Ceremony to honour Fanning happening in Montreal Saturday

By: Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

MONTREAL --First, it was Paul Beeston calling. Then it was Howard Starkman on the phone.

The former Blue Jays’ executives were informing Jim Fanning’s widow Marie in London that a ceremony honouring the former Expos’ great and Jays’ ambassador was in store April 2 in Montreal.

“They told me there was going to be a tribute that day,’’ Mrs. Fanning said in an interview. “It’s really nice. They’re going to be playing a film clip of Jim on the screen, they’re having a moment of silence and I believe and it’s not confirmed that they are retiring his Expos’ No. 6 on the wall. It’s going to be happening before the national anthems.’’

Pretty neat, if you ask me.

“It’s a fabulous program. Simon Arsenault of Evenko is involved,’’ Mrs. Fanning said. “I’m delighted that Charles Bronfman and John McHale Jr. will be on the field. I’ve been getting calls from some of the players after they saw it on Twitter about the ceremony. Rusty Staub, Steve Rogers, Bill Atkinson, Wallace Johnson.’’

Of course, other Expos’ personalities expected on the field with the Fanning clan are Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, Red Sox scout Gary Hughes and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tim Raines, who will be feted the night before along with Pedro Martinez.

Raines’ No. 30 has already been retired by the Expos and my guess is that Martinez’s 45 will be retired, too, and unveiled on the outfield wall at the Big O alongside other numbers.

Rusty Staub played three-and-a-half seasons with the Expos and had his 10 retired so why not Martinez, who pitched for four seasons. Raines and Martinez will have scrums in the press box after Friday’s game starts. Geoff Hill, one of my Twitter followers, suggested to me that No. 45 be double-retired for Rogers and Martinez, just like No. 10 is double-retired for Staub and Andre Dawson.

Also on Saturday before the game, esteemed Le Journal de Montréal scribe Serge Touchette will be presented the Jack Graney Award for meritorious baseball writing by Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame executives David Morneau and John Starzynski.

The Red Sox and Blue Jays square off in two spring-training games at Olympic Stadium with Friday’s game starting at 7:05 and Saturday’s at 1:05. More than 106,000 people will attend the two games. The press box will be bumper to bumper with a crush of media members.

French Canadian Jays catcher Russell Martin is slated to have a press conference Friday at 2:45 p.m. in Salon Rouge at the stadium and Dombrowski will do likewise at 4:30.

Then on Sunday to cap off the weekend, an ExposFest fund-raiser to fight the cancer DIPG will be staged from 10 a.m.--5 p.m. at Centre Ville. Andres Galarraga, Marquis Grissom, Ellis Valentine, Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Bill Lee and Rogers are slated to be on hand for autograph sessions and clinics in an event organized by Perry Giannis.

Jim Fanning, 87, died last April 25 of heart problems but his widow said she feels his spirit in the London house where she lived with the CBHOF inductee.

“I’m missing him. I feel him in the house. His spirit is always with us,’’ she said. “He’s a hard guy to lose. Jim and I were together for 40 years. We dated 10 years and we were married 30 years.

“All of a sudden, it comes to an abrupt shock. When he wasn’t ill, he had a huge presence in my house. In some ways, he still has a huge presence. He was real difficult to leave. Physically, it’s hard not to have him here.’’

Mrs. Fanning drew an analogy, taking a line from Shakespeare: “The good that men do is often buried with their bones.’ But in Jim’s case, the good is still obvious. His legacy is still alive.

“Jim brought baseball to Canada. If it wasn't for Jim bringing baseball to Canada, there would be no Blue Jays. He led the Expos to the playoffs for the only time in their history.

“It’s nice to see that he was treated so good all his life. It’s amazing to see how many players referred to Jim as Dad. It’s amazing the impact he had on young people’s lives. When Tim Raines was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, he said about Jim, ‘I love that man. He’s the reason I stayed in baseball.’

“When young players would be on the road without family, they would say Jim was like a father to them. Until the day Jim died, Bill Atkinson called him Dad. After Jim died, Bill would call often and said to call me anytime if I needed assistance. Bill said, ‘I only live an hour away. ’ ’’

Then Mrs. Fanning touched on how humble her husband was.

“He wasn’t a boaster or braggart,’’ she said. “He was an amazing father and an amazing man. He would tell his son Frank and daughter Cynthia that they should not be boastful. He told us that we had all a full cup of love, faith and courage. With him gone, we still have one third of a cup.

“When Frank was going to college at Fanshawe in London, his classmates didn’t know that Jim was his father. Frank was brought up by Jim to be humble and do things on his own. When Jim died, that’s when they found out Jim was Frank’s father.’’

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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