Wellemeyer proud to be Colonel
Cardinals right-hander an ambassador for old Kentucky home
JUPITER, Fla. -- Major League players all carry an identification card that is one of their most prized possessions. It identifies them as part of an elite group, separated from ordinary folks.
Todd Wellemeyer, however, carries two cards in his wallet that are even more precious. He has business cards identifying him as a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, a prestigious honor within the commonwealth that Wellemeyer calls home.
"I'm just a state ambassador," he said proudly. "I feel like I represent the state."
Officially, the Colonels are a non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of the commonwealth. The Honorable Order "provides financial support to Kentucky charitable and educational institutions and organizations," according to the group's Web site.
Not just anyone can be a Colonel, and the list includes luminaries ranging from former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush to Pope John Paul II to Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali.
The last of that list, Ali, hails from Louisville -- the same hometown as Wellemeyer. Though the pitcher attended Bellarmine University in Louisville, he's a fan of the sports teams at the University of Louisville. Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal, evidently.
Wellemeyer explained that the duties as a Colonel include representing the state, not to mention knowing some chamber-of-commerce facts about Kentucky. He knows the state bird is the cardinal -- though maybe that's an easy one to remember -- and he knows that the merged metro area of Louisville and Jefferson County is one of the 20 biggest cities in the country.
When Wellemeyer drives to the park in Spring Training, he motors in a car that carries a Kentucky license plate, though he hopes to replace it soon. Not with another state's, but with something special.
"They actually offer a Colonel plate," he said. "The top half is gold and it fades to black, and it says 'Kentucky Colonel.'"
Wellemeyer was first approached about the honor by an assistant to then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who served from 2003-2007. The governorship has been passed on to Steve Beshear, but Wellemeyer's honor is permanent.
"I'm on my second governor," he said.
In addition to doing good works, the Colonels have some fun too. They get together for a reunion and barbecue over the weekend of the Kentucky Derby.
But there's one famous fellow Colonel that Wellemeyer hasn't met, and has no plans to. Actress Ashley Judd, one of the state's best-known natives, wears the wrong colors for Wellemeyer to associate with her.
"She's a [University of Kentucky] fan," Wellemeyer said dismissively.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.