The magic of Don and the Indians


As the Cleveland Indians rolled into the Major League Baseball record books with a 22-game winning streak, many names were noted for the good run.

Francisco Lindor was hitting .365 with 17 runs and 18 RBIs at one point during the streak. And his home run total of 15 from last season is now 30 this year.

Jose Ramirez has been formidable at the plate, and his extra-innings effort Thursday, stretching a single into a double, was highlight reel stuff.

The pitching is obscene. The staff leads the majors with 18 shutouts. Carlos Carrasco has allowed zero runs or one run in his starts the last month.

And then there’s Don Phillips.

He was at the July 27 game – a 2-1 win over the L.A. Angels.

True, that win was a month before the record-setting streak started.

True, he did not play.

And, true, you likely have no idea who Don is.

But on July 27, he left a teardrop at the stadium. A couple tears, actually.

They grew from an act of kindness toward him from the Indians staff.

And we know that kindness can come back to you, and we know that moisture – possibly even from teardrops – can give life.

That’s the 87-year-old Cortland man’s part in this season.

He expects it to be his last.

Don is a patient of Gillette Nursing Home in Warren and a client with Harbor Light Hospice.

The two agencies teamed up this summer as part of Harbor’s Dare to Dream program – which grants special events for clients.

They talked with the Cleveland Indians officials, and the three made for a memorable game in July for Don and his grandson, David of Boardman.

It was a win of a lifetime of sorts for Don – a lifetime spent rooting for Cleveland sports teams.

“The only time I can recall seeing him cry was when Grandma passed away,” said David.

“But he cried [at the stadium].

“We got into the suite and went right to the porch, and when he saw the field, he had tears. It meant the world to him.”

Don raised a family of eight on wages earned from Thomas Steel, where he worked for 45 years. His first wife, Ruth, died in 1999. Second wife, Sharon, died in 2010. His children still call the Valley home – Debbie Smith and Larry live near Cortland, Steve lives near Newton Falls, Susan Sampedro and Tim are down by Beloit, and Mary Jo lives with her son, David, in Boardman.

Although they lived in Cortland, Don’s was always a Cleveland home – the Browns and the Indians.

I asked if he ever rooted for, say Pittsburgh, when Cleveland’s season was done.

He about jumped out of his chair toward me, stretching his oxygen tube:

“No Pittsburgh fans were ever allowed in the house,” he said, eyes growing wide.

David said it’s how he grew up.

“Ever since I was a kid‚ö he’s always all about the Indians and the Browns,” said David. “He and Uncle Larry went to all the Browns games.”

That was the old Browns, Don said.

When Art Modell moved the team, he stopped going.

He’s not been to any Indians game since, well, the old stadium. Life was just too busy, he said.

Keri Rhoads, a coordinator with Harbor Light Hospice, based locally in Liberty and serving several counties, said their Dare to Dream program works to make a special event for clients when they enter their program.

Usually it’s picnics, fishing, a museum, a wedding or simple, local destinations.

The Indians event was an extra effort.

But she said Don is so beloved by the staff and in love with Cleveland sports, that they actually pitched the Indians game idea to him.

For weeks, his excitement grew, as did the guest list.

While a Harbor staffer always attends any Dream trips, this trip’s guest list grew to five staffers. Latonya Hughley is one of Don’s aides, is not a baseball fan, and was eager for a baseball fan to take her place.

Don insisted she come, and she did –with a jersey on as well.

Like a “King for a Day,” they found their way to a fully stocked suite. Don said it was his best baseball hot dogs ever.

“There’s a photo somewhere of him in hot-dog joy,” David said. “Mustard is all over his face, and he’s just smiling.”

Additionally, the Indians provided the group with a haul of memorabilia. Don left with an autographed jersey from Corey Kluber.

“I don’t know how he’s going to pitch again,” Don said, laughing. “I have his jersey.”

He also took home a Bob Feller bobblehead – Don being probably the only person there who knew the legendary Indians pitcher from 1936 to 1956.

I told Don that my favorite Indian was Joe Charboneau. He smiled at that era of Indians baseball.

That’s what David enjoyed most about the trip.

It was rewarding, he said, to just share a sporting moment that he knew was so much apart of his grandfather’s life. Growing up – they just had never had that chance.

“He didn’t get to go all these years due to his health. The only sporting event we were ever able to do together was one high- school football game years ago,” said David, 38. “We never got to go to these things. I got to see a side of him I never got to see. The smile, the tears – it was a great feeling. I would drop everything and do it again with him.”

Don calls it his last game.

Things end. Period.

The Indians’ streak ended Friday night. Don accepts that life ends, too.

But the people around him at Gillette and Harbor keep encouraging him to stay at life.

His Indians trip is still quite the talk around the place – amplified by the sight of his daily ritual of hanging out by his TV waiting for the game to come on.

“It’s a big TV,” Don said.

I said there’s surely playoffs to get ready for and possibly even another World Series visit.

He politely dismissed it and that it will be his aides watching it.

The Indians just finished a magical run. Don’s visit before the start was magical.

This could be their year. They certainly made his.

You can always dare to dream – again.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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