Legendary Erwin Doerkson recalls Canada's first national team in 1967

 The first-ever Canadian National Baseball Team that competed in the 1967 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. Photo Credit: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

The first-ever Canadian National Baseball Team that competed in the 1967 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. Photo Credit: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

By Adam Morissette

Baseball Canada

OTTAWA- July 24th, 2017 marked a special anniversary for Baseball Canada as the first-ever installment of the Canadian National Baseball Team took the field for the first time 50 years earlier.

The event was the 1967 Pan Am Games and the host city was Winnipeg where the Canadian squad, that was assembled just days prior, dropped a 3-1 decision to Mexico. London, Ont., native Ron Stead toed the rubber for Canada that day in an effort that saw him fan 10 batters over seven innings of work, while limiting Mexico to just five hits. Behind the plate against Mexico was 24-year-old Erwin Doerkson of Eston, Saskatchewan.

“I remember gathering in Brandon, Manitoba for tryouts and days later we were notified that we made the team,” recalled Doerkson. “It all went by pretty fast but was a really enjoyable experience.”

Canada’s management staff consisted of business manager Joe Zeman (Saskatoon, Sask.), Dave Shury (Battleford, Sask.), Glennis Scott (Brandon, Man.) and field manager Gerry MacKay (Kenton, Man.).

Players were nominated from their provincial associations to attend tryouts and were selected from the various Senior (amateur) Leagues across the country.

“I remember dressing in Canadian attire for the opening ceremonies and being addressed about what it meant to represent Canada,” explained Doerkson. “But looking back we may have been naive to the whole experience as it was the first time representing Canada for all of us.”

The Canadian roster featured a mix of youth and experience ranging from veteran Senior League players to players with college or pro experience. That pro experience proved fatal for Canada after just two games, as four players were deemed ineligible for the remainder of the tournament for having played professionally.

“It was just unfortunate,” said Doerkson. “It came as a shock to all of us and we tried to rally as a team and felt a responsibility to our nation but couldn’t compete after we lost those guys.”

Sitting at 1-1, and with former pros Ron Smith, Ron Stead, Bob McKillop and John Elias on the sidelines, Canada went 1-5 the rest of the way and ultimately finished last in the five-team tournament.

Canadian players, including Doerkson, were forced out of their comfort zones to fill the gaps.

“I was quite fine playing first base with Bob McKillop behind the plate, but after the suspensions I had to catch,” he explained. “I had just started catching the year before and really had no business being back there in that tournament.”

Doerkson recalls a strong U.S. side that smacked 19 hits in a 14-2 win over Canada. Future pro Steve Sogge had four of them while future College Baseball coaching legend Mark Marquess (Stanford) had three.

“It was really windy that day,” said Doerkson with a laugh after recalling his squad making seven errors.

The United States went on to take two of three from Cuba to win the gold medal and for players on the Canadian squad it meant going their separate ways. Some went on to future trips with the National Team, some kept on with their Senior League careers and careers away from baseball.

For Erwin Doerkson, that meant more time with the Saskatchewan Senior League’s Unity Cardinals and a career as a Phys Ed. Teacher in Moose Jaw with one of his pupils being current Baseball Canada Executive Director, Jim Baba.

From time-to-time Doerkson would run into a player or two from that team including his induction into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame along with Lane Jackson, or at a reunion hosted by manager Gerry MacKay. To this day, he is very proud of being a part of that group and seeing where Canadian baseball has gone since then.

“I definitely (still) feel a sense of pride looking back and having being in baseball my whole life,” he says. “It’s really amazing to see the (National) program in place today and all the Canadians that have gone on to reach the major leagues.”

Adam Morissette

Adam Morissette was born and raised in Ottawa, Ont. where sports were always a big part of his life whether it be baseball, hockey or football, including playing two seasons as centre for coach Pat Sheahan with the Queen's University Golden Gaels in Kingston -- Canada's first capital. Morissette has always have been passionate about baseball and has fond memories of attending Montreal Expos games with his father, Mike, and listening to his recollection of watching baseball in Montreal at Jarry Park and stories about Gary Carter, Rusty Staub and Steve Rodgers. Morissette could often be found in a near empty Lynx Stadium watching Joe Siddall, Bert Heffernan, Curtis Pride and Jamie Carroll soaking in a beautiful summer night at the ballpark. He was a member of the provincial championship Orleans Red Sox Little League teams also played with the Ottawa White Sox for the late Lyle Anderson and Todd Burke in OBA Midget and American Legion play and the Capital City Crushers (NCBL), primarily as a catcher. Has also spent time coaching Little League in Orleans and South Ottawa. He wanted to turn his passion into a career and enrolled in Sport Business Management at Algonquin College in Ottawa in 2007. After working for the Ottawa 67's OHL team as the Ticket Coordinator, Morissette jumped at the opportunity to become the Media and Public Relations Coordinator with Baseball Canada in 2010. He loves watching and reading about pro, college or amateur baseball and is a long-time subscriber to Baseball America. Morissette is thrilled about the idea of writing about baseball and is interested in covering any story that his car -- and time -- will allow him to cover.