Paul Hodgson, from Marysville to the Blue Jays
*Paul Hodgson (Marysville, N.B.) hacking away at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore where he hit his only major-league homer, off Dennis Martinez./Supplied photos.
By Kevin Glew
Paul Hodgson should write a book about his professional baseball odyssey.
And having worked in the journalism field for more than a decade following his playing career, the former Blue Jay boasts the skills to do it.
From a rattlesnake being hurled at a player in Medicine Hat to being invited to Studio 54 by Reggie Jackson, Hodgson’s stories would offer a fascinating glimpse into the pitfalls and privileges of being a pro baseball player.
Now 51 and living in Ottawa, Ont., Hodgson has fond memories of his seven-year, pro career that saw him become the second Canadian to suit up for the Jays.
Born in Montreal in 1960, Hodgson lived in the city briefly before his family moved to Marysville, N.B., a small town north of Fredericton. When he was little, he and his friends would gather on the steps of his father’s general store and play baseball on the street, but he didn’t begin playing organized baseball until he was 12.
“My friends were all five years older than me. It was not easy keeping up with them physically, but I was always trying to be better,” he said.
A devoted Montreal Expos fan, the young Hodgson also began following the Boston Red Sox, when their games started being shown on his parents’ cable package in 1970.
While admiring Rusty Staub and Carl Yastrzemski, Hodgson honed his skills and by the time he was 16, he was a starring for his hometown team in the New Brunswick Senior League. Toiling against players much older than him, he would hit .500 in the Canadian Senior Championships in 1976 and capture the interest of Fredericton player, Donny Davis. Davis would then place a call to Blue Jays scout Wayne Morgan, whom he had played college ball for in California, and word about Hodgson eventually spread to Bob Prentice, the Jays director of Canadian scouting.
“Paul was just a magnificent athlete,” recalled Davis, now an assistant coach with the St. Francis Xavier University football team in Antigonish, N.S. “He had really good bat speed. He swung the bat really well. He was a big, tall, lean guy that could run like the wind.”
New Brunswick baseball legend and fellow Marysville native, Scott Harvey Jr., was also wowed by the 16-year-old Hodgson.
“He had a great arm. He could run. There just wasn’t anything that he couldn’t do,” he said. “And he was a pretty good size for his age.”
In April 1977, Hodgson and his father were flown to Toronto to work out for Pat Gillick and Elliott Wahle, where he would sign a contract on his 17th birthday.
Hodgson would suit up for seven games with class-A Utica that year and hit .474. The Canadian teen would spend the following season in rookie-class Medicine Hat.
“Oakland had been in Medicine Hat the year before us and we were told by the general manager that a fan had thrown a wild rattlesnake at one of the players,” recalled Hodgson. “As you walked from the dugout to the locker room, you walked alongside the bleachers. It was probably a fan that was angry at a pitcher. But who carries a rattlesnake to a ballgame?”
After hitting .279 with Medicine Hat, Hodgson was promoted to class-A Dunedin in 1979, where he played with future big leaguers Dave Stieb, Luis Leal, Lloyd Moseby, Andre Robertson, Geno Petralli and Dale Mohorcic.
“That team had more guys that went on to the big leagues than any other team that I had certainly played on,” he said. “We would have nights that nobody in the world could beat us.”
Hodgson would bat .251 with six homers in 127 games in Dunedin in 1979 and was assigned to class-A Kinston the following season. After hitting .352 in 60 games, he was called up to the big leagues in late August.
“I was sitting in a trailer in Kinston, North Carolina watching tennis on TV and the phone rang and it was Dennis Holmberg, our manager,” recalled Hodgson, when asked about the moment he was called up. “And he said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And when he said that, you know that something big is going to happen. He said, ‘Otto Velez got hurt. You’re on a bit of a roll. They want somebody to come up and fill his spot and play some defence. They want you up there tomorrow.’”
In his first big league start, Hodgson served as the DH and batted sixth against veteran Twins lefty Jerry Koosman on Aug. 31, 1980. He struck out in his first at bat.
“It was on a called strike that wasn’t anywhere near a strike. Butch Wynegar was catching for the Twins. I forget who the home plate umpire (Bill Kunkel was the umpire) was, but he was one of those veteran umps and it was a 2-2 pitch and it wasn’t anywhere near the plate outside,” remembered Hodgson. “And he rung me up on it and I remember Wynegar laughing and I just turned around and looked at him, and the umpire said, ‘Welcome to The Show, kid.’”
Hodgson would single to centre field off of Rangers right-hander, Doc Medich, in the ninth inning the following day to record his first big league hit. Just over two weeks later, he found himself playing in Yankee Stadium. The Jays dropped two of three games in that series, but Hodgson was so captivated by the atmosphere that he sat in the dugout after the losses to listen to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” being played over the speakers.
It was during that series that Reggie Jackson invited a group of Jays -– including Hodgson -– to go to the famous Studio 54 with him.
“I didn’t go and I can’t remember why at the time. But if had gone, I’d probably still be there. You’d have never gotten me out of the place,” joked Hodgson.
Hodgson smacked his only big league homer off of Orioles right-hander Dennis Martinez Sept. 19, 1980 at Memorial Stadium. Fortunately, the ball ended up in the Orioles bullpen.
“Jack Kucek, a good friend of mine, a veteran pitcher climbed the fence to get the ball from their bullpen. He had to climb a couple of fences and holler at the Orioles bullpen to get the ball,” recalled Hodgson. “So when I came into the clubhouse the ball was sitting at my locker. The ball is in the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame now.”
Another highlight was manning left field in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park on Oct. 4-5.
“I used to watch the Red Sox every Saturday or Sunday afternoon, so I fully understood what left field at Fenway was all about,” said Hodgson. “They still had Yaz, Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice on the team we played against.”
In all, in 20 big league games in 1980, Hodgson batted .220 with a homer and five RBIs. He was on track to crack the big league roster the following spring, until he injured his right shoulder. After he got hurt, the Jays moved him to the infield.
“They put me at first base and they had John Mayberry and Willie Upshaw there then,” said Hodgson. “I turned into a pretty good first baseman but that was a tough position to crack.”
From 1981 to 1983, Hodgson would toil in double-A Knoxville for three seasons, but with his son being born, he decided to return to New Brunswick in 1984. Expos GM Murray Cook convinced him to attend spring training in 1985, but when his shoulder began bothering him again, Hodgson retired for good.
“Personally, I think if it hadn’t been for his injuries, Paul would’ve stayed in the major leagues for quite a while,” said Davis. “He was an excellent athlete.”
“I believe he would’ve had a great career if he hadn’t injured his arm because he was more than just a one or two-tool player. He could basically do everything,” he said. “He could play first base and he could play the outfield, and plus he ran well for a big guy and he could hit.”
After his pro career, Hodgson went back to Fredericton where he eventually landed a job in the news department at the local CBC TV station.
“The executive manager had seen me interviewed during my playing career and thought I might make a good sportscaster one day,” recalled Hodgson. “Somebody got in contact with me to tell me that there were auditions taking place at CBC in 1985. I went to the audition, but there were no openings in sportscasting, but they were interested in bringing me on board in the news department. So I started in news in 1986.”
After more than a decade with CBC, he left in 1996 and has since worked as a correctional officer, as a service representative in the aviation industry and as an IT consultant.
Earlier this month, his son, Chris, who played pro hockey in the ECHL from 2004 to 2006, was drafted by the CFL’s B.C. Lions.
“My advice to Chris is that once you commit a large part of your life to pro sports, stay in it,” said Hodgson. “Network it, get good at something besides playing and made a career out of it.”
Though Hodgson currently resides in Ottawa, the former Jay is pondering a move back to Toronto.
A return to the minors would be a nice final chapter in a book about Hodgson, as long as nobody throws a rattlesnake at him.