By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Gordie Howe was there. So was Jean Béliveau, George Chuvalo and Ron MacLean.
But there was something missing.
The occasion was a mid-1990s sports fundraiser in Grimsby, Ont. and Carl Kovacs, one of the organizers, discovered there were no baseball players there to sign autographs
So somehow Kovacs got wind of this Canadian baseball great by the name of Ferguson Jenkins. They arranged a meeting. From there, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation was born and it's going strong heading into another fundraiser this induction weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"Fergie and I started it together,'' Kovacs was saying as he was driving to Cooperstown. "We had our first event at a place in Grimsby that's no longer there on the water called Place Polonais. We had 500 people for dinner and 2,000 for autographs. We raised $100,000. We gave $50,000 to charities and $50,000 to amateur sports.
"We were talking the other day and we came up with the figure of $4.2-million that we have raised for different charities over the years. We've been doing events at least 20 years. We do many fundraisers every year in Canada and the U.S. At spring training this year for the whole month of March, we did signings at nine ballparks.''
There will be a slew of baseball celebrities in Cooperstown this weekend as the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducts Expos legend Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez, Bud Selig and John Schuerholz.
As has been customary for close to 20 years, Jenkins, the foundation's chairman, and president Kovacs are setting up shop with autograph tables outside the Cooperstown Bat Company store owned by Ken and Connie Haney on Main St.
At one time or another Friday night, all day Saturday and on Sunday morning, Jenkins, Bill Lee, Bert Campaneris, Andre Dawson, Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Oil Can Boyd, Mudcat Grant and others will get their felt pens out to sign memorabilia items.
"Every year on induction weekend, we invite Fergie and his foundation down here to use our store as a fundraising charity,'' Haney said. "We've owned the store since 2008, but I was employed for many years by the original owners so Fergie has been coming here for more than 20 years. They raise money for the Canadian Red Cross, juvenile diabetes, Big Brothers and so on.''
Jenkins, as some people may not know, also arranges for the players to come to his fundraisers and even sets up players to come to Jack Dominico's Maple Leaf Fan Forum and Reception each May in Toronto. Some of the players even stick around for the Maple Leafs' home opener the next day in the Intercounty Baseball League. Jenkins is a multi-tasker for sure.
"Fergie is the only Canadian inducted into Cooperstown,'' Kovacs said. "He makes Canada proud. More important, he does a lot for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.''
During the day on Friday, Jenkins will be on hand along with Randy Johnson and Ryne Sandberg at a Cooperstown fundraiser hosted by Ozzie Smith. The two-hour event forms part of the Hall of Fame's educational mission and features non-stop interaction at each station. It's a unique opportunity for fans to get involved.
Also getting into the fundraising act on Saturday in a parking lot at Doubleday Field not far from Main St. is the Montreal-based Exposfest organization which will raise funds for Amelia Spencer, a three-year-old from Cooperstown fighting a brain tumour.
Among those on hand to sign autographs from noon-4 p.m. are Lee, Oil Can Boyd, Henry Rodriguez, Wallace Johnson and announcer Dave Van Horne, who is taking some time off from his Miami Marlins' duties to be around for the event and Tim Raines' induction.