HOFer Ducey knew when the bus left

by on February 10, 2013

Rob Ducey (2)

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* OF Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.), shown here pulling a line drive to right, who has had a longer career than any Ontario position player since Jeff Heath in the 1940s, will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. …. 

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By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

When Rob Ducey belted his first big league home run on Sept. 14, 1987 at Exhibition Stadium, George Bell hit two home runs in the same game.

And over the next three seasons, Ducey, who was born in Toronto, was forced to battle for playing time in the Blue Jays outfield behind the all-star Dominican slugger.

So no one would blame Ducey if he has grown tired of being upstaged by Bell over the years. And it must have seemed like déjà vu when Ducey, who along with Bell was introduced as one of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2013 inductees, was again waiting on Bell.

Ducey and Bell will be officially inducted in the Canadian ball hall, along with Expos great Tim Raines, broadcasting legend Tom Cheek and Vancouver baseball icon Nat Bailey, in a ceremony on June 29 in St. Marys, Ont.

But while the media dialed in for a conference call and were waiting for Bell to join the line on Thursday afternoon, a good-natured and gracious Ducey provided the entertainment.

“The bus doesn’t leave without George Bell on it,” joked Ducey, breaking the silence on the phone line and drawing laughs from reporters. “That was the rule when I played.”

The good-natured Canadian, who clearly cherished being Bell’s teammate, also shared another interaction between him and the intense outfielder from early in his big league career.

“George called me over from centre field in batting practice one day and he said, ‘Hey kid, if you miss the ball, you go get it,’” said Ducey, who then paused before delivering the punch line, “And then he said, ‘And if I miss the ball, you go get it.’”

The call participants laughed again. It was clear, however, that when Bell did join the call that the two ex-Jays still enjoy each other’s company.

Sure, Ducey played in Bell’s shadow and it probably cost him valuable at bats early in his career, but the well-spoken Canadian still forged out a 19-year playing career in professional baseball.

Born in Toronto in 1965, Ducey was raised in Cambridge, Ont., in an era when the presence of pro scouts in Canada was minimal.

“When I was younger, Canadians were not eligible for the draft,” said Ducey. “Baseball Canada with Greg Hamilton and Jim Baba, they have done a wonderful job as far as promoting baseball in Canada and developing a program that has grown by leaps and bounds over the course of the last 25 years or so. With exposure Canadian players are now taken seriously as far as having the ability to play the game.

“When I was younger, we were known as hockey players and that was about it, because there was only a handful of players that had ever reached the major league level. Now there are Canadians throughout the majors. Every roster basically has a Canadian present and you look at the WBC team – the Canadian team – and it’s got MVPs and it’s got all-stars. We’re now considered a formidable baseball resource for Major League Baseball.”

Despite a dearth of scouts north of the border, Ducey was signed as a free agent by the Blue Jays in 1984. After being named MVP of the Rookie Ball Medicine Hat Blue Jays that year, he rose through the organization’s ranks to make his big league debut at Exhibition Stadium against the Texas Rangers on May 1, 1987.

“There are so many memories of playing in Toronto and that first game is definitely one of them,” said Ducey, who recorded his first big league hit and RBI in that contest. “I remember getting three standing ovations from the crowd that night and there were 30,000 people there.

“To be part of that organization at the time with players like George, Jesse Barfield and Dave Stieb was very exhilarating. As a young man growing up an hour west of the city, it was very intimidating but emotionally I was on cloud nine. I’ll always remember that first game.”

The Canuck outfielder suited up for parts of five more seasons with the Jays, prior to being dealt to the Angels in 1992. Tenures with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies would follow. His finest big league campaign came with the Phillies in 1999 when he smashed eight home runs and recorded an impressive .383 on-base percentage.

Ducey also enjoyed a two-year stint in the Japanese Pacific League with the Nippon Ham Fighters in 1995 and 1996 that saw him belt 51 home runs. He returned to Toronto for five games in 2000 and saw his final big league action with the Montreal Expos in 2001, making him the second Canadian (along with Denis Boucher) to start his major league career with the Jays and end it with the Expos.

He is also one of only four Canadians (Shawn Hill, Matt Stairs and Boucher are the others) to suit up for both the Jays and Expos. Unfortunately, his 27-game stint with the Expos doesn’t bring back a lot of good memories.

“My fondest memory of playing with the Expos was rupturing my Achilles in Atlanta,” joked Ducey. “I was only in Montreal for a brief moment in time. I believe it was about 2 1/2 months before I got hurt. That injury basically ended my career. I did enjoy playing in the city and for the Expos and to be one of a few guys to ever get the opportunity to play for both Canadian clubs was special.”

Following his pro career, Ducey competed for Canada at the 2003 Olympic qualifier in Panama, the 2004 Olympics in Athens and was a coach at the 2006 World Baseball Classic and 2008 Olympics. He has also been a scout for the Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and recently worked in player development for a Mexican League team.

“Right now I’m at home and looking for a position,” said Ducey, who resides in Tarpon Springs, Fla. “The team that I was with in Mexico is under new ownership . . . The ownership group that I worked for could no longer support the club. I’m kind of at a crossroads. I’m looking for something to do, basically I’m unemployed.”

But the versatile Ducey shouldn’t have much trouble finding work. Since his playing career ended, he has always managed to find a job in baseball somewhere.

“I want to be – and have been – creative in my approach to this game,” he said. “Along my travels, I have met many good people and developed tremendous friendships. I’m a baseball lifer and I hope to continue to work in the game in one capacity or another.”

And who knows maybe Bell, his pal and fellow 2013 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, who’s helping to coach the Dominican squad in the Caribbean World Series, can help Ducey land a position?

At the end of the conference call, the two former teammates shared an inside joke, and you get the feeling that Ducey’s induction speech might include a Bell story or two – that is, of course, if Bell doesn’t make him wait too long for his turn behind the podium.

 

Kevin Glew
Regaled with stories about Mickey Mantle by his father, Ralph, when he was growing up, Kevin Glew developed a keen interest in baseball at a young age in Dorchester, Ont. playing against teams from Vienna, Straffordville, St. Thomas, Stratford, Harrietsville, Belmont, London and Sarnia. His interest blossomed into a full-blown fascination after enduring a bone-chilling wind on the bench seats down the right-field line at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto on Oct. 5, 1985 to witness the Blue Jays secure their first division title.

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