Made in Canada

We live in the greatest country on earth and that's why we produce the greatest athletes. Canadians are making a huge impact in baseball these days because our development of baseball players is second only to our development of junior hockey players.

Now let me tell you a story. I used to be a really good ballplayer. Of course, over the winter and into spring, we stretched out the hockey season as long as we possibly could. But by June, all the ice and snow had melted and our skate blades were dull from two months of skating on the pavement. That shows you how much we loved Canada's game. But when summer finally rolled around, it was time to put away our skates and get our spikes and gloves out of storage. We played in a semipro league and everyone on our team was paid three dollars per day, plus bus fare to and from the game and a two-four of Labatt's 50. We were getting paid peanuts but we weren't doing it for the money, we did it because we wanted to play.

Big league scouts used to drive up from the States to watch our games. Word spread fast about our team of hard-nosed Kingston boys. We hit the ball hard and opposing infielders harder. In their game notes, the scouts used to call it the "Canadian style" of play but you never hear that term used anymore because the game has become so diluted by foreigners who don't know how to take a hit. Next time you're watching a game, look at how those Venezuelans and Dominicans play. They take one hit -- one hard slide -- and they're down on the field for five minutes. Give me a break. We played hurt everyday. One season, our ace pitcher, a guy by the name of Stumpy Miller, pitched the entire second half of the season with a dislocated shoulder. What's more, he never even let on that he was hurt, and we didn't find out about the injury until the season was over. He got hurt during a bench clearing brawl we had with the Huntsville Grizzlies. The game hadn't even started yet. Our manager brought the lineup card to home plate, the other manager said something about his mother and it was on. The umps just stood back and let the players go at it. We had a really good umpiring crew working that day and they didn't want the game to be decided because of ejections, so they didn't eject anybody because of the fight. That's the way the game should be played -- the umps have got to let the players play the game. In the end, the fight went on for a while and the opening pitch was delayed for about an hour and a half, but the fans loved it.

Anyhow, I want to tell you about this one game we played against the Smiths Falls Trillium Pickers. These guys played dirty, they had a real mean streak about them. We never liked playing against them. Our catcher was this a huge brute of a guy named Carl Turner who was also the top defenseman on our minor league hockey team before he disappeared one summer while canoeing down the Ottawa river. So this guy Turner went to break up the double play at second. The shortstop was coming across the bag and was looking down into his glove to receive the ball from the second baseman instead of looking up at the runner. Now, for all you kids out there, remember to never ever ever cross the bag with your heads down because if you do that you're gonna get hit. Now, Turner didn't even bother sliding, he just ran right through the bag like he'd been trained to do and shoulder checked the Trillium Pickers shortstop into next week. This was in the top of the second inning, so by that time, the Smiths Falls fans were good and drunk and started chucking empty bottles of rye whiskey onto the field in protest. Pandemonium broke out, and it was a big mess. As for me, I got whacked in the eye with a hockey stick by a fan who had run out onto the field so I had no choice but to drop my glove and fight him.

Well, the game was a forfeit but the scouts were impressed. They loved our toughness and our grit. We had more heart than any other team in the league. That's how I got offered a minor league contract from the Dodgers when I was seventeen, but I didn't accept it. I loved baseball, but I knew that hockey was my calling.

So all you kids need to go out to the bookstore and buy Bob Elliott's new book, "The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way". It's important to learn about the history of our other great game, the game of baseball. Canadians are making an impact in the game today like we never have before. Guys like Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, and Corey Koskie are proudly flying the Maple Leaf south of the border and playing their guts out in the major leagues. Even the Quebecers are playing baseball now, like Dodgers pitcher Eric Gagne. Make sure you read the book and help celebrate our game!

Hockey legend and CBC analyst Don Cherry was recently voted #7 in a nationwide poll of the all-time Greatest Canadians. Mr. Cherry also wrote the forward to "The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way", by Toronto Sun sportswriter Bob Elliott.


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