room when the Indians play the Houston Astros this afternoon in Game 3 of the American League Division  Series at Progressive Field. But he has tickets Tuesday and is planning to watch Game 4 from the stands at Progressive Field.

He’s pulling for them to accomplish what’s eluded the Tribe since Bob was just a toddler in 1948 – a World Series victory.

“To see the Indians do it would be the greatest thing that’s ever happened in this city. Cleveland would be radiating so brilliantly, we would shine throughout the world,” he said. “I think I’d go bananas, really. It’s been so long.”

He knows what he’s talking about. He has attended a game in 39 different World Series in his lifetime. And, here’s his major character flaw, he has celebrated loudly after some of them, the most recent in 2009. Because of his childhood idol Mickey Mantle, Leech,  who grew up in sight of the steel mills on West 7th Street, is a Yankees fan.

“I’m a baseball fan, first and foremost,” he said, sitting in a small office stuffed with mind-blowing memorabilia collected over his lifetime. Dozens of signed baseballs –  Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial. Enough genuine game-used bats, including a Lou Gehrig bat, to ring the room. Bobbleheads and ticket stubs and various other pieces of nostalgia.

But, come on, a Cleveland kid who also loves the Yankees?

His wife Marilyn, who stood in the doorway because “I get the hives” due to the dust and clutter of his mini museum, tried to help.

“We just got back from a trip, and he wore his Indians coat and his Yankees hat,” she said.

Leech is retired now. He was a salesman who worked at The Plain Dealer, and then a number of sign companies including Brilliant Signs. He served on Seven Hills City Council for 26 years, 18 as president. He spent 52 years selling programs at Browns games and worked as an attendant for 12 years starting in 1974 in the visitor’s clubhouse for the Indians, where players might take a liking to you and leave a bat or sign a ball.

Now, he umpires high school baseball and fast-pitch softball games, as well as refereeing volleyball and basketball games. And this after recovering three years ago from an injury that left half his body paralyzed and hospitalized him for three months when a 14-year-old ballplayer took a practice swing as Leech, who was umpiring, was walking by.

“He took me out!” Leech said. He was back on the field as soon as he healed. He plays -- hardball, not softball -- in a league where games are three times a week, plus a bunch of tournaments. Maybe 75 games a year.

Two weeks ago at a tournament at Abner Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., hitting fourth behind his son Mickey (told you he loves Mantle), Leech gathered more RBIs than any player (nine) and the best on-base percentage thanks to 10 walks.

He attributes his keen eye and switch-hitting prowess to the batting cage set up in his backyard for 28 years, where he worked on his swing in his free time and helped his own kids  -- Mickey, 49, Christine, 42, Bobby, 40 -- become accomplished switch-hitters. He also taught hundreds of local children how to make solid contact.

“I’d give their dad a beer and sit him on the patio and say, ‘Take notes if you want, but don’t say anything for the next hour,’” he said.

What would he tell the Indians now?

“They’re pros. There’s nothing I can say that they don’t know,” he said, before coming up with something anyway. “If you relax and you enjoy the moment, you will always play better. You’ll hit the ball, you’ll throw that pitch thinking ‘that sucker ain’t gonna touch it.’ You just gotta relax and enjoy it.”

Good advice for fans, too.
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