*Greg Hamilton (right) speaks at the podium with his former players behind him after Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) presented him with a Rolex. 2012 Canadians in College 2012 Canadians draft list 2011 Most Influential Canadians Letters of Intent 2011 All-Canadian College team 2011 Canadians in the Minors
By Bob Elliott
Ernie Whitt asked the question.
Obviously it had been asked before at his table at the 10th annual Baseball Canada fund raiser and awards banquet.
“Some one asked is this a love fest for Greg Hamilton?” Whitt asked the crowd.
“Well, yes it is.”
Whitt became the fourth inductee into the Baseball Canada Wall of Excellence joining former MVP winners Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC), Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.).
“Greg would say to me ‘you know I don’t have to be a coach on the team ...’ and I’d say I want you on my staff.”
Whitt explained to MC Jerry Howarth how he was blessed by having coaches like Denis Boucher (Lachine, Que.), Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.) and Tim Leiper (Altoona, Pa.) plus good people running the program like business manager Bernie Soulliere (Windsor, Ont.), equipment man Keith Sanford (Windsor, Ont.) and trainer Dave Blatz (Winnipeg, Man.)
Canada edged Team USA 2-1 on Jimmy Van Ostrand’s double with Andrew Albers getting the win and Scott Richmond striking out his ex-college teammate for the final out.
“Leiper deserves a lot of credit for the winning run in the gold medal game, we hit the ball into the corner and when the throw came into second, instead of to the plate,” said Whitt (Clinton Township, Mich, a Windsor suburb). “He waved home the winning run --- that’s a good third base coach.”
“Greg would ask me about a certain player and my answer would always be the same ‘I just want a guy who is going to give 100% ... to take out a second baseman or a shortstop on a double play ball, to crack a catcher if the need arose.
“To stand on that podium and hear those guys sing Oh Canada with Team USA on one side and Cuba on the other, I’ve never been prouder.”
Whitt said the win was the highlight of his career.
Reitsma called up players as one and they sat on the stage: Justin Morneau, Brett Lawrie, John Axford, Jeff Francis, Rene Tosoni, Paul Quantrill, Jason Dickson, Adam Loewen, Peter Orr, Chris Leroux, Jonathan Malo, Adam Stern, Jamie Romak, Hyung Cho, Lee Delfino, T.J. Burton and Trent Kitsch.
And then love fest for Hamilton reached its zenith.
A video tribute to Hamilton’s hard work and dedication to players when they’re in the Baseball Canada program or after they have left, consisted of 30 players from coast to coast filming themselves on their own cell phones.
It ran ... and ran ... and ran.
Usually it was the same message.
Names of the players were shown underneath, whether it be Tom Robson (Ladner, BC) or Stubby Clapp (Windsor, Ont.).
There were a couple of extended answers like Dickson’s “thanks Greg ... for making me a better player and making me a better person,” although we can’t make out the soggy, tear-stained notes
“We hope every time he looks at his watch he’ll think of the boys,” said Reitsma.
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Kevin Foley’s highlight video, a staple of past banquets, was shown to kick off the evening. It showed various National Team events over the past decade, but for the first time was capped with a montage of clips from Canada’s Gold Medal performance at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
MC Jerry Howarth started the evening with a respectful momemt’s silence in memory of the late Randy Echlin (Toronto, Ont.), Tanner Craswell (Charlottetown, PEI) and Mitch Maclean (South Winsloe, PEI).
Supreme Court Justice Echlin was the former head of the Canadian Hall of Fame selection committee. Craswell played for Team Canada Junior National Team, while Maclean played for Prince Edward Island at the Canada Cup.
Junior team MVP -- Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, Ont.), Ontario Prospects, presented by ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Kellogg pitched seven hitless innings against The Netherlands Antillies and beat host Colombia to clinch a berth in the 2012 IBAF World Junior Baseball Championships.
“I didn’t want to face him, I’m glad I retired,” said presenter Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar after watching Foley’s video clip of Kellog in action.
Senior team MVP -- Jonathan Malo (Joliette, Que.), New York Mets organization, presented by the MLB Players Association.
Malo was the starting shortstop as Canada won bronze at the World Cup in Panama earlier in October. He hit .382 and was flawless in the field for as Canadians upset the U.S., Chinese Taipei and Japan at the tournament.
At the IBAF World Cup in Panama Malo led Canada in batting average and hits as well as playing flawless defence as the team repeated as bronze medal winners from 2009.
Malo was named to the tournament all-star team and kept his strong play going at the Pan Am Games where Canada defeated the United States in the Gold Medal game.
Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen showed sporting a beard. Howarth asked if Leroux was trying to be the next Brian Wilson, the beaded San Francisco Giants closer.
“Just a Canadian kid trying to stay warm,” answered Leroux.
Stubby Clapp award -- RHP Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont.) presented by Mizuno Canada.
Hill didn’t pitch the regular season, but made five starts in the World Cup and the Pan Am Games.
Hill was the ace of the staff at the IBAF World Cup and Pan Am Games making five starts and going 4-1 as he worked 28 innings, turning in dominant performances in wins over Japan and the United States at the World Cup and pitched Canada into the Gold Medal game with a semi-final win over Mexico at the Pan Ams.
“So many good things happened with this program,” Hill told Howarth. “The Athens Olympics, the World Cup. Playing on this team is an entirely different atmosphere than any other team. I was so happy we won gold for guys like Greg Hamilton, Jim Baba and Bernie Souliere.”
Baseball Canada alumni award -- OF Rene Tosoni (Cotquilam, BC), Minnesota Twins, presented by the L.J. Pearson Foundation.
Tosoni collected his first major-league hit in his first at-bat, with a single to right off Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, American League rookie of the year.
Tosoni played in 60 games with the Twins in 2011. A two-time Junior National Team player, signed by the late Jim Ridley, represented Canada at the 2009 IBAF World Cup where the team captured the Bronze Medal.
On stage with Tosoni was former American League MVP and fellow Twins Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) who recalled his first major-league game.
“It was in Denver and before the game Larry Walker sent me one of his bats autographed with ‘Make Canada Proud,’” said Morneau. “It’s nice to have another Canadian on the team ... well Jesse Crain was with us and he was born here, but he’s not really a Canadian -- except when we need him to pitch for us in the World Baseball Classic.”
Morneau, who said he had as many surgeries in 2011 as home runs (four) plus another session of post-concussion symptoms, said he would begin hitting off a tee soon and hoped to be ready for the start of spring training.
Special achievement award -- OF Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC), New York Mets, presented by the MLB Players Association.
Loewen made his major league debut as a position player in 2011 with the Jays after two elbow fractures ended his pitching career with the Baltimore Orioles in 2008. Loewen heads to spring training next month looking to win a job in the outfield with the New York Mets.
Loewen told Howarth he enjoyed his time as a September call-up with the Jays and was comfortable.
“The only time I was nervous was on the base paths, I never really paid much attention to signs, I’m sort of a space cadet,” Loewen said. “I had a great first base coach (Torey Lovullo), he’d whisper in my ear what I was supposed to do.”
Loewen thanked Jays minor league coaches Justin Mayshore and Chad Mottolla for helping him make the adjustment from the mound to a position player.
“I remember about the all-star break my first year, I was hitting about .180 with zero home runs at Dunedin,” said Loewen.
Special recognition award -- 3B Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC), Toronto Blue Jays, presented by RBC Wealth Management.
Lawrie, who hit .293 with nine homeruns and 25 RBIs in 43 games with the Jays in 2011, credited Mike Mordeci for helping him make the adjustment on the move from second to third base.
Lawrie’s passion quickly made him a fan fave amongst Jays fans.
Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said he recalled looking over an old scouting report from Jays scout Tom Clark in which Clark wrote of Lawrie “plays as if his hair is on fire.”
Anthopoulous also said his pro scouting director Perry Minasian pushed for two straight years “he wore me out telling me we needed to acquire him” from the Brewers.
"Brett wouldn't be a Blue Jay today if not for the input we received from Greg," said Anthopoulos.
Wall of Excellence -- Ernie Whitt, Philadelphia Phillies roving minor-league instructor, presented by RBC Wealth Management.
Whitt credited the likes of Peter Hardy, Peter Widdrington, Pat Gillick, Paul Beeston and Gord Ash for his lengthy stay with the Jays and Kevin Brian for suggesting he first become involved with Team Canada in 1999.
“I was so happy for Greg, Ray Carter, Jim Baba and Bernie Soulliere when we won,” said an emotional Whitt.
Said Loewen: “The best manager I’ve played for has been Ernie, whether it was the WBC or the World Cup.”
“I love Ernie Whitt,” said Peter Orr. “I remember him playing with the Jays, he owned a Mother’s Pizza in my home town (Newmarket), then I had the chance to play for him and I was star struck playing for Ernie. When I switched organizations to join the Phillies, there was Ernie to welcome me.”
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The evening also included check presentations from the Toronto Blue Jays and RBC Wealth Management to Baseball Canada at a value of $25,000 and $15,000 respectively. Plus Major League Baseball is sending a $50,000 cheque.
“I can’t say enough about the support we’ve received from our sponsors,” explained Baseball Canada president Ray Carter. “They continuously show a vested interest in promoting the sport in Canada, both at the grassroots level and at the elite level.”
Hamilton was named the most influential Canadian in baseball for 2011 after a gold, silver and bronze medal within 56 days.
Said Stern: “The guy who runs the list says the most exciting game he ever saw was when we beat Team USA 8-6 in the WBC and I had four hits, the best game he’s ever seen in thousands of game ... and I can’t even get on the top 100 list ... and he’s got the guy stacking the vending machine with Diet Coke at the Rogers Centre at No. 18.”