Shirley bests Jeff in speech department

* Saturday's award ceremonies honourees were greeted by applause when introduced Sunday at the Clark Sports Centre (from left to right): Paul Hagen, J.G. Taylor Spink award winner, Shirley Cheek, who accepted the Ford C. Frick award on behalf of her late husband Tom Cheek, the Hall of Fame's Jane Forbes Clark, Thomas Tull, producer of the Jackie Robinson biopic “42”, Tommy John, Dr. Frank Jobe, pioneer of the “Tommy John” commissioner Bud Selig and Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson. .... MLB, Brewers open workouts 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadian collegians playing summer ball 2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent


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COOPERSTOWN -- The applause from Shirley Cheek’s speech began to die when a member of Dr. Frank Jobe’s family approached Lisa Olsen at Doubleday Field.

“Are you sure it was your father who had the career in broadcasting?” Dr. Jobe’s relative asked, Lisa, Tom and Shirley Cheek’s daughter.

That’s how impressive Shirley’s speech was Saturday when she accepted the Ford C. Frick award before 2,500 fans at Doubleday Field.

Tommy John and Dr.  Jobe, who prolonged so many careers -- 124 pitchers and counting have had Tommy John surgery are in the majors this season -- were also part of Saturday’s ceremonies, along with’s Paul Hagen, presented the J.G. Taylor Spink award.

Shirley’s speech was so impressive people were still talking about it on a wet Sunday, as the Hall of Fame inducted three members.

For Saint Shirley the most impressive person she met for the first time was Hall of Famer, Bert Blyleven, the Minnesota Twins broadcaster.

“Our paths crossed at lunch Saturday when he stopped to say hi to Cito Gaston,” said Shirley. “He was very nice and kind with his words about Tom, how what a genuine person was.

“Then, at least three times after the speeches, he was so very nice to make a point to tell me what a great speech and how proud Tom would of been.

“Each time he saw me he would make a point to say ‘great job.’”

A month ago people were saying ‘great job,’ to Jeff Cheek, as he gave a moving, funny, eloquent speech at the ceremonies when his father was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys.

At a Blue Jays reception Saturday night president Paul Beeston and former manager Cito Gaston approached Jeff with their appraisal of the two speeches.

“Paul and Cito both said how well mom had done, how they thought mom’s speech was better than mine,” said Jeff Sunday afternoon.

“I did mine in front of Paul Spolarjaric and Rob Ducey, mom did hers in front of Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken and other Hall of Famers,” said Jeff. “I’m not belittling Paul or Rob by any means, I truly respect the guys who were in St. Marys.

“But mom was speaking at an entirely different venue. There was some real star power. I’m used to speaking, mom is not and mom outperformed me, she was spot on.”

Shirley was seated in the third row for Sunday’s speeches, while her children hit the road at first light. Tom, Jr. and wife Lisa were on the drive home to Ladysmith, Va.

“Tom says the highlight was seeing his dad’s display on the wall Saturday,” said Lisa, as Tom drove through in West Virginia. Cheek’s picture and inscription replaces Tim McCarver’s in the Scibres and Mikemen exhibit where it will hang there for the next year. Plenty of time for Jays fans to make a visit ... and plenty of time to pose beside Tom Cheek.

Then, next July and a smaller picture will be displayed ... forever.

Tom, Jr. worked as a bat boy for the Jays, served on Jeff Ross’s clubhouse staff and was the first to send out live updates to other ball parks of pitch counts.

Lisa and hubby Karl, headed home to Waterdown as their son Erik, 12, had to catch in a game against Burlington. He plays hockey for the Flamborough Sabres and coaches Steve Langdon and Joe Iannuzzi in the winter. Brother Braden plays rookie ball.

Jeff was speaking from Times Square in Manhattan with his niece Savannah and children, after fighting traffic and dropping off his rent car.

“We went to the gala Friday, I look over and there are Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, Bob Gibson and Joe Morgan together,” said Jeff, who pitched three years in the Jays system at rookie-class Gulf Coast Jays and class-A St. Catharines. Jeff went over and introduced himself to all four.

“They were nice, Ozzie was wonderful, but as a former pitcher it was a most incredible experience meeting Bob Gibson.”

Jeff’s wife Amanda is not a baseball fan, so he made an analogy about the people they dined next to at Jane Forbes Clark’s gala.

“For Amanda, it would have been like looking up and seeing Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks,” said Jeff. “I was in awe from the time I arrived. Frank Robinson walked, then Brooks Robinson. Not that I met her, but seeing Rachel Robinson was pretty cool.”

So a wonderful weekend came to an end for Shirley and her brood of adults their children, 45 relatives in all.

“I felt like Tom was standing right beside me, guiding me,” said Shirley of her speech, “standing beside me ... or looking over me.”