*DH Cecil Fielder was the guest speaker as the Ontario Blue Jays inducted Tyler Johnstone, Peter Orr, Adam Stern and Drew Taylor into their Hall of Fame./Photo The Blue Jays Review. 2011 Most Influential Canadians2012 Canadians in College 2012 Canadians draft list Letters of Intent 2011 Canadians in the Minors 2011 Canadians in the June draft
By Bob Elliott
You won’t find the name Chip Banks listed on baseball-reference.
You will find the name Chip Banks on pro-football-reference.com.
It was Banks, a future NFL linebacker, helped steer slugger Cecil Fielder to baseball.
“I thought I was an OK football player, I make my visit to USC and that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to play football any longer,” the former Blue Jays first baseman told the crowd of players and parents at the inaugural Ontario Blue Jays Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
“The coach puts the ball on the ground between two players lying down, he blows the whistle, they both jump up, there is an explosion Banks flattens the other guy and knocks him out. The coach says ‘Ok boys’ and they move five yards down the field.”
When Fielder returned home he told his mother football wasn’t for him. So, momma asked was it going to be hoops? After all he’d been all-state as a guard.
“Nope, I’m going to try baseball,” Fielder told his captive audience which included inductees Tyler Johnstone, Peter Orr, Adam Stern and Drew Taylor.
“I know but father said I should give baseball a try,” Fielder said. “I was the greenest cat on the field, my coach John Romano told me I had to catch up. We didn’t have lights then. But he would throw me batting practice under the one light we had, buckets and buckets of balls.”
Fielder was drafted in the 31st round in 1981 by Baltimore Orioles scout Ed Crosby.
“I’m all excited and he said ‘son you’re better off going to school,” Fielder said.
In January he was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round by scout Guy Hansen of the January draft in 1982 “they don’t even have that any more” and was sent rookie-class Butte, Montana.
There he was behind prospect Joe Citari adjusting to the western culture.
“It was a shock me being from south central Los Angeles and we were in the M&M Cigar Store with it’s swinging doors, people carrying pistols and knives,” said Fielder, who did what any lonesome teenager would do far away from home.
He called his mother and told her he had enough, it was time to come home.
“Nope, you’re not,” his mother said.
So, Fielder stayed with the knowledge of the Wally Pipp story, the New York Yankee who took a day off and was replaced by Lou Gehrig, who played 2,130 consecutive games.
He got his chance, hit 28 doubles, 20 homers and 68 RBIs in 69 games.
“I knew I wasn’t the best player, but I was going to be the hardest worker,” Fielder said.
The next February he was dealt to the Jays for Leon Roberts and made stops at class-A Florence, class-A Kinston and double-A Knoxville before being promoted to the Jays in 1985.
In 1987-88 he split DH duties with Fred McGriff and during the collapse of 1987 was thrown out in the fourth inning on a steal attempt in the final game.
“Manager Jimy Williams came over and said ‘if you get on we’re going hit-and-run with Manny Lee on the first pitch,” Fielder said. “Well, Jimmy told me, but no one told Manny. What I didn’t understand, why not punch run Willie Upshaw? Willie might have made it.“
Tigers catcher Mike Heath threw out Fielder and the Jays lost 1-0, missing the chance to force a playoff and a game 163. It was Fielder’s first steal attempt in 146 games in the majors
In December of 1988 assistant GM Gord Ash phoned with news that his contract had been sold to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese League.
“I wasn’t the prototypal player, I didn’t look like Kelly Gruber, wasn’t as athletic as Lloyd Moseby, George Bell, Jesse Barfield or Tony Fernandez,” Fielder said. “Gord said if you don’t accept we’ll likely have the same amount of at-bats for you.”
Fielder hit .308 with 38 homers and came home early from Japan after breaking his hand.
That’s when the late Bill Lajoie, GM of the Detroit Tigers called to ask “did I want to become a Detroit Tiger?”
The next spring when Fielder arrived in Lakeland, Fla. manager Sparky Anderson called him in and said ‘you’ve got to play.”
“How I loved that man Sparky, how I miss him, he had so much knowledge, he won all those games with the Big Red Machine,” said Fielder. “I hit about 10 homers in the spring but didn’t hit my first homer until the sixth game against Dave Johnson of Baltimore.”
He played 159 games and hit 51 homers, driving in 132.
“That winter I did an interview with ESPN's Roy Firestone and with Roy you have to try not to get too emotional,” said Fielder. “He said that the Jays had to use three players each time they hit for me, how I was a flash in the pan.
“I said well if dropping 51 and 132 is a flash in the pan we’ll see, then I dropped a 44 (homers) and 133 on them the next year.”
Fielder said he often played hurt or when he was under the weather as just being in the lineup might help Allan Trammell, Lou Whitaker or Travis Fryman get a pitch to hit.
“Besides, I’d heard the Wally Pipp story,” said Fielder.
At the 1996 trade deadline he was dealt to the New York Yankees, run by GM Bob Watson, his next door neighbor.
The Yanks dropped the first two game of the World Series to the Atlanta Braves at Yankee Stadium and won the next four.
“Man that was a team we made it a six-inning game with Mariano Rivera pitching the seventh and eighth and John Wetteland the ninth. We had a saying ‘we play today? We win today.’
“What great teammates Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, he was always at his locker listening to Mariah Carey, I used to smash his CD player and buy him a next one the next day,” Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Tim Raines, Charlie Hayes, Kenny Rogers, who had trouble throwing strikes, David Cone, Andy Pettitte, Jimmy Key and Dwight Gooden.
“We’re taking batting practice in Atlanta and the Braves fans are in the aisles with brooms. Joe Torre called us in the clubhouse and asked ‘did you guys see what I saw?’”
Where will his free agent Prince Fielder, who was drafted and signed by Lajoie, who had moved over to the Brewers, land?
“Likely the Washington Nationals,” his father Cecil told the Ontario Blue Jays players and parents during a question and answer period.
“Prince has the desire to be a better hitter than his father -- and some day he might be. He might hit 500 home runs, when all is said and done. Prince weighed 306 pounds at age 14 and a strength coach got him down to 248 in two years.”
Fielder, who hit 318 homers and knocked in 1,008 RBIs in 1,470 games, will be inducted into the Ted Williams hitters Hall of Fame on Feb. 3.
The inductees ...
INF Tyler Johnstone
Ontario Blue Jays (1999-2002) helped team to Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M. in 2001.
Born: Brampton, Ont.
Coaches: Danny Bleiwas, Ross Dunsmore and Mark Nicholson.
Attended: Connors State, Purdue University at Indiana, Auburn University.
Pro career (nine games): Winnipeg, independent Northern League, class-A Savannah.
Speech: “It’s nice to see my old agent here -- even though I didn’t do much for him.”
Ontario Blue Jays (1996-97), joining the Jays as a pitcher.
Born: Richmond, Hill, Ont.
Coaches: Gary Wilson and Ernie Lewington.
Attended: Galveston College.
Pro Career (393 games in the majors) with the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies; (928 games in the minors): class-A Jamestown; class-A Myrtle Beach; double-A Greenville; triple-A Richmond; triple-A Columbus; triple-A Syracuse; triple-A Lehigh Valley).
Internationally: Played in the 2004 Athlens Olympics, as well as the 2006 and 2009 WBC.
Speech: “I guess my family is a second generation Ontario Blue Jays, my cousin Josh Carauso (King City, Ont.) played with the Jays 18s and now is at Rose State College.
“It’s easy to sit here and look around at all the picture and think that’s it.
“But it’s more than pictures, it’s a family. This is a great opportunity for kids, for parents to watch their sons. This is a great opportunity for kids. It wasn’t like this when Adam and I played here.
“I know I wouldn’t have reached the major leagues if not for the Ontario Blue Jays.”
Ontario Blue Jays (1998).
Born: London, Ont.
Coaches: Gary Wilson and Ernie Lewington.
Attended: University of Nebraska, making College World Series in Omaha.
Pro Career (54 games in the majors): Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers; (714 games in the minors): class-A Jamestown, class-A Myrtle Beach, rookie-class Gulf Coast Braves, double-A Greenville, triple-A Pawtucket, triple-A Norfolk, double-A Huntsville, triple-A Nashville.)
Internationally: Took over for Stubby Clapp as Canada’s on-field giant, a triple short of a cycle with four RBIs as Canada beat Team USA 8-6 in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, played in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
Speech: “I remember filling out all those questionnaires each team I went to and writing down ‘Ontario Blue Jays.’
“I was recruited by Nebraska and when I got there they said they liked my speed. I said ‘my speed? how did you know I had any speed?’ They lined us up at the facility we were using in Etobicoke and had us run between the plate and the mound.
“What do I want to tell people? Don’t quit. Bust your butt. You have a duty as a Canadian to be a grinder. Justin Morneau, Joey Votto or whomever you ask will tell you the same thing.”
Ontario Blue Jays (1999-2001) started first game at Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M. in 2001.
Coaches: Danny Bleiwas, Ross Dunsmore, Mark Nicholson and Gary Wilson.
Attended: Georgia Tech University and transferred to Michigan University where he earned all-region honours going 9-1.
Pro career (45 games in the minors, rookie-class Pulaski, class-A Auburn, indy Traverse City): Was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006, Traverse City in the independent Frontier League and attended spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Speech: “I’m often asked who was the greatest influence in my baseball career? The answer is Danny Bleiwas.
“I’d like to thank my brother Matt for being a constant supporter, my mom who made all those drives to the games and practices or flew to see me pitch in school. And I’ve been lucky tp have the best role model ever in my father. I’m here because of you dad.”