Labatt Park churned out players and writers: CBN’s backbone

by on October 24, 2012

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* The Canadian Baseball Network may be headquartered in a Mississauga, Ont. basement, but it’s heart beat lies to the west — in London, Ont. Kevin Glew, Alexis Brudnicki, Todd Devlin, Melissa Couto, April Whitzman and Matt Dumouchelle all spent time at Labatt Park ….

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By Bob Elliott

It didn’t start out this way.

When we formed the Canadian Baseball Network we wanted writers from coast to coast and at our zenith we were at eight provinces.

Yet, we never turned away anyone young writers with a passion for baseball and have seen some go on to gain some employment which pays.

Good ones.

And good for them.

We’re still looking for more scribes who have a passion for baseball, whether you are a province you don’t see represented on our site, whether you see an area lacking … or whether you are from London too.

All we have to offer in return is some exposure, some editing and maybe a pointer or two

A funny thing happened on the way to the hitting the publish button on the Word Press … London, Ont. is the backbone, the capital or whatever you want to call it of this web site.

Proud Londoners, people who went to school in London or people who worked in London as it is becoming their site.

Check out these hard-working writers in their own words:

 

 

Name: Kevin Glew

Born: June 15, 1973 in London, Ont.

(Editor’s Note: I have known Kevin longer than anyone else from his involvement at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys. He was always a diligent worker and an excellent writer. Poor Kevin had the toughest year. One our the web site investors decided that since I won the J.G. Taylor Spink award we had to brag in an in effort to get more hits — Kevin drew the short straw and the assignment. He made me look good … when he didn’t have much to work with. We sat together to watch the gold medal game of the Canada Cup as BC played Ontario.)

Schooling: Bachelor of Journalism (with Honours in Journalism and Law), Carleton University 1996; Post Graduate Diploma, Corporate Communications & Public Relations, Fanshawe College 1997

Worked: Canada Trust and London Life (1998 to 2005); Freelance sportswriter (August 2005 to present); Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer (1996 to present)

The No. 1 reason I like baseball is … “My father regaled me with stories about Mickey Mantle when I was a kid and my dad is still a huge baseball fan. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my dad hitting me fly ball after fly ball down the sleepy street in Dorchester, Ont., that I grew up on. So I fell in love with baseball at a very young age.

“I also enjoy the strategy involved in the sport and its leisurely pace. Playing physical, adrenaline-fueled sports like hockey or football never really appealed to me as a teenager, but I found that with baseball, with practice and absorbing as much information as I could about the game, I could outsmart other players on the field. That analytical approach served me well until my late teens, then I started thinking my way into outs and errors, but that’s another story.

My first memory of baseball in London is … “I actually grew up in a small town called Dorchester, which is east of London, but it has more or less evolved into a suburb of the city. My first baseball memory in Dorchester is playing t-ball and snagging a line drive at first base with my dad’s oversized mitt when I was six years old. In my memory, that ball was travelling at 100 miles per hour. That was my first formal game memory, but my older brother, Paul, and I used to simulate big league games in my parents’ front yard. He was always the Phillies and, though I was a Blue Jays fan, I was usually the Braves because Dale Murphy was my favorite player. Unfortunately, I never developed Murphy’s power, although I’m still convinced I can run faster than former Braves catcher Bruce Benedict.”

Are you surprised that so many ball scribes come from London? … “Given the city’s less-than-stellar record of supporting professional baseball and obsession with the Junior A London Knights, I would say yes. And as much as I love living in the city, there are no local publications that will pay a decent rate for a baseball story. Thank goodness for the internet and the writing opportunities it offers.”

Do you have any explanation as to why? … There aren’t a huge number of baseball fans in London, but those that are fans – like myself – are very passionate about the game. Like me, they seem to have a thirst for information about baseball. It also probably doesn’t hurt that our city is halfway between Toronto and Detroit – so there are both devoted Blue Jays and Tigers supporters in our midst. London is also home to Labatt Park, the oldest continuously used baseball grounds in the world, so maybe some of that history has inspired us as well.”

The most influential baseball person in London who helped foster my love for baseball, besides my dad was … “Lorne Thompson. Again, although I live in London now, I grew up in Dorchester. But I played countless pickup games with Lorne Thompson and his sons Chris and Robert (who’s now a well-known golf writer in Canada). Lorne was my coach for several years and would throw batting practice until his arm almost fell off. He was also the one who moved me from second base to centre field, where I found my niche. In my best years, I was an average right-handed hitter that had trouble catching up to the fastball, but between Lorne and my dad hitting me fly balls I evolved into a pretty decent defensive centre fielder. I even hit leadoff and played centre in an all-star game at Labatt Park in 1990 – which I consider to be the highlight of my otherwise mediocre playing career.”

My first story for the Canadian Baseball Network was … a profile about Montreal native Derek Aucoin, who pitched in the big leagues for the Expos. 

My favorite story I’ve written on the Canadian Baseball Network is ... “It’s very difficult to choose. I thoroughly enjoyed writing articles about Bob Elliott leading to his National Baseball Hall of Fame J.G. Taylor Spink honour this summer. And I’ve had the opportunity to interview several fascinating baseball personalities, including Fergie Jenkins, Andy Lawrence, Wayne Norton, Rheal Cormier, Canadian umpire David Attridge, Paul Hodgson and Aucoin. But since I have to pick one, I’ll choose the Hodgson article. Paul might be the most charismatic and interesting person I’ve ever met. 

 

 

Name: Alexis Brudnicki

Born: London, Ont.

(Editor’s Note: The reason I encountered this woman came after reading a story on Baseball America web site on the annual Baseball Canada fund raiser. I emailed John Manuel — the way guys email will guys in a wise-acre fashion — in January 2011, asking “who is this Alexi guy and how come his story was so much better than mine?” Well, it turned out I had skimmed the byline … the first name was Alexis not Alexi … Alexis was a woman, not a man who used to skate for the Russian juniors. John provided her emailed and she has been our most prolific writer: last spring in Florida she wrote 60 stories in 26 days for the CBC, ABL, BA, Sportsnet, including 30 of them were for CBN, she attended a Canadian Junior National Team workout and cranked out eight stories and a video, a trip to Canisius College to visit Canadians saw her turn out eight more yarns and a video. Her key board must have sparks flying off it some days. Alexis might email from Chicago, Milwaukee, Houston or Australia).

Schooling: Undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and graduate diploma in Sports Journalism from Centennial College

Worked: Otherwise, baseball jobs have been Baseball America, Blue Jays, Australian Baseball League.

The No. 1 reason I like baseball is … “because of the tradition behind it. It’s the crack of the bat and the sound of the ball hitting the glove. It’s a well-turned double play or a 12-to-6 curve. It’s a diving catch or an inside-the-park home run. It’s a no-hitter or a nicely-place sacrifice bunt. It’s peanuts and hot dogs and autographs and cracker jack. It’s children looking up to players, idolizing professional athletes and hoping to someday be like them. And then the next generation of those kids, and the next.”

My first memory of baseball in London is … “heading to McMahon Park for my first day of playing for the McMahon Phillies of the Eager Beaver Baseball Association. The coach was handing out uniforms and I had to take one of the smallest numbers available because the sizes went according to the numbers stretched across their backs. Then, uniform in hand, I was ready, despite being both one of the smallest players and one of the only girls in the league.”

Are you surprised that so many ball scribes comes from London … “I am a little surprised that so many baseball scribes come from London, just because I’ve learned firsthand of baseball’s prevalence across the entire country. I’ve had the privilege to interview ball players from the west coast to the prairies to the Maritimes, and honestly, I think I’ve only interviewed a couple of players from London. Growing up, it sure seemed like a city full of baseball, but I’ve since learned how many other cities full of baseball there are north of the border.”

Do you have any explanation as to why? … “I am not sure why the writers for CBN seem to be London-centric, or associated in some way with London. The city is, of course, full of great baseball and many ball players, but so are many other cities. London has the tradition of Labatt Park. It now has the brand-spanking-new state-of-the-art facility for baseball, Centrefield Sports, owned and run by former big leaguer Adam Stern. It has little leagues, winter venues, the occasional minor league team and a general passion for the game.”

The most influential person in London who helped foster my love for baseball was … “Don Martin, my coach at the local Winter Baseball School. He taught me how to play the game the right way, and showed me a great appreciation for hard work. It didn’t matter how much I hated fielding ground balls off of wooden boards because it taught me to use two hands. It didn’t matter that I didn’t enjoy hitting soft toss when he was throwing two balls at a time because it helped me see the ball better. It didn’t matter that I thought practicing throwing out runners in a pickle was pointless because as soon as we caught one runner in a game, it was worth it.”

My first story (I think) for the Canadian Baseball Network was Vintage base ball, played by rules of 1858, now.

My favorite story that I’ve written for Canadian Baseball Network is “Henderson! The police are here, and by the way…”

 

 

Name: Todd Devlin

Born: Brantford, Ont.

(Editor’s Note: I first recall Todd emailing me questions about the mighty Blue Jays. From his questions I could tell he had played the game. Then he asked if he could write. He comes up with more ideas on his own than I suggest. His stories are always thorough and well researched. Many times I have edited his stories and said to myself “man I wish I’d written that.” I enjoyed sitting with him at the Canada Cup this summer in London.)

Schooling: McMaster University (Business), Western University (MA in Journalism)

Worked: Freelance writer in London.

The No. 1 reason I like baseball is … “It’s a skill game that requires repetition and practice, practice, practice to get better. In that respect, it’s a lot like writing. In fact, it’s a lot like life. There’s a reason baseball — more so than any other sport — has been used as a metaphor for life. From a fan perspective, it’s a thinking person’s game. And because the pace allows for conversation in the stands, it’s a perfect spectator sport.”

My first baseball memory of baseball in London is … “As a teenager, I remember traveling to London to play against the Badgers in the Intercounty circuit. Driving up to Labatt Park, we felt like we’d reached the major leagues. It was a treat to play at such a beautiful stadium (even if the bleachers were empty). Then when I played OUA baseball at McMaster, we also made the trip to London to play Western.”

Are you surprised that so many ball scribes comes from London: … “It’s an interesting fact. London is definitely a sports town (junior hockey has always been huge).”

Do you have any explanation as to why? … “There’s plenty of baseball played in the city, and it has its share of top notch ballparks. Maybe on a subconscious level it stems from the Labatt’s former ownership of the Blue Jays and Paul Beeston’s roots at Western before he became the Jays’ first employee ;)

My first story for the Canadian Baseball Network was … “It was coincidentally, on Londoner Chris Robinson back in 2009 … ‘Chris Robinson, .325 mark await Cubs call’ … It was during a strong season for him at Triple-A Iowa, and he seemed to be on the cusp of getting called up (Geovany Soto had been injured).

My favorite story I’ve written on the Canadian Baseball Network … “The story on Aaron Guiel retiring from the game. I learned a lot about Japanese baseball, and Guiel’s story was very interesting.”

 

Name: Melissa Couto

Born: Leamington, Ont.

(Editor’s Note: I first met Melissa at a Centennial College banquet in Tampa at the hotel George Steinbrenner used to own on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. We were at a same table I asked everyone where they had gone to school. I figured that they were a year out of high school. That’s when Melissa told me that she has a master’s degree in history. D’oh. Melissa was proud to be in Malcom Kelly‘s class. The night Canada won to reach the gold medal game at the World Junior I went to sleep thinking I’d get up and phone Stubby Clapp. I awoke, checked the emails and there was a piece from Melissa on Clapp and his memories of winning gold in 1991. Impressive.)

Schooling: BA and MA at University of Western Ontario.

Worked: Swiss Chalet in London and in St. Thomas.

Number 1 reason I like baseball … “There’s a popular history professor at Western named Craig Simpson who does a lecture on the origins of baseball every year in his American history survey. The lecture is called “The Game Without Time,” and it always attracts a large number of students. Simpson paints a picture of America in the mid-1800s, fully immersed in industrialization, needing a game like baseball – a game not regulated by the clock as everything in their life seems to be. It’s an escape, and it’s fun. I liked baseball well before I heard Simpson’s lecture, but it really reminded me of the beauty of the game. So it’s that, and it’s the rich history of baseball that draws me to it. It’s Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball well before integration was a reality in the South. It’s the Black Sox scandal of 1919 and the question of Shoeless Joe Jackson’s involvement. It’s all of those things that have shaped the game over time, improved it, and kept it going.”

My first baseball memory of baseball in London is … “I don’t recall the details. I must have been about six years old. My brothers played for one of the city’s house leagues and their championship game was played at Labatt Park. Before the game, my brothers were telling me how it would be a cool experience to play there because its such an old park. The game was tied in the bottom of the ninth and my brother Mark, who would have been 16 at the time, bunted in the winning run. While his team celebrated, he brought me onto the field and let me run the bases. I felt so cool.”

Are you surprised that so many ball scribes comes from London … “I guess so. I don’t think there’s anything about London itself that promotes the love of baseball or the desire to write about it. I came into it kind of accidentally. After graduating from Western with a MA in history, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do but I started to see that it was pretty difficult to get a job. I went to a Jays game last summer and met someone there who told me about the sports journalism program at Centennial College and I thought, well I love baseball and I can write, so why not? So I wouldn’t say that anything in London helped me along or sparked my baseball writing.”

Do you have any explanation as to why? … “I guess I would say that because there are so many teams in London (IBL, Frontier league that comes and goes, a really good OUA team) that there are plenty of opportunities to write about baseball in London and it’s a great place to start. That’s not what happened in my situation though so I don’t really know.”

The most influential baseball person in London who helped foster my love for baseball was … “My brothers? They’re the only ones in London who helped foster my love of the game. I have three brothers who are all eight to 10 years older than me. When I was little, my mother worked afternoons so I was with my brothers and my dad all the time. We’d watch Blue Jays games on TV together and they taught me about the game. I learned to like all the players they did — Robbie Alomar, John Olerud, Kelly Gruber (that was my own favorite.) My brothers didn’t force that one on me).

“It’s funny though, because I remember watching the final game of the 1993 World Series without them. I was six years old sitting on the couch with my mom. She was crocheting or reading or doing something other than watch the game, but my brothers weren’t home – I think they were out watching it at one of their friends’ houses or something. It’s funny that they instilled this love of baseball in me through the Blue Jays and we didn’t even watch the greatest game in Blue Jays history together!”

My first story for the Canadian Baseball Network was: Jacob Robson a rarity: a speedy Canadian.

My favorite story I’ve written on the Canadian Baseball Network: Stubby Clapp’s pre-game wisdom

 

 

Name: April Whitzman

Born: Campbellton, N.B.

(Editor’s Note: April and I began emailing to run her informative series of Q and As with Jays prospects. I met her this spring in Dunedin. April moved to London while my son moved to Moncton … a 1-for-1 deal.

Schooling: Bachelor of Arts (Mount Allison University – Sackville, N.B.); Bachelor of Public Relations (Mount Saint Vincent University – Halifax, N.S)

Worked: London Rippers (Public Relations Intern) London, Ont. (April 2012-Aug. 2012)

The No. 1 reason I like baseball is … “Because it is so completely unpredictable. You could watch every baseball game, whether it’s IBL, independent, minor leagues, or Major Leagues, and know every statistic and potential outcome, and you could still not be 100% sure what will happen when the next pitch is thrown or the next bat is swung.

My first baseball memory in London is … “The London Rippers opening game against the Gateway Grizzlies. At this point of the season, the Rippers had already played six games away, and so, they were anxious for their season and organizational debut on Canadian soil. Labatt Park was filled with many fans – all of whom cheered loudly when the Rippers scored a single run in the bottom of the eighth to go ahead 4-3. They cheered even louder when David Francis recorded a 1-2-3 ninth inning, allowing the Rippers to receive their first win at home. Canadian Jamie Richmond earned the win after turning in his first of many strong performances, going eight complete innings, allowing three runs on eight hits while striking out six and not surrendering a walk.”

Are you surprised that so many ball scribes comes from London … “I’m not surprised that many ball scribes come from London. Seeing the passion that the city has for their IBL team and seeing the desire many fans had for the Rippers (before its’ demise), it became evident that the city loves baseball. And I’m sure being in between two Major League Baseball teams (the Blue Jays and the Tigers) definitely has an advantage as well.

“I saw this passion again during the Baseball Canada Cup in August in London. After watching the Cup the year prior in Moncton, N.B., I didn’t expect a large turnout or for the general public to have any recollection that a baseball tournament was occurring in their backyard. However, that was not the case, 100s of people went to Labatt Park and other fields across the city, anxious to not only watch baseball but also witness the talent that our country has.

Do you have any explanation as to why? … “People always say that London doesn’t like baseball as they look at the teams that have failed (the Werewolves, the Monarchs, the Rippers, etc…) but it is so far from the truth. The city doesn’t like baseball… it loves it. And evidently, that is one of the main reason that a lot of the Canadian writers have derived from the city.”

My first story for the Canadian Baseball Network was … An interview with Drew Taylor, a former Blue Jays prospect, and the son of the Blue Jays’ doctor, Ron Taylor.

My favourite story I’ve written on the Canadian Baseball Network … “I really enjoyed interviewing London Rippers’ ace, Jamie Richmond. After getting the win for the Rippers on Canada Day, he took the time to respond the multitude of responses I had for him. He was incredibly passionate about his time playing for a Canadian Independent team, and was also passionate about his experience with Baseball Canada and his time in minor league ball. He also shared information on what it was like to grow up playing baseball and hockey in Canada.”

 

 

Name: Matt Dumouchelle

Born: Dec 10, 1981

(Editor’s Note: Matt send me an email a few months ago and I neglected to answer it. I finally found it again, we hooked up via email and he was prompt at writing stories and coming up with ideas.)

Schooling: Humber College graduate, Radio Broadcasting program

Worked: nearly three years in Owen Sound with Bayshore Broadcasting, nearly five years in Windsor with Blackburn Radio, one season with London Rippers pro team of the indy Frontier League.

The No. 1 reason I like baseball is ... “No one game is ever played out the same as another, on any given night, something historic can happen.”

My first baseball memory of baseball in London is … “The home opener for the London Rippers, that was the first time I was ever part of baseball in London.”

Are you surprised that so many ball scribes comes from London … “I am surprised, as you would automatically think of Toronto or somewhere in BC as baseball hubs, but London has it’s own niche.”

Do you have any explanation as to why? … ”Maybe the history of the Majors and Labatt Park have something to do with it, not another city in Canada who can lay claim to both of those milestones. I did see both sides of the coin in my time with the Rippers. Many scribes/historians who are proud of London’s baseball history, were beyond unwelcoming to Rippers. Aside from name controversy and whatnot, that is now three pro baseball teams who have come and failed to sustain any success in the city since 1989. For a city that has produced many fans/writers/historians/players, for some reason the pro teams that have tried to make a franchise work in London don’t last very long.

The most influential baseball person in London who helped foster my love for baseball, was … ”I fell in love with baseball LONG before I came to London for the first time. The job I had with the Rippers was the best job I’ve ever had and I miss it every day. If I were to pick someone from London who may not have needed to influence me, but I see the way he influences others in the game, it’s Mike Lumley.

My first story for the Canadian Baseball Network.

My favourtive story I’ve written on the Canadian Baseball Network … 

 

 

 

Bob Elliott
Bob Elliott is a baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun, Sun Media and a frequent guest on The FAN-590. He was born in Kingston, Ont. If you want to know anything and everything to do with the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues or amateur baseball in Canada - Bob is the man to talk to.

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