Few people have been on the Amazon River, doing humanitarian work by providing medical care to remote villages in Brazil.
And not many people have been on the pitcher’s mound at Miller Park, just minutes before a Brewers game.
Janesville’s Merle Franks has been both places.
His trip to the mound last Thursday night was the result of his trips on the Amazon.
The 70-year-old Janesville resident threw out the first pitch before the Brewers-Reds game. The pitch was part of Franks’ benefits of being selected for the first Nellie Global Award recepient.
His daughter, Tina, submitted his nomination form.
Tina, along with Franks’ other children, eight grandchildren, two great grandchildren, relations of his late wife, Sandy, and several members of his church were in attendance.
“I had my own rooting section,” he said.
The Nellie award honors former Brewers player, coach and broadcaster Davey “Nellie” Nelson, who died last year at age 73 after a long illness.
Nelson, who participated in many charitable events, was a dedicated contributor to Open Arms Home for Children in South Africa, which takes care of children orphaned by AIDS victims.
And last Thursday night, Franks was on the pitching mound at Miller Park, watched by 20,000-plus people.
His bullpen preparation was minimal.
“I threw a little bit with my one grandson (Wednesday) afternoon,” Frank said.
And he warmed up at Miller Park a bit before his first-pitch appearance.
Franks, who didn’t play a lot of baseball as a youngster, just went out and winged it, clad in the white Brewers jersey with the No. 19 (this year) and his name FRANKS on the back.
And since the pitch is not being viewed on YouTube (take a look at “10 worst ceremonial first pitches”), Franks delivered an acceptable pitch.
“It wasn’t the greatest throw in the world,” he said, which is the same comment some of the Brewers’ recent starters could recite. ”At that point, there was a lot going on. I bounced it, but (the catcher) didn’t have to run across the field to catch it.”
That wasn’t the last of his recognition. Before the top of the second inning, Franks was escorted to right field Fox Sports Wisconsin booth, where pregame and postgame host Craig Coshun interviewed him as the inning started.
Of course, on one of the first pitches, Cincinnati’s Jesse Winkler hit a liner to the wall in center field, and was thrown out sliding into third, so the commotion on the field took away some of the attention of the interview.
“I should have known there was a camera on, but I didn’t realize it once we turned around and faced the field,” Franks said. “(Coshun) did a very nice job, making me very comfortable.”
After checking in, going down to the field to throw out the first pitch, returning, and then leaving to do the interview with Coshun, Franks had a smile on his face when the club level doorman saw him approaching.
“Yeah, it’s me again,” Franks said.
Franks enjoyed meeting representatives of Open Arms Home for Children, which the Brewers made a $10,000 donation to in Franks name, along with a long-time associate of Nelson’s.
It was more recognition that Franks ever expected from his humanitarian work. He recited a quote that is inscribed in the award.
“Giving is not about making a donation,” it reads. “Giving is about making a difference.”
That is the inspiration behind Franks’ work, which includes 26 boat trips in Brazil. He will be making his fifth trip this year in July.
“I do that, because it’s something I feel strongly about,” Franks said. “I enjoy people there.”
Being recognized by the Brewers with the Nellie Award was unexpected, but appreciated.
“It was sort of like icing on the cake,” Franks said of the night. “It truly was an amazing evening.”