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From Shortstop to Right Wing

How Jim Fox's small town Ontario baseball league helped him prepare for the NHL

by Mike Commito @mikecommito /

It was just another summer night on the baseball diamond for Jim Fox. The Coniston Red Sox's heavy-hitting shortstop picked up a pair of singles in a 6-5 win over their rivals, the Sudbury Shamrocks. 

After celebrating the victory with his teammates, Fox retired to the family home to get some much-needed rest. That night he went to bed as a member of the Coniston Red Sox, but the next day he would become a member of the LA Kings. 

When Fox awoke that following morning, the NHL was gearing up for the 1980 Entry Draft in Montreal. Although he scored 65 goals and 166 points with the Ottawa 67's that season and led the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League (now the Ontario Hockey League) in scoring, Fox wasn't sure he would get selected.

"I had a good year, but I didn't know what was going on. I was not contacted by anyone," he recalled. 

Instead, Fox stayed home and played ball. 

"It was not the elaborate production that it is nowadays, so it was no big deal not to go," he explained. "You really had no idea who was interested and just kind of waited until you found out," Fox added. 

The Kings nabbed defenseman Larry Murphy fourth overall, a pick they acquired a year earlier in a trade with Detroit. Then, just six spots later, at 10th overall, they called Fox's name. 

Following the selection, the Kings called the Coniston slugger at home. "It was just a general call saying we picked you, congratulations. No real instructions," Fox recalled. "They just kind of said we'll be in touch about training camp," he reflected. 

And that was it. Fox was part of the Kings organization. 

While Fox looked ahead to a future in the NHL, there was still ball to be played. Growing up in Coniston, Ontario, a small industrial town less than ten miles from Sudbury, baseball was a big deal. 

Following the Second World War, Inco Limited, the world's leading nickel producer, had operations in Coniston. At the time, the mining leviathan recruited skilled baseball players from across Canada, and enticed them to relocate with employment opportunities and, of course, a roster spot on the smelter's baseball team. 

That's how Fox's father, Clarence, a Nova Scotia native, wound up in in Coniston. 

"My dad, along with many people out east, were actually recruited to come to Sudbury to play baseball with a guaranteed job at Inco. My dad and many of his friends and family, they all basically came for the same reason," Fox noted. 

In 1951, his rookie year with the Coniston Red Sox, Fox's father slugged it out against rival mining teams in the area, winning the pennant. The following year, he socked two home runs in the final game to clinch the championship for the Red Sox. 

Clarence remained a fixture on the team until the league folded following the 1959 season. Although it signalled the end of company era baseball in Sudbury, the tradition of Red Sox teams continued and the senior league was a significant part of summers in the tiny smelting community.

"It was really important to us growing up. The Coniston Red Sox were a big part of the town and a big part of the summertime for everyone, for families. We took it very seriously," Fox recalled fondly. 

In 1978, Fox's older brothers, Mike and Steve, were part of the club's third straight championship. Mike, who was the catcher, was named the team's most valuable player. The following year, Fox donned the family uniform and won the league batting title with a sterling .559 average, followed closely by older brother Mike, who was walked and hit more often than any other player in the league.  

By the time the summer of 1980 came to an end, Fox had signed a multi-year contract with the Kings. He hung up his baseball cleats and headed off to Victoria, British Columbia to join the Kings for his first NHL training camp. 

Fox made the team and went on to score 18 goals and 42 points in his debut season in 1980-81. 

He lived in Manhattan Beach in his rookie year, but returned home to Coniston for the offseason, where he picked up right where he left off on the field. That summer, he and his brothers, along with youngest brother Kevin, who had joined the squad that year, won the league championship with the Red Sox. 

"I took a lot of pride in winning that. It was high up on my list of priorities," Fox exclaimed. 

On the heels of his championship victory, Fox returned to Los Angeles and recorded the first of three 30-goal campaigns with the Kings. He would return to Coniston for the next two summers where he would continue playing baseball with the Red Sox as part of his offseason training regimen. 

"I think it was part of normal training back then. It's not like it is now with 12 months of the year with the same sport. I took it as part of my training," Fox reflected. 

"I was working out, doing weights and running and all that stuff. I thought it was just part of the training to stay in shape, be active and be athletic," he added. 

Looking back on the day he was drafted, Fox saw it as the next step. 

"It's certainly the step you've been working for your whole life to get to, there's no questions about that, but to me, it's more 'get to work,'" he suggested. 

Despite coming into the Kings organization as top ten pick, Fox didn't rest on that accomplishment. He continued to put in the time and effort on the ice, and even the baseball field, to establish himself as a player. 

Although none of the Kings selections this month will likely be stepping into the batter's box this summer the way Fox did, they would do well to take a page out of his book and see the draft as just the beginning of a new chapter.

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