WWII veteran has a ball meeting Big Papi

92-year-old Red Sox fan Lefebvre announces 'Play Ball' prior to game vs. Orioles

WWII veteran has a ball meeting Big Papi

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At the age of 92, Ernie Lefebvre felt as if he had just experienced one of the thrills of his life on Thursday morning before Boston's 9-5 win over the Orioles.

"That was better than meeting the Pope," bellowed Lefebvre after meeting gregarious Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

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In truth, the pleasure was probably greater for Big Papi. When told there was a World War II veteran in his midst, Ortiz took a stroll to the VIP area behind home plate to greet Lefebvre, who was accompanied by his son Paul and daughter-in-law Debbie.

"I heard there was a hero out here," Ortiz said.

"You've meant so much to me," Lefebvre said to Ortiz.

"You mean a lot to us, too," Ortiz answered.

It's hard to quantify just how much this week's trip to Fort Myers has meant to Lefebvre, who has been a Red Sox fan for over 60 years.

"It's so fantastic for me to be here with Jason Varitek standing right there, just 12 feet away from me," Lefebvre said. "Even if he never said a word to me, the fact that I'm this close to him is sensational."

Before rooting for the Red Sox, the Bristol, Conn., native was a Yankees fan. Allow him to explain the dramatic switch in allegiances.

"I was a Yankee fan. Dyed in the wool," Lefebvre said. "I went to the war and came out of the war and got a scholarship at UConn and played football. I was there with guys who came out of the war, and one of the guys was Walt Dropo, and he played football, a great end, and a great center on the basketball team. But he played all the sports.

"When he dropped his pads, he was on to the next sport. But he played football with me, and he later went to the Red Sox, and from the moment he went to the Red Sox, I shifted from the Yankees to the Red Sox. I was with the Red Sox a long time; I've been with them a long time."

There was no turning back, not even as the Yankees owned that rivalry until the Red Sox finally broke through in 2004.

Just prior to Thursday's Red Sox-Orioles game, Lefebvre was welcomed onto the field. He grabbed the microphone on the grass behind home plate and implored, "Play Ball."

Lefebvre experienced a lot while serving in World War II.

"He got drafted and went over early in '43, made the landings at Normandy, then fought all the way up into Paris, all the way to the Battle of Bulge," Paul Lefebvre said. "He got overrun at the Battle of the Bulge. There were some panzer tanks that came through and just kept going.

"Thought the war was over and was getting ready to go home, and the Germans had that last big counteroffensive up there at the Bulge, so he was there, and then he stayed in Germany after the war for a period of time."

Of his time in the war, Ernie Lefebvre said, "I think to start with, the attitude of the people in those years was sensational. Across the country, there was no dissension. Everybody was after backing one another."

A certified sports nut, Lefebvre lives in West Hartford, Conn., and watches every Red Sox game he can.

"I don't' think there's any substitute for the second baseman," Lefebvre said of Dustin Pedroia. "I think what he's done is phenomenal, and his attitude is so great. And I'm a Big Papi fan."

Paul Lefebvre also has military ties as a retired Marine Corps general who now goes overseas to mentor soldiers.

"He doesn't do a lot of traveling," Paul said of his father. "This Christmas, he said to me he'd really like to come down to Fort Myers. I almost fell out of my chair. He never leaves Connecticut. We've gone to four games in four days."

To say Ernie Lefebvre is aging well would be an understatement.

"He shoots a hundred baskets a day in the summer and he walks a couple of miles. For 92, he is in pretty good shape," Paul Lefebvre said. "His mind is sharp as a tack."

Before ending his chat with Ortiz, Ernie Lefebvre couldn't resist giving him some hitting advice.

"Hit the ball to left field. Take it the other way. Don't try to pull it all the time," he said.

And who was Ortiz to argue?

"Let's do it," Ortiz said. "Put some dents on the Green Monster."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.