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Rays will honor Irvin with game's first pitch

Monte Irvin has fond memories of St. Petersburg.

In 1951, his New York Giants had spring training there. They went on to win the National League pennant in dramatic fashion.

"It was quite nice," Irvin said.

Irvin, 84, will make a special return to St. Petersburg on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays honor the Homosassa resident and Baseball Hall of Famer with Monte Irvin Day at Tropicana Field.

Irvin will throw out the first pitch before the Rays-Chicago White Sox game at 1:15 p.m.

"It's exciting," Irvin said. "I feel highly honored."

Irvin, who grew up in New Jersey, was among the top Negro League standouts during the 1930s and '40s.

Some

thought he would be the first to break baseball's color barrier, but Irvin joined the Army in 1943 and returned to the game with slightly diminished skills.

Nonetheless, he was signed by the Giants in 1949 and became one of the National League's most feared hitters. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1973.

Irvin moved to the county in 1984 with Dee, his wife of 61 years.

He will be joined Sunday by family and friends, a group he said that could number 30-40. Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, a longtime friend, is among those expected to be there to show support.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Irvin said.

Irvin, who played third base, shortstop and in the outfield, has bragged that nobody had a better arm than him during his prime.

Sunday afternoon, he will have a chance to show his stuff in front of a big crowd.

"After 84 years, I don't get nervous any more," Irvin said. "It'll be a pleasure."

_ Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337 or online at niebuhrsptimes.com.

MONTE IRVIN BIO

BORN: Feb. 25, 1919, Columbia, Ala.

RESIDENCE: Homosassa.

HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-2, 210.

POSITIONS: SS, 3B, OF.

BATS/THROWS: Right/Right.

TEAMS PLAYED FOR: Newark Eagles, New York Giants and Chicago Cubs.

TIMELINE

1937: Joined Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues using assumed name (Jimmy Nelson) to keep amateur status.

1938: Graduated from Orange High School, N.J.

1943: Drafted into U.S. Army.

1949: Signed with Major League Baseball's New York Giants.

1951: Best year in majors. Hit .312 and had 24 home runs and league-leading 121 RBIs.

1956: Retired after his last season with Cubs.

1973: Elected to Hall of Fame along with Roberto Clemente, Warren Spahn and Mickey Welch.

1984: Moved to Citrus County.

NEGRO-LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS

Hit career-best .422 in 1940, then led National League the next year with a .396 average. Won batting title in 1946 (.401). Hit .400 or better three times. Received four All-Star berths.

MAJOR-LEAGUE STATS

Year Team HR RBI Avg.

1949 NYG 0 7 .224

1950 NYG 15 66 .299

1951 NYG 24 121 .312

1952 NYG 4 21 .310

1953 NYG 21 97 .329

1954 NYG 19 64 .262

1955 NYG 1 17 .253

1956 CHC 15 50 .271

TOTALS: 99 443 .293

_ KEITH NIEBUHR

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