SPENCER, IOWA (KCAU) – They call him “The Spaceman”.
“I kind of did have to look him up right away, but my dad told me ‘you don’t know him?’ Estherville-Lincoln Central senior Blake Evans said. “Then I started watching some of his stuff and I was like this is the real deal.”
A love of the game that’s almost other-worldly, Bill Lee is one of baseball’s greatest characters.
“I was 36-0 in Little League and I was a pitcher before I was a thrower,” Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Bill Lee said.
Barnstorming around the country and internationally, his current tour would take Lee through Spencer on Apr. 17th. His third stop in four years in Northwest Iowa. Sharing throws and knowledge with American Legion and Total Baseball Development player, while reuniting with an old friend he met in Russia.
“He walked through the stadium and I’m like, ‘that’s Bill Lee,’ Total Baseball Development owner Bob Protexter said. “Introduced myself and that was 1990 and we’ve been friends ever since. We’ve been trading invitations for me to go to Vermont and him to come to Iowa for about 20 years. We’re old friends but I still listen to his stories and I’ve never heard the same story twice.”
“He first started with hitting and thinking with your backhand or your front hand, whichever one you want to lead with,” Evans said. “Then he gave us pitching pointers and things to do if you wanna throw better changeups. One of his big things was talking about the mindset of baseball.”
And through every tip and his famous Eephus pitch known as “The Spaceball,” Bill always carries a smile with Savannah Bananas across his chest. A second life he’d begin in 2022 for perhaps baseball’s most entertaining exhibition team.
“The object is to be fan friendly and to get three outs as quick as possible,” Lee said. “And I said I’ve been doing that my whole life.”
He was an instant fan favorite. But as the free-spirited hurler continued to captivate the baseball community, it’d hold its breath last August after Lee collapsed in the Bananas bullpen during warmups. A cardiac episode that stopped his breathing.
“His heart stopped on the field. The catcher that was in the bullpen was working with him and then working on him. Bill always said he’ll probably die on a baseball field but I don’t wanna die in the bullpen,” Protexter said.
After a hospital stay and further treatment, Lee would make a recovery. A week later, he’d make his return to the mound for the Bananas. Becoming a baseball sensation all over again.
“Endeavor to persevere. Never give up, and rely on your comprehensive propensities,” Lee said.
“It’s amazing he came back from that, and he wants to keep going,” Protexter said.
Showing no signs of stopping, Lee continues to defy age and ability on the mound. Wanting to share everything he knows to the next generation of players.
“You hear these big names and getting to see him in person is really cool,” Evans said.
“I’m trying to teach them how to conserve their energy and play for the long haul and that’s all I am. They call me the legend, but I’m the freak,” Lee said.
Whether there’s baseball in Spencer or Savannah, chances are The Spaceman is there.
“It’s America, its apple pie, and its baseball above all things,” Lee said.