Erindale's Dave Grier is a fighter

Coach Dave Grier, with his wife Tammy, left, and Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, was presented with the first Dave Grier coaching award on the Erindale Little League association's 50th anniversary. 

Coach Dave Grier, with his wife Tammy, left, and Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, was presented with the first Dave Grier coaching award on the Erindale Little League association's 50th anniversary. 

By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network 
Dave Grier
noticed something was wrong when he started getting severe headaches.

He kept working at his chemical-sales job he had held for 25 years, figuring the pains would go away. They didn’t. After a week, his wife Tammy Grier implored him to go to emergency at a hospital in the Toronto suburb of Oakville.

“They looked him over and said he was probably dealing with stress at work,’’ Tammy said. “They were about to let him go home and put him on meds and told him to follow up with a doctor.’’

A stroke of luck, just as he was about to leave the hospital, somebody saved his life, a new doctor to the hospital from India. That good Samaritan, whose name is unknown to the Griers to this day, decided to take a peek at the patient, a long-time T-ball and midget coach with Mississauga’s Erindale Little League.

“The doctor looked in his eyes and said there was definitely something wrong,’’ Tammy said. “They did a CT scan. They didn’t have an MRI machine in Oakville but right away, the CT scan was done and the doctor said, ‘Oh, my God, there is a baseball-sized tumor below the left lobe.’ ’’

Grier was immediately transferred to Trillium Health Centre in nearby Mississauga and within a week, he underwent a 10-hour operation to have parts of his brain tumor removed. That was in April of 2012 and an ensuing operation was done by the same physician, Dr. Eric Marmur, whom the Griers credit for saving his life twice.

“Of all people,’’ Tammy said, sighing about her husband. “Dave was a healthy man. They said he may have been inhaling all those chemicals all those years. But they can’t pinpoint it as that. They said it’s a tumor you get. It’s bad luck, the worst one. They took out as much of the tumor as they could, as much as they could see. He had 50 staples. He looked like Frankenstein walking around.’’

Dave Grier began coaching in the Erindale Little League in 2003 when son Martin started in the T-ball ranks. He coached both house-league and tournament teams. He continued to coach until he was diagnosed with the most aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme Grade IV. He had picked his team and worked out in the gymnasium with all of his players all winter when he was forced to step down. He still continued to go to all of the games as their No. 1 fan while recovering from the brain surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Grier battled through two surgeries, 35 rounds of radiation and two types of chemo but the tumor continued to grow. He was put on avastin almost a year ago. He got an infusion every two weeks at a private clinic in Burlington, because it isn’t covered by the Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan.  

And sadly, this illness isn’t deteriorating. It’s getting worse. He was given a maximum of 12 months - during which time he did coach for a period of time. Now into his third year of survival, it seems that time is running out. He has virtually been on chemo/radiation the entire time. They cannot operate again.

Reality is setting in and the Griers are ‘’living in the moment’’, as Tammy says. They have some bad days but they try to look at the positive as much as they can. The Griers think of the late Toronto Star reporter Barbara Turnbull, who died recently. She persevered for 32 years as a quadrapelegic following a shooting in 1983.  

“We ask ourselves how Barbara managed,’’ Tammy said. “I cut out a clipping of Barbara from many years ago and pasted it on my fridge. If Dave is having a bad day, I tell him to look at the fridge. We try to deal with life in the way of humour. We try to manage with our humour.’’

For some time now, Dave has not been able to speak and needs a walker and a wheelchair. Due to this handicapped situation, the Griers are disappointed the way some people treat him.

“A lot of people think he’s mentally handicapped,’’ Tammy said. “It makes me angry, my son Martin gets angry. He was a university educated man, who is brilliant but some people think he’s a dummy. It has really opened up our eyes about people, who can be so mean. There are some people who help out but there are others, who want to knock you down.’’

Tammy said May is Cancer Month and she wants to create awareness about the disease which took the lives of hockey legend Ted Kennedy and two long-time Expos alumnus: catcher Gary Carter and photographer Denis Brodeur, among many others around the world. In a perfect world, Tammy Grier would love to see the drug avastin covered by OHIP.

“It’s covered for colon cancer but not approved for brain cancer,’’ she said.

Not long ago, Dave was presented with the Dave Grier Coach Of The Year Award at an Erindale game, marking the association’s 50th anniversary. It will be an award presented annually to a special coach on closing day in September. 

It was a thrill for Dave to go to the event and the beautiful moment prompted more than a few tears in all those in attendance. The award should leave a legacy for the Grier family and for the Erindale association. 

Despite his illness, Grier came alive at every ballpark where his team played.

His brother-in-law Danny Thompson is an Erindale grad and one of the most respected sandlot coaches in Canada who is now is with the Ontario Terriers.

Thompson was asked to say if he wanted to say a few words at the award ceremony but declined, figuring he would choke up, that it was all too close to the heart. Thompson has coached at every level of baseball and has worked with Team Canada squads.

“It was certainly incredible to see Dave return to coaching after his first brain surgery while still on chemo,’’ Thompson said in an interview. “It was yet another example of his desire and commitment to try to move forward and not let cancer stand in the way of something he loved to do. His determination, bravery and perseverance are an inspiration to our family and also must have been to his players and everyone else around baseball at that time.’’

When I asked Tammy if her husband had an all-time favorite player, she paused and said, “It’s funny, a surgeon at Princess Margaret asked me that question.

Dave looked the doctor in the eye and said “Martin Grier, our son.”

The Griers have been spending a lot of time on the 18th floor of Princess Margaret Hospital’s Pencer Brain Tumor Centre in Toronto and are very thankful for the support they have received there. They are amazed at the facilities available.

“It’s an unbelievable centre and we feel blessed to have such a centre in Canada,’’ Tammy said. “We cannot say enough good things about Dr. Warren Mason and his team of associate oncology neurologists along with Maureen Daniels, the administrative director, who has been our angel since the day we walked into the clinic.’’

So if you think you are having a bad day, think of Dave Grier. 

Put him in your thoughts.

“Dave and I always had a great relationship,” Tammy said. “He’s been a great husband, a great coach. It’s sad that he’s the one with this tumor. It’s definitely turned our lives around. 

“Somebody said, ‘God must need a good baseball coach in heaven.’”

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Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com