Recapturing an artful piece of Cougar history

Recapturing an artful piece of Cougar history

LITTLE DID JUSTIN FELKER of the Cougar Athletic Fund know what he was getting into more than two years ago when he discovered nearly 300 copies of a commemorative lithograph collecting dust in a Spokane basement. The artwork was produced shortly after Bobo Brayton retired in 1994 and featured the likenesses of Bobo and the 30 best players he coached in his 33 years at the helm of Cougar baseball.

The lithos were produced by WSU booster Larry Yates, who had squirreled away the unsold copies many years ago.

Learning of the cache in Yates' basement, Felker struck upon an ambitious goal: To have every still-living depicted player sign each of the remaining copies of the lithograph. And for good measure, he wasn't going to settle just with the players pictured. He also was going to get signatures for the "honorable mention" players listed at the bottom of the lithos underneath the autographs of the artist, Michael Reagan, and the head coach.

In all, that's 59 star Cougar ballplayers, spanning parts of four decades, that he needed to track down. Adding to the size of the task was the fact WSU only had contact information on 18 of them.

"My aim was two-fold: To reconnect these great Cougars with WSU and the baseball program, and to have some very special collectors' items that we could give each of them, as one of Bobo's Best, but also use as the focus of a fundraiser," he said.

"That's been the heart-warming part of this -- tracking everyone down, with a huge assist from Bobo and his 50-year-old address book. I can tell you that no matter how far from Pullman, or how many years removed from WSU, Cougar pride runs deep in every one of these gentlemen. And many of them decided to become donors after we reconnected."

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For the last two-plus years, whenever the opportunity presented itself, Felker would box up the lithos -- all 96 pounds worth -- and get them in front of luminaries for autographing.

"It's led to some interesting moments," Felker said, noting the time he and Donnie Marbut spent an hour at a Home Depot south of Los Angeles constructing a new carry crate out of 2x4s and deck screws after the original had been damaged on the flight down. "We barely made our plane home, but I tell ya, that new crate was built like iron. And no thanks to Donnie, either. Man, that guy has no idea what he's doing with a power drill in his hand."

One after another, Felker piled up the signatures -- from Ron Cey to both Oleruds, Joe McIntosh to Aaron Sele, Dave Edler to Scott Hatteburg.

Two players -- Danny Frisella and Bob Waits -- have been deceased for many years, and Dale Ford's whereabouts was unknown until Cougfan.com's year-long investigative report two weeks ago, so Felker knew perfection wasn't possible. But nothing was going to stand in the way of excellence.

Which is why he kicked convenience to the back seat last month and put 2,400 miles on his car in the span of 2 1/2 days in order to get Sharpies in the hands of Pete Duncan in Calgary, Doug Simon in Regina, and Bob Fry in Billings. And that was after flying the week before to see Norm Angelini in Denver.

"I had no idea it would be so hard to find a hotel room in Saskatchewan at 1:30 in the morning," he said of his arrival in Regina in the middle of the oil boom in North Dakota.

Felker still has a few more signatures to collect before launching an on-line auction at wsucougars.com for 200 of the lithos. "The goal is to raise $200,000 for our baseball capital improvement projects, so we're asking $1,000 per copy," he said. To pre-order your piece of history, contact Felker at jfelker@wsu.edu .

At the top of the capital improvements list is construction of a clubhouse adjacent to Bailey-Brayton Field.

"That will be the ultimate reward -- seeing this informal reunion of Bobo's Best turn into an infusion of dollars that will help the program carry on the winning tradition Bobo helped build at WSU," says Felker.

BOBO IN 2010 WITH HIS TWO MOST FAMOUS CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE MAJOR LEAGUES: 1993 A.L. BATTING CHAMPION JOHN OLERUD AND 1981 WORLD SERIES MVP RON CEY.

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