* Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson has not forgotten about the year he spent with the Team Canada, donating a package of four end-zone tickets for either the NFC championship game or a regular-season game in 2014. They go on auction at the annual fund raiser Jan. 11. .... Sign up for CBN Newsletter
By Bob Elliott
Luke Willson stands 6-foot-5.
The Seattle Seahawks tight end weighs 252 pounds ... including his huge heart.
When Baseball Canada’s Greg Hamilton called Willson earlier this month to tell him about the program’s annual January fund-raiser, Willson reacted as quickly as if he was turning on a button-hook pattern.
He donated a football package to be auctioned to the highest bidder Jan. 11 at the banquet at the Renaissance Hotel in Toronto.
The package for the winner and three guests includes:
_ An autographed Willson Seahawks jersey.
_ Four NFC championship game end zone seats in the lower bowl at CenturyLink Field for either Jan. 18 or 19.
_ Sideline access to watch the Seahawks’ walk-through the day before the game.
_ Lunch with Willson after the walk-through and a tour of the Seahawks facilities.
_ Field passes to watch warm-up on game day and access to the Seahawks post-game reception area.
The minimum bid is $10,000. Obviously this is corporation territory ... or maybe four guys splitting the bill. Air fare is not included in the package ... but then maybe the winning bid comes from a short drive away in Vancouver. Or a cab ride away from CenturyLink.
Should the first-place Seahawks not make the NFC final, the offer is good for any game on the 2014 schedule the winner chooses.
Willson has caught 19 balls and scored a 39-yard touchdown from quarterback Russell Wilson against the San Francisco 49ers, the favourtive team of banquet host Jerry Howarth.
“Playing baseball for Canada was as fond an athletic memory as I’ve ever have,” said Willson. “It’s something I really cherish it. I met some great friends and I haven’t had that much fun playing ... ever.
“I was thrilled to help Greg, Maybe another kid will get the chance to experience what I did.”
Willson hit fourth at the 2008 world juniors in Edmonton. Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie batted third.
Besides Lawrie, Carter Bell (signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Nick Bucci (Milwaukee Brewers), Michael Crouse (Blue Jays), Evan Grills (Houston Astros), Marcus Knecht (Jays), Francois Lafreniere (Atlanta Braves), Mike Monster (Anaheim Angels), Carter Morrisson (Cincinnati Reds) and Stosh Wawrzasek (Brewers) all signed pro contracts.
Willson played for the Windsor Expos, Windsor Titans and Ontario Terriers before making the national team. He made trips to Florida, the Dominican (where Lawrie hit five home runs in a doubleheader) and the pre-world cross-Canada tour.
“I’ll never forget that doubleheader. What was so impressive was the way Brett spread the field,” said Willson, “He was fun to be around.
“Football is a game where you see players with attitudes like Brett’s.”
Willson’s best memory was going 5-for-5 against the Czech Republic, with a couple of home runs, but “I’ll never forget opening against Italy and having the Canadian anthem played. That was the first time I’d ever played in front of a crowd.”
His worst memory? After Cuba edged Canada, scoring two runs on a wild pitch in the eighth, Australia upset Canada in the quarterfinal.
“I was the last out with the bases-loaded in a 2-1 game,” Willson said. “The count got to 3-2, I fouled off a couple and then swung at a change-up that was probably ball four.”
The pain is still apparent in Willson’s voice.
After the game two Cincinnati Reds scouts offered Willson a signing bonus to give up his scholarship at Rice University in Houston.
“I went to Rice to play football and baseball, so at the time it wasn’t a case of picking one sport over the other,” said Willson, “I wish we had won a few more games, but we did play in the Armed Forces Bowl last year.
“Rice players stood up for me at my wedding.”
Luke’s father Mike Willson was a catcher with the Windsor Chiefs who were recently inducted in the Ontario Baseball first Hall of Fame class winning nine senior eliminations and seven Canadian senior championships and two silver medals in a 10-year span.
The Jays signed Willson in 2011, as a fallback position, in case the NFL didn’t work out.
“Luke was always interesting as a ball player because he had an unteachable tool: Raw power which was easily plus power,” said Andrew Tinnish, now the Jays’ assistant GM. “We worked him out prior to the 2011 draft. Having not swung the bat really in a few years, he started launching balls, a few into the second deck, one well out to straightaway centre.
“While the overall game was crude, you felt he’d have a chance to get to his ceiling because he’s such a hard worker.”
Junior team coach Hamilton said a work ethic was never a problem. On the trip to Florida, he spotted Willson hitting off the tee in the cage an hour after the day was done and asked: “Haven’t you had enough?”
Willson said no, adjusted the tape on his bloody hands and continued to hack.
“Ask anyone, Greg Hamilton, teammates, coaches at Rice, and they speak highly of him,” Tinnish said. “This is such a hard game. It’s rare that guys make it on ability with no drive or work ethic. Luke was one of those guys you knew was going to put in the work.”
Meanwhile, for the auction, World Series champ Ryan Dempster, from the 1994 junior nats, is offering two packages that include airfare for four, a three-night hotel stay, two restaurant meals, Red Sox tickets to a four-game series and a clubhouse tour.
Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar is offering a group of four to attend a Blue Jays game in Toronto, as well as autographed memorabilia from Alomar plus Canadian big-leaguers Joey Votto, Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, John Axford, Michael Saunders, Jim Henderson and Lawrie all have items on the auction list.
Wish to place a bid on any of the items (click link at bottom), send an e-mail with your name, item number, bid amount and phone number with subject line “gala auction” to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submitting bids via e-mail ends at 11:59pm EST on Friday Jan. 10th, but will continue on site at the Renaissance Hotel until the conclusion of the banquet. Winning bids for people attending the banquet can pay by cash, debit or credit card on Jan. 11th. Winners not attending will be notified following the banquet and can pay by credit card only.