Free courtside seats to the Wichita State men's basketball game were unexpected, but also much appreciated by Chris Fevurly and his young son, Nolan. The appearance of Roberto Clemente Jr. as an ambassador bearing a signed 8-by-10 from Ken Griffey Jr., along with other neat items, came as a huge surprise. The 10-minute phone call that Fevurly and his son took from Griffey inside of coach Gregg Marshall's office was the biggest shocker of them all, excuse the pun.
But that's what can happen when people band together to perform acts of kindness for a stranger who had lost something special. Ever since burglars in January stole a significant part of Fevurly's collection of Ken Griffey Jr. baseball cards (not to mention a big-screen TV), others have responded to make up for what was lost. For example: A friend from nearby Mulvane, Kan., Jeremiah Coleman, organized a fundraiser that allowed Fevurly to replace the TV. And Collector's Revolution got card collectors together to help replenish some of Fevurly's Griffey cards.
But a lot of what was taken cannot be replaced, as Fevurly's Griffey collection was organic and attached to memories that go back to Griffey's rookie year when Fevurly was 11 years old. That hasn't stopped people from trying, though, and he's appreciative.
"Truly all of these people are amazing," Fevurly said in a phone interview with Big League Stew on Thursday night.
So what was a call from "The Kid" like? And what did Griffey say with Roberto Clemente Jr., et al, hanging around a speakerphone?
"He told us he was really sorry about what happened," Fevurly said. "We didn’t even really talk much about baseball or sports. We talked about … I wanted to know what he was up to these days. And the reason he couldn’t be in Wichita was because he was busier now than when he was playing baseball."
But how did Griffey find out about Fevurly's loss? How did Clemente Jr. get involved? What does Wichita State hoops have to do with this? It's kind of a funny story.
Fevurly is a former Wichita State student, and while the Shockers baseball program is one of the more successful ones in the country, the men's hoops program has blossomed under Marshall. Fevurly's tale has been a big deal in the Wichita area and Marshall — whom Fevurly said happens to be a fan of Roberto Clemente Sr. — wanted to do something nice for him. The tickets, along with a basketball signed by the team and presented by assistant Ryan Dan Hilliard (who had alerted Marshall to Feverly's story), was enough to make for a memorable experience.
And then just before the game Clemente came by and introduced himself. Clemente's friend Ken Thomson of Sports X Radio in Las Vegas had seen the report KAKE-TV in Wichita had done about Fevurly and he contacted Clemente — who happens to be good friends with Griffey through extensive charity work.
Clemente said this to KAKE about his father, who died in a plane crash trying to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua:
"One of the things that dad lived for, and his motto was, 'If you have the opportunity in life to make things better, and you don't, you're wasting your time on Earth,' " Clemente said.
Griffey's longtime agent, Brian Goldberg, said Clemente easily persuaded Griffey they needed to do something. Griffey simply couldn't get away, so Clemente went in his place. Clemente didn't want Fevurly to be disappointed, but in reality he probably made for a good buffer.
"That’s what I told Roberto," Fevurly said. "He sat with us the whole game. I told him, if Griffey himself had shown up, I probably would have had a panic attack. As it was, when Roberto introduced himself, I was still like, 'You’ve got to be kidding me.' "
Griffey might not have been there in person, but there was plenty of time for a call. So they connected at halftime. Off the bat, Griffey told Fevurly how he learned of the stolen cards: Griffey has a cousin in the Wichita area who works as a police officer. He had seen the story.
"He actually contacted Ken right away and told him what had happened," Fevurly said. "That's how he first found out."
And what is Griffey, who retired in 2010, up to?
"Because of his work with Nike, and with the front office of the Mariners, Ken said he’s home about five days a month," Fevurly said. "His daughter [Taryn Griffey] is looking to go to some pretty big-time schools [for basketball] and Griffey has been going on recruiting visits with her."
And with Griffey's wife out of town, Griffey was home with the kids.
"So he’s packing Lunchables," Fevurly said. "He says, 'We’re eating out every night.' The wife is worried about someone doing the dishes and he’s like, 'Don’t even worry about it.' "
Ken Griffey Jr., likely Hall of Famer, packing Lunchables for kids and avoiding dishes.
"I'm really proud of the way he's transitioning after baseball," Goldberg said. "He's staying involved, but it's not consuming him. Family is so important to him."
Which probably is why Griffey engaged 6-year-old Nolan Fevurly (named after Nolan Ryan) during the conversation.
"He started talking to my son a little bit, which I thought was super-cool," Fevurly said. "Ken asked him who his favorite baseball player was and my son, who’s 6, said 'Ken Griffey Jr.' And Roberto’s joking, like, ‘You never got to see him play! How is this possible?’ Well, I probably force-feed ‘Ken Burns’ Baseball’ down my son’s throat a little too much.
"My son told him that he had a dirt bike and played baseball, and Ken got off on a tangent about dirt bikes, that they used to live down the street from the Stewart family (of motocross fame). He used to go riding with Malcolm and James ("Bubba") Stewart. They also talked about Nolan being named after Nolan Ryan. It was, generally, just a good conversation."
"Nolan — He was blown away," Fevurly continued. "His eyes were bigger than mine. I don’t think he realized, at 6 years old, how cool it really was. His dad was talking to his childhood hero. Someday that’ll set in at maybe 10 or 11."
They talked about their kids a little longer.
"His son's good at football," Fevurly said of Trey Griffey, a freshman on the Arizona football team. "Ken said he was good at football too. He said, "I chose the right path as far as sports are concerned."
Probably so, 630 home runs later. Calling the Fevurlys was yet another Griffey grand slam.
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