By Dan Olson
Tri-Cities NOW sports
Vancouver had never seen a collection of baseball greats like it did Aug. 12, 1983 when the Baseball Legends Game took to B.C. Place for an exhibition three-inning contest prior to a special indoor regular season Vancouver Canadians game.
Eleven Hall of Famers, including Hank Aaron, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal, Roger Maris, Bill Mazeroski and Enos Slaughter, pulled on the jerseys of their former teams for a friendly game before 53,000 fans.
Wayne Norton admits that his inclusion to the game was a mere matter of numbers — and not the kind that Aaron, Maris and Slaughter specialized in.
“I was a filler guy for that program,” recalls Norton, adding he loved every minute of it. “They asked if I’d come out and fill out the roster. I ended up playing between [second baseman] Bill Mazeroski and [third baseman] Hank Thompson, as the shortstop.”
A cherished moment was caught by a newspaper photographer of Norton sitting beside Aaron in the dugout, big grins on their faces.
“I like to point out that it’s the world’s best hitter sitting with the world’s worst hitter,” Norton said with a grin.
While the game went quickly and was purely for entertainment, the reminiscing and camaraderie was very real, said the Port Moody shortstop.
“I must have told [Aaron] about when we ‘met’ before … It was my first game at big league camp in Florida at spring training in 1962 after Kansas City drafted me. I was so nervous because the pitcher was Warren Spahn. It was the first game ever in the new West Palm Beach stadium and I was batting lead-off.
“I was so nervous, my knees were shaking so badly I had to call time-out about five times … I fouled off about eight pitches and [Spahn] finally said, ‘Kid, this one’s coming down the middle, just put it in play.’ I grounded out.
“In their half of the inning I took my spot in centre field, my first time at that position, and here comes Hank Aaron to the plate and he hits a line drive that I make a good catch on. That kind of settled the butterflies.”
At the Legends Game, Norton would get one at bat, this time against Yankees great Whitey Ford dealing from the mound.
“I kidded [catcher and good friend] Rene Lachemann, ‘Hey, you can find a new place to stay if you say it’s a curveball and it’s a fastball’… I ended up popping out to first baseman Tony Muser.”