Elliott at St. Marys: Ash, Byckowski, Ducey, Thomson, Williams
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
St. MARYS, Ont. - When baseball people gather stories are told.
Some are even true.
We were skeptical of inductee Gord Ash (Toronto, Ont.) when he told of his first trip to Calgary to see the Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, the Medicine Hat Blue Jays.
In his first game a bench clearing brawl broke out at second base.
“I looked up from behind home plate and there was our general manager Russ Williams (Medicine Hat, Alta.) climbing onto the field in the eighth inning, with a beer in his hand,” Ash told the assembled crowd under the tent at St. Marys.
After the ceremonies I bumped into Williams.
That wasn’t true, was it?
“Sure it was. I set my beer down on the third base bag. The thing was they shut down beer sales after seven innings and this was in the eighth,” Williams said. “Our guys were outnumbered ... they needed help.”
How could you be outnumbered? Both rosters are the same.
“Naw, the home team always has some extra guys, players on the disabled list hanging around,” Williams said. “The thing that really upset me that was when things settled down I came back to the bag and someone had kicked over my beer.”
Such was life in the minors ... at The Hat.
Was that the wildest night ever for Williams, Medicine Hat GM?
“No way ... I remember Willy Jay Munford hitting a grand slam as we beat the Great Falls Dodgers 24-23, ask Rob Ducey, he carries a copy of the box score in his wallet,” Williams said.
We asked Ducey and while he didn’t have the box in his wallet, he did crank up the Google machine which showed The Hat knocked off the Great Falls Dodgers 24-23 on Munford’s grand slam before 905 fans at Athletic Park in The Hat.
The run total stands as the rookie-class record for most combined runs scored by two teams in a game and the game is the longest nine-inning game in minor league history at four hours and 25 minutes.
Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.) made one of his 16 starts at first base that night hitting third with a pair of hits and three RBIs.
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Ducey’s roomie Pat Saitta, a fourth rounder in the 1984 draft from Concordia College-Bronxville in Bronxville, NY started the game.
Saitta had a habit of barking orders at Ducey.
And each time Ducey would say, “What’s the magic word?”
And Saitta would say in his thick Bronx accent “Plu-eeese.”
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The linescore that night was not very pretty:
123 456 789 R H E
Great Falls 213 237 032 -- 23 22 5
Medicine Hat 222 390 006 -- 24 22 3
Please do not let your children -- if they are pitchers -- look at the pitching lines:
Great Falls IP H R ER BB K
Tim Criswell 3.2 10 9 9 5 2
Doug Treadway 1.0 4 9 1 2 1
Marc Estes 3.1 3 0 0 1 4
Phil Torres, L 0.2 4 6 6 2 1
Blue Jays IP H R ER BB K
Pat Saitta 4.2 11 11 9 4 2
Chris Burgess 1.0 5 7 7 3 2
Bruce Blake, W 3.1 6 5 5 2 4
The hitters were ahead of the pitchers on that night.
Mike Cacciaguida homered for the Hat that night as did Munford. Besides Ducey, who played 13 years in the majors and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, also headed to the TV League from the Hat were:
- C Greg Myers, who played 18 years, eight with the Jays
- Infielder Eric Yelding, who played five seasons with the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs
- RHP Dane Johnson, who played three years in the majors with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s and the Jays
- Jeff Richardson, who pitched one game for the California Angels.
Ducey earned MVP honours that year.
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Bill Byckowski, recognized by Ash for scouting Canada when Ash was the GM during his speech, recalls playing house league games in York at Smythe Park in either “1971 or 1972.”
The deal was after each game the coaches would instruct the players to run around the small diamond.
“We had great coaches,” Byckowski said. “I ran around the concession stand which was behind home plate of the big diamond.
He always played the 6 o’clock game and one night Byckowski stopped to watch the older boys play.
“I had my nose up against the screen,” Byckowski said. “The game was under the lights, I still can remember the smells. It was cool. York was playing the Utica Astros. Back then it was a big deal playing an American team.
“I really thought I was watching a major league game. Our Legion 31 wore green and white with a bit of yellow, while Utica had uniforms like the Astros.”
Future pro and Canadian Junior National Team coach, Remo Cardinale (Thornhill, Ont.) was pitching for the bantams. Cardinale was the second Canadian signed by Blue Jays scout Bobby Prentice, behind Bob Orvac.
York bantams and midgets had a home-and-home weekend every year with Utica, NY. When York visited Utica it played at Murnane Field ... the same mound Cardinale pitched from with the 1977 Utica Blue Jays.
The likes of Ben Kawa, Mark Zwolinski, a future New York Met farmhand and Mike Carnegie were coached by York coach John Hurd.
The next year Byckowski moved to Brampton, well actually Chinguacousy.
“And the year I moved I pick up the Toronto Star and there is a picture of our team after they won the CNE peewee tournament,” said Byckowski. “They are Page 1 of the paper and I’m in Chinguacousy -- not even Brampton.
Carnegie was a teammate of Cardinale’s and he was at St. Marys to see ex-teammate Rob Thomson (Stratford, Ont.) inducted.
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The 1984 Olympic team won a tournament in Holland and then headed to Los Angeles to play in the 1984 Olympics. Thomson, a catcher with that team and a winner of five World Series rings with the New York Yankees, must have had half the team there to support him, including Dick (The Legend) Groch.
“Congratulations Rob, we are proud of you. “
_ LHP Rod Heisler, who wore the Canadian uniform in international competitions more than anyone else.
“So well deserved! It was such a great experience and team to be a part of and yeah, like a family so proud of your career and what you’ve been able to accomplish Good luck the rest of the season.”
_ Steve Wilson, New York Yankees, International Cross Checker/Pacific Rim Supervisor.
“It was such a distinct pleasure to witness your induction on Saturday. You’re living an honourable Canadian baseball fanatic’s dream ... and you ain’t even done yet.
Best wishes for the rest of this season and the many seasons to come.
Oh, and Happy Father’s Day.
_ C Jim Eliopoulos
“You are a true gentleman and it’s my pleasure to be able to call you my friend and not just a teammate..”
_ Mike Carnegie.
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Alexis Brudnicki memories I: On Ryan Dempster, July 4, 2011.
“I had a Canadian Baseball Network press pass to see the Nationals and Cubs play in Washington. Matt Stairs and Ryan Dempster were playing, and the respective staffs knew I was there to talk to them. The Cubs’ staff was trying to help me get Dempster one day, and for some reason he was taking forever even though they told me he knew I was waiting for him and only him. I didn’t know him at the time, so I thought maybe he was avoiding me or whatever.
“He finally comes out and sits in his chair at his locker and politely answers all of my Canadian questions, probably nothing of much importance, and the whole time he’s shifting around, uncomfortable, and I don’t think much of it except to wonder why he didn’t stand.
“The next day, or not long after, he gets put on the disabled list with some kind of back injury. So he probably came out from treatment and was super physically uncomfortable but did the interview with me anyway, and all the while was probably in a boatload of pain.”
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Alexis Brudnicki memories II: Former Blue Jays amateur scout and motivational speaker Sean McCann, who had another life as an actor, passed the day before the induction weekend
“When I was little and my dad was still in my life, he used to know some guy from his work who split season tickets to the Blue Jays with some other guys, and my dad ended up with a few sets a year. The seats were right behind the home dugout, and right next to none other than Sean McCann.
“He used to talk to me and my brother all the time, and when guys would throw balls over the dugout he would get them and give them to us, or he would ask for them to give to us. Really shaped my early fandom for sure. And I remember at one point, after learning from him that he had been in the movie Miracle, going home and rewatching it just to find him. “