The largest induction day crowd ever in St. Marys huddled under and around the big tent on the small field Saturday afternoon, laughing, crying, and revelling at the history and stories of the blockbuster class of inductees.
Starting things off was Hall board chair John Starzynski, who explained that, since last year, a strategic master plan for the Hall has been completed, as well as a site study for the location of the new Hall and a sustainability study. “So we have a blue print to move forward,” he said. “Now, what we need is some money.”
Helping out on that front was Robert Witchel, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation, who announced an investment of $135,000 into the Hall of Fame for the upgrades to its baseball fields, “including the installation of irrigation systems, a comprehensive refurbishment of the Cement Field, portable mounds for both Rotary and King Fields, and bullpen mounds for King Field,” he said, noting that along with improving facilities, the capacity of two fields will be doubled. “We’ll also be supporting electrical upgrades which will improve safety and facilitate better training opportunities through the use of pitching machines.”
Greetings were also given from Mayor Al Strathdee, Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, and, speaking at the event for the final time on behalf of the Federal Government, retiring Perth-Wellington MP Gary Schellenberger.
Perhaps the most emotional moment of the afternoon came when Hall director of operations Scott Crawford introduced Frank Fanning for a tribute to his father Jim Fanning, a 2000 inductee to the Hall, who died April 25 this year.
The former Expos field manager and general manager, assistant Toronto GM, and director of the Major League Scouting Bureau was offered a chance to manage the Yankees in 1982, the year after he led the Expos to their first and only post-season appearance, Frank said. But he turned it down, because he “wanted to stay with the Expos.”
Frank described his father’s favourite baseball memory, which took place at Shea Stadium in New York on April 8, 1969. “When the flag was raised over the scoreboard at Shea Stadium and the Canadian anthem played for the very first time, at a US park on US soil, he knew that Canada finally had baseball,” he said of his father, who received Canadian citizenship in 2012. “He wasn’t born Canadian, but he had all the trademark qualities of someone who was.
“You can feel that he’s not here today,” he said. “This is the first time in 15 years that he missed this event.”
Another point in the ceremony where it appeared perhaps dust had gotten in the eyes of everyone seated in attendance was, prior to the induction of Felipe Alou, musician Anakin Slade took the stage to perform his song “Fall of ‘94,” which recalls the sad early end to a season the Expos could have gone all the way.
A self-professed day-dreamer, in his speech Toronto Sun sportswriter Bob Elliott shared the things he likes to dream about these days when it comes to Canadian baseball.
“I dream of a Canadian going in the first round of the draft every year, like Josh Naylor did last week,” he said. “I dream of 25 Canadian big leaguers… I dream of a Canadian Baseball League… I dream of a gold medal at the Pan Am Games in Ajax this summer. And, above all, I dream of a ball team in Montreal, let’s call them the Expos.”
But for all the wistful moments, there were just as many laughs – provided in part by emcee Rod Black, back for his fifth tour of duty on the induction ceremony stage, and by Toronto Blue Jays Level of Excellence honouree Carlos Delgado.
He thanked Alou, the first Dominican-born player in the MLB, and past inductee Ferguson Jenkins for their trailblazing work that allowed more players of colour to get a chance at the big leagues. “When you guys played, it was a little bit tougher for a black guy or Latino player to come into the game,” he said. “Thanks for opening the doors for us and a lot of the Latino players that are coming behind us. We seem to be growing. That applies to Canadians now too. You’re getting more Canadians.”
Then he paused, and flashed that famous smile. “They don’t have to be black,” he said with a laugh.
Delgado also described how he came up through the minor league system, before playing in his first few major league games as a left fielder and, eventually winding up at first base. “I had no idea how to play first base,” he said. “You know that story about ‘oh, put the fat kid at first base, that way he can’t mess up’? It ain’t that easy. I learned that the hard way. Believe me.”