WHEN IT COMES to the realm of athletics, Felix "Blues" Bonadio of Farrell has had a life more memorable than most.
He was an All-Mercer County football selection in 1938 at Farrell High School and went on to star at Manhattan College in New York City. His stellar athletic career culminated with an induction into the Mercer County Hall of Fame in 1981, but the thrills didn't stop there.
How many of us can say we were fortunate enough -- or unfortunate enough, depending on your perspective -- to have shared a birthday party with Pittsburgh Steelers' radio analyst Myron Cope? Bonadio did just that at this year's Mercer County Hall of Fame banquet, celebrating No. 80 while Cope was hitting the Big 7-0.
But despite all the accolades he's received on and off the field, it was a chance meeting with the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, more than a half-century ago that was, perhaps, the biggest thrill of Bonadio's life.
That all-too-brief meeting with DiMaggio, who died this week, is something Bonadio will never forget.
The story begins in the early 1940s at Manhattan College where, as luck would have it, the school's athletic trainer, Gus Monch, also happened to be the team physician for the New York Yankees.
One Saturday, Bonadio, who was eventually drafted by the NFL's Detroit Lions but was called to serve his country in World War II instead, headed over to the training room for a scheduled appointment to treat a bad ankle with a whirlpool.
"I would go to the Athletic Building on campus and Gus would give me a treatment," recalled Bonadio. "One day I was having the treatment and Gus comes in and says, 'Hey Bonadio, how about getting out of the whirlplool? I have a man here I want to treat.' "
Now at that moment, Bonadio said he was killing time during the whirlpool session that normally lasted one hour, 45 minutes by studying, and had a book in his hand.
"I said, 'Who is it?' To which Monch said, 'It's Joe DiMaggio.' I got so excited, I dropped the book in the water."
After fishing the book out, Bonadio -- as anyone in his position would -- said he stepped out of the whirlpool and DiMaggio stepped in, but not before asking Bonadio if he would have to pay for the damaged book.
"I said, 'No, I'm on scholarship.' And he said, 'That's alright,' and pulled out a $20 bill and gave it to me."
The stunned Bonadio said at first he refused the money, but at DiMaggio's insistence then accepted it. Bonadio then headed back to his room where four teammates were waiting and wondering why he was back so early from the treatment.
"When I told them Joe DiMaggio was down there, they bailed out of the room so fast that they threw me up against the wall, and headed to the Athletic Building."
And there Bonadio, who also returned, found the quartet sitting on the floor around the whirlpool talking with a legend larger than life.
"And that was one of the biggest thrills I had in my life," Bonadio said.
And that's saying plenty coming from a man who eventually rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and went on to serve as an assistant football coach for 15 years and a basketball coach for 21 years in the highly successful Farrell program.