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2-2-10 Behind the Bench

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
I have always been a big baseball fan. When I was growing up there were pretty much two sports in Canada. When the hockey season was over – and it was always over by the end of March or the first week of April – we turned our attention to baseball. We played baseball from April to September because there was no summer hockey like there is now. To this day I could sit and watch nine innings by myself and get involved in the strategy of it. I try to go to as many Nationals game as I can.

I played for as many baseball teams as possible growing up and the competition was quite good in Toronto. I ended up playing in the top league in Toronto in baseball, and I went to a few tryouts where Major League Baseball teams would come and work you out for a weekend. One of those weekend tryouts were run by the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was right after we won the Memorial Cup and a scout from the Pirates had talked to me a couple times and said he wanted me to go to Florida and play in their spring league. I told him I could not do it because I was going to be a hockey player. They offered me some money to go down there, but I still said no. I was 17 at the time and it was not until a few years later where I thought I should have gone down there and given it a try and played two sports. But at the time, I was having a hard enough time playing one.
The Pirates were looking at me as an outfielder. I was a good hitter and I think that is why they liked me. I was not a home run hitter, but a really good line drive hitter. They liked the mechanics of my swing and thought I could be a good hitter. I had an average arm, but back then I was very fast.
The Blue Jays played their first game on April 7, 1977 against the Chicago White Sox. I was with the Leafs at the time and we had a playoff game that night, but I was so excited that we had baseball in Toronto that I went to the baseball game that same day. It was an afternoon game and I only stayed for three innings because I had to get home for our game that night. It was snowing everywhere, but I saw Doug Ault hit his first home run and the Toronto faithful went nuts. That was a pretty cool thrill.
I was so nervous throwing out the first pitch at the Nationals game this past summer. All I could do to stay calm was talk to everyone around me. I had been asked twice before to do it, but backed out both times because of nervousness. When you think you are a pretty good ballplayer or used to be then you want to do well. But time erases a lot of things, and I can barely throw a ball since I had my shoulder surgery. The walk to the mound took forever and it seemed like it was 150 yards that I was throwing from. It doesn’t look that far until you get out there. The catcher told me before the pitch not to worry and that he would make me look good. I told him not to be too deep because I did not know if I could get it there. I wound up and let it go. The ball bounced about eight inches before it got to the plate.
I have played in a lot of areas and done a lot of things. I really did not keep anything from those days, but the Nationals made a No. 19 jersey for me and I kept that one. In fact, it is famed in my house and I see it everyday. It is a pretty cool thing and I am fortunate that this job allows things to happen that you would not be able to experience anywhere else.
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