A legendary former Cleveland baseball player not only has a spot in the record books, but now also holds a permanent place in the community.
Rocky Colavito last played for the Indians in the 1960s, but his impact is long-lasting, as hundreds gathered Tuesday for the unveiling of a new statue in his likeness that celebrates his heritage and place in history.
The bronze sculpture of the living legend stands frozen in position at the plate, with a bat poised to swing.
“I am really thankful and happy that God chose me to play in Cleveland,” Colavito said.
Though he’s a New York native, the nine-time all-star said he’s thankful to be recognized by fans in an old familiar place.
“Cleveland is my favorite city in this whole world,” he said.
Colavito played for the Indians twice in his career, from 1956-59 and again from 1965-67.
During the unveiling ceremony, the right fielder was referred to as a “generational hero” and “a giant on the field.” Beloved by Cleveland fans, he’s now immortalized in Tony Brush Park in Little Italy, a nod to his heritage.
“It’s part of who he is and we’re honoring not just a baseball player, but the person,” said longtime family friend Sue Garlando. “So, that makes it extra special.”
Colavito said he was humbled by the tribute.
“No better fans in this country,” he said. “And I played for six different teams, so I have an idea. I really shouldn’t have, I should’ve been here the whole time.”
Known as a “fan of the fans,” Colavito stayed more than an hour after the unveiling ceremony to sign autographs, taking fans, like brothers Ed and George Kontos, back in time, remembering the ball player’s signature moves.
“He would point the bat right at the pitcher,” Ed said. “It was his way of relaxing, you know? But, yeah, then he’d warm up with the bat behind his back.”
Longtime baseball fan Heidi Andres didn’t attend the event for herself, but for her mom.
“My mom grew up being a big fan of Rocky,” she said. “The first time he played for the Indians, she used to wait down at the gate after the games. She has his autograph.”
But, Andres’ mother passed away earlier this year, missing out on this special occasion. Andres and her brother honored their mother with a brick near the statue.
“She wanted him to be honored in the hall of fame in Cooperstown,” Andres said.
“The Rock,” as he’s known, earned legendary status for his “arm like a cannon.” He had an errorless season in 1965 and hit four successive home runs in a single game in 1959.
Despite his accomplishments, Colavito said he never dreamed of this type of tribute.
“Anybody that would not appreciate what’s happening here today is a screwball,” he said. “I mean, the love that these people have shown me is outstanding.”
The ceremony commemorated an 88th birthday the record-setting slugger will not soon forget.