By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
VANCOUVER _ The game has its roots.
Everyone started some where, whether it was in a back yard, a team to play for or a cause.
And that goes for Wayne Norton, who travelled the globe for the Seattle Mariners searching for talent. Often in the company of one of his underlings, Bob Engle, they found talent in Holland, Italy and elsewhere.
Eli Gorn’s VIDEO tribute to Wayne Norton shown at JCC diner
Norton travelling to South Africa searching for talent long before the country was ever in the World Baseball Classic. You think Toronto-Vancouver is a long flight ... try a Vancouver-Pretoria shuttle.
Norton made all those trips after he retired from 10 years of minor-league ball, including three with hometown triple-A Vancouver ... not far from his hometown of Port Moody, B.C.
Whether it was starting the Canadian Junior National Team program, the National Baseball Institute or whatever, one constant in Norton’s life was the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
Norton arranged for guest speakers, raised money and in fact Norton was athletic director at the JCC (1966-77) when he met a talented badminton player.
“Are you on our national team?” Norton asked.
“No, I’m on the junior national team.”
The light bulb went off ... soon Canada had a junior baseball program.
Former NBA star Charles Barkley was the guest speaker at this year’s 23rd annual JCC sports dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver.
Yet the star of the night was Wayne Norton, who was presented the Merit Award. The only other time a Merit Award was awarded came in 2006 when Norton presented it to his good friend Pat Gillick, former general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies and the Mariners.
Gerry Ziprusky and Norton became lifelong friends and in 1993, years after Norton left the JCC, Norton became a founding member of the JCC Dinner building the strong foundations for the annual prestigious dinners.
The double-play comb of Norton and Gillick landed such speakers as Ryan Dempster, of Gibsons, BC who does one of the best Harry Carry impressions, former American League umpire, the hilarious Marty Springstead and Jim Bouton, author of Ball Four.
Norton, elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys last month, signed with the New York Yankees and was assigned to class-A St. Petersburg in 1961.
From there he moved on to the Kansas City A’s/Oakland A’s organization playing at class-B Lewiston, double-A Binghamton, triple-A Vancouver and triple-A Iowa.
During his 10 years he played 1,206 games, 459 at triple-A in five seasons. He hit .242 with 149 doubles, 28 triples, 107 homers and 490 RBIs. He had a .715 OPS while stealing 34 bases. Norton’s best year was 1962 at Lewiston when he hit 21 homers, knocked in 72 runs and finished with an .855 OPS in 133 games. His biggest home run was marrying Trudy 53 years ago.
Upon retirement he became the executive director for Baseball BC, managed and coached of the Canadian Senior National Team, managing our 1975 Pan Am team. After scouting for the Orioles, he joined the Mariners and was named International Scout of the Year and twice Scout of the Year by the Canadian Baseball Network.
Starting as a part-timer with the Montreal Expos, Norton later spent three years on the Baltimore Orioles staff. Since 2000, he has been with the Seattle Mariners, signing first-round draft pick Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.), as well as big leaguers Bobby Madritsch, George Sherrill, Mike Saunders (Victoria, BC), Alex Liddi, and Greg Halman.
Among the minor leaguers he signed were Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC), Daniel Thieben, Tom De Blok, Jeroen de Haas, Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC), Scott Ronnenbergh, Dylan Unsworth and Kalian Sams.
Norton's friends from across the baseball landscape showed to be there on his night
_ John Haar, a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys.
_ Ian Dixon, who went south and signed with St. Pete's that same year in 1961, played four seasons in the Yankees system and his son, Colin Dixon, who played seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies systems.
_ Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada, director of national teams.
_ Former National Team coach and Mariners scout Marty Lehn.
_ Jim Robson, who used to broadcast Vancouver Mounties games when Norton played.
_ Baseball Canada president Ray Carter.
_ Mark Hiscott, a big backer in getting the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds rolling again.
_ Walt Burrows, former head of the Canadian brand of the Major League Scouting Bureau and now a scout with the Minnesota Twins.
_ Vancouver Canadians brilliant announcer Rob Fai.
_ And Kenny Wade Mariners assistant director of pro scouting.
As Ziprusky wrote in the JCC program:
“Wayne’s current fight with Lou Gehrig’s disease continues to demonstrate his determination dealing with adversity. All of as salute Wayne and congratulate him and his family tonight’s special JCC Sports Dinner Merit Award. He is a true Mensch.”
Said Norton: "This ALS ... I might be the first guy to ever beat it ... that's the attitude I'm taking."
There weren`t many dry eyes in the Hyatt ball room.