Howard Koch: “I am probably the only person alive who saw [Feller’s first] game.”
Long-time Indians Season Ticket Holder Howard Koch attended the Tribe’s game versus Minnesota on Wednesday. Koch, 88, chatted with TribeVibe about his memories as a life-long Indians fan.
TribeVibe: How did you become an Indians fan?
Howard Koch: I played little league ball from the time I was 12 years old. We had about six different divisions of ages, and all the kids just played baseball. They don’t play it anymore because they’ve got too many gadgets in the way. It’s a shame because I used to play all day, every day. They used to give us tickets at the end of the school year. If you were a good student, you got tickets to one of the games. Each school got different tickets, so I’d gather a bunch and trade with other schools. I used to go with my mother on Friday for Ladies’ Night. I used to go to a few games with her. Then I sold hot dogs at the stadium.
TV: What was your experience like as an employee at the stadium?
HK: I was mostly employed because I liked to watch the Indians. I don’t know how good I was.
TV: When did you first purchase season tickets?
HK: When I first bought tickets, 1936, I saw Bob Feller pitch his first exhibition game out of high school. They threw him in, and he pitched six innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. He struck out eight in three innings. [The next batter] walked to the plate, he got two strikes called on him, he walked back to the dugout, and the umpire said, ‘That’s only strike two.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to stand in front of this guy [who is] throwing 100 mph and doesn’t know where it’s going.’ I am probably the only person alive who saw that game.
I was selling hot dogs the night that Joe DiMaggio had his hitting streak stop. I saw the last game at the Cleveland [Municipal] Stadium and the first game at Progressive Field. I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences.
TV: Who are some of the top players you have seen over the years?
HK: I go back to the old-timers that I grew up with. That was Earl Averill and Mel Harder, Bob Feller, Hal Trosky, those are the ones that come to my mind first. The next generation, you’ve got another group, but those are the ones that I grew up with as a kid that I remember the most.
TV: What was your best memory of being at an Indians game as a kid?
HK: Probably seeing Feller’s game. I was 12 then, and I’m 88 now, so anybody who saw that has to be pretty old. It was a school day, so there couldn’t have been many kids there.
TV: What was your favorite thing about League Park?
HK: It was small, and it had a fence out in right field about 30 feet high. It was sort of like Boston has their Green Monster; we had that fence back then. It only held probably 30,000 people. Everyone was stuck really close. Those are the players I remember.
TV: Who is your favorite player on the current Indians team?
HK: I like that new second baseman, Kipnis, because he plays hard. He runs every ball out. He hits a ball in the infield, he runs as fast as he can to first base. For a converted outfielder, he’s playing wonderful at second base.
TV: How has the game changed since you were 12?
HK: Back then, we didn’t have a designated hitter; the pitcher had to bat. We did a lot more bunting then. There are a few players on the team that [do not] even know how to bunt, and that’s sort of ridiculous because anybody can be taught how to bunt. Pitchers pitched the whole game; relief pitchers never came in until the last 10 years. They pitched every fourth day instead of every fifth day, so they had a lot of innings pitched in a season.
TV: Where is the best seat in Progressive Field?
HK: [Behind the Indians dugout] is a good spot, but I’d rather be up a little bit higher. Right now, [in the second row] my vision is not that good, and I’m losing the ball. I can enjoy it much better on television. Today, I drove up; it’s a three-hour drive.
TV: Are your children and grandchildren Indians fans?
HK: Well, none of them live here. They cheer for them from all around the country. My son lives in South Carolina. My brother lives in New Mexico, and he tries to catch them all. My daughter lives in Portland, Oregon. They’re really scattered.
TV: How do you follow the Indians from home?
HK: We have STO, so I follow about every game. I have my little spot, and my wife comes in every once in a while to watch it. She has her programs, and I watch Indians games.
-Megan Golden, TribeVibe contributor