GREENFIELD — During an Indianapolis Indians baseball game against the Charlotte Knights last week at Victory Field, a bouquet of flowers perched on an empty seat near the Indians’ home dugout.
It was a makeshift and heartfelt memorial for Frank McDowell, a Greenfield man and Indians season-ticket holder since the 1960s.
McDowell passed away at age 71 on July 16.
“Some season-ticket holders in the seats near him brought the flowers to the next game … and those stayed on his vacant seat that entire game,” explained Bruce Schumacher, the Indians’ vice president of corporate affairs.
Schumacher first met McDowell in 1983 when Schumacher joined the club as ticket manager. By then, McDowell was well into his second decade as an Indians super fan.
A native of Preble County, Ohio, McDowell graduated from Ohio State University in 1966 and was hired by Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. Lilly sent McDowell, an industrial engineer, to get his Master’s at Stanford in California. McDowell returned to live in Indianapolis in 1968 and began his love affair with the Indians.
“He was an avid fan,” said McDowell’s nephew, Bryan McDowell, of Greenfield. “Always went, always had season tickets. As a little kid, I remember going and I thought it was great because his tickets were right behind the dugout.
“They’d hand out the broken bats and different things, so as a little kid I thought that was really neat.”
Frank McDowell had no children of his own, so his nieces and nephews were often ballpark guests, first at the old Bush Stadium on Indy’s west side and, beginning in 1996, downtown’s Victory Field.
McDowell was also a follower of the Indiana Pacers dating back to their ABA days, but Victory Field was his home away from home.
“He was part of the fabric of the old ballpark, and he continued to be part of the Indians’ family at Victory Field,” said Schumacher, whose dad, Max, is the club’s longtime president. “I think anybody like Frank who’s been a season ticket-holder of ours for 40-plus years, you build a relationship with as more than just a fan.”
McDowell’s loyalty extended far south; he bumped into Schumacher at a Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring training game in Bradenton, Florida, this year.
“I’m at the stadium, I hear someone call my name,” Schumacher recalled of the pleasant surprise. “I turn around and it’s Frank.”
The Indians are the Triple-A International League affiliate of the Pirates. McDowell came back north and attended a few Indians’ home games this season before succumbing to cancer during the International League’s All-Star break.
McDowell’s brother, Bill McDowell, was given Frank’s remaining tickets.
Bill and Bryan McDowell and their families live in Greenfield, with some of Frank’s other surviving relatives residing in Knightstown and Frankfort, as well as Columbus, Ohio, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
McDowell, who also worked for Cinergy/IPC Energy, lived in Hancock County for approximately the final eight years of his life, according to his nephew, Bryan.
Throughout the past 46 years, McDowell’s support for the baseball franchise never wavered, even as the Indians’ parent club varied in that time between the Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, Milwaukee Brewers and Pirates.
“He just liked it because it was an Indianapolis team and he lived here,” Bryan explained. “He just liked going to the games. When he was growing up, he was a Reds fan, so when it was the Reds’ affiliation he thought that was great.
“He was really disappointed to see that change. But he just liked being a fan of the Indianapolis Indians.”
McDowell, who volunteered as a counselor for a suicide hotline, made many friends at the ballpark over the years, getting to know the nearby season-ticket holders who also kept their same seats, as well as ushers, concession workers and team executives. But, Bryan added, Frank McDowell was serious about his baseball.
“He was very intellectual,” the nephew said. “He was very smart, obviously, being an engineer and graduating from Stanford with a Master’s.
“He was very well-liked. But, when he went to the game, he was there to watch the game. He was really intently watching the game. He loved baseball.”
Baseball, and specifically the Indians, loved him back. The McDowell family was touched and taken aback by several gestures the Indians organization extended upon McDowell’s passing.
Indians general manager Cal Burleson posted a message on McDowell’s online mortuary tribute wall, noting the kinship he shared with McDowell, a fellow Ohio State fan, and writing, in part, “Our organization will miss his presence, and I will miss his smile.”
Burleson told the Daily Reporter Wednesday, “Frank McDowell was a consistent, positive presence by the home dugout, and I enjoyed regularly seeing him keep a scorebook of the game. Season ticket holders like Frank are the backbone of our fan base, and when they’ve been with us for many years they become more than a fan, they become a part of the Indians family.”
Burleson also wrote a personal letter to the McDowell family. And the Indians contributed money to McDowell’s hometown church in Eaton, Ohio, where services were held.
“For the Indians to do what they did was extremely nice, and our family was extremely pleased with everything the Indians did,” Bryan McDowell said. “I thought that was great. They didn’t have to write a letter, they didn’t have to send money in his name.”