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Published: Monday, 5/22/2006

Baseball prospect, WWII vet acted with Cathedral Players

Bob Helvey, 86, a Toledo baseball pitcher who was one of the youngest players ever drafted by a professional baseball franchise, died Friday in Sunset Village, Sylvania, from complications of congestive heart failure.

Mr. Helvey was the talk of Toledo sports in 1934, when he was drafted at age 15 by the New York Giants, who had won the 1933 pennant and World Series.

"It was a challenge that my father enjoyed as such a young age," his son said, noting that his father was a sophomore at St. John's High School when an impressed scout decided to recruit him for the Giants.

It was almost unheard of then for such a young player to leave home and play on the professional level, his son said. "He was only 15 and then had to play with professionals who were already much older than him. But he enjoyed it."

What the young pitcher who lettered in baseball, basketball, and football at both Central Catholic High School and St. John's lacked in years, he made up for in size. He was 6 feet,2 inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds - considered big at the time.

But the promise of a great career was short-lived when a line drive struck the young pitcher on the ankle, causing a career-ending injury two years after he joined professional baseball.

"That was one of the biggest regrets of his life; that he never had the chance to pursue the career he thought he could have had," his son said.

Born in Toledo, Mr. Helvey returned here after his baseball stint and took on a number of jobs before enlisting in the Army during World War II.

An infantry sergeant, he was stationed in the Fiji Islands and in parts of the South Pacific from 1940 to 1945. A Purple Heart recipient, he returned to Toledo after his military service and married the former Eilleen "Pat" Hartman on May 11, 1946.

The couple settled in the Old West End, and Mr. Helvey took a job as a fuel tank driver for the Standard Oil Co. in 1951. He retired from the company in 1976.

"He was a very caring person and was always ready to help when he was needed by family and friends," his son said. He enjoyed singing and was a member of the Cathedral Players, an acting troupe of Rosary Cathedral Parish, of which he was a longtime member.

Surviving are his wife, Eilleen; daughter, Kathy Garr; sons, Bob, Don, and Rick; sisters, Margie Benson and Rosemary Clark; brother, Raymond; 12 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home, where the Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Central Catholic High, or the Sunset Village Employee Appreciation Fund.



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