New Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Bay an inspiration
June 15, 2019
By Kevin Glew
Canadian Baseball Network
If you’re a young Canadian baseball prospect feeling disillusioned about your chances for a professional career, Jason Bay’s story may provide just the inspiration you need.
The Trail, B.C., native, who received only one scholarship offer to a junior college out of high school, was drafted in the 22nd round by the Montreal Expos in 2000 and traded three times before he got his first extended big league opportunity.
But the right-handed hitting outfielder persevered to become the first Canadian to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award and a three-time major league all-star.
And on Saturday in St. Marys, Ont., he became a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.
“They say your experiences shape your character and I would have to agree. My path from Little League to here today was anything but smooth,” said Bay during his induction speech. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world, because it made me the man I am today, who is seriously just a boy at heart . . . I was a grinder I did a few things well, but nothing great. I take pride in that. I kind of think there’s something inherently Canadian about that and many people can relate.”
Born in 1978, Bay knew at a young age that he wanted to be a professional baseball player and he documented his ambition in a scrapbook.
“From kindergarten probably through sixth or seventh grade, every year in that scrapbook was my school picture and a checklist of all the things you could be and every year I checked baseball player,” he recalled. “Well, except for grade 2 where I aspired to be a cab driver. I don’t know how to explain that one.”
It’s easy to see how Bay developed a love for baseball at such a young age. Trail’s Little League program was one of the best in the country and as an 11-year-old, Bay was part of the 1990 squad, coached by fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Andy Bilesky, that competed in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“I think that really got me interested in baseball,” said Bay. “If the Little League World Series doesn’t get you excited about baseball, I don’t know what will.”
But as strong as the town’s Little League program was, there were few local options for Bay to enhance his baseball skills when he reached his teens. His high school didn’t have an official baseball team so he ended up playing in an Idaho State American Legion league, where he competed against American teams.
“From there, the coach on one of the teams was an assistant coach at North Idaho College and they offered me and a friend of mine scholarships to play down there and that was the only opportunity I had,” said Bay. “And without another option, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll take that.’”
After an impressive performance at North Idaho College, he attracted the interest of Gonzaga University and would play two seasons there, where he earned first-team All-West Coast Conference honours in his junior and senior seasons.
He was disappointed when he was not drafted following his junior year, but as noted earlier, he was selected by the Expos in the 22nd round of the 2000 MLB draft after his senior campaign. Bay says there was no large signing bonus waiting for him.
“I was a college senior, so I had no bargaining power, so it was basically, ‘Take it or leave it.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it a shot,’” recalled Bay.
The Canadian outfielder had to wait five weeks to get a visa in order to suit up for the Expos class-A Short-Season affiliate in Vermont where former Toronto Blue Jays first base coach Tim Leiper would be his first manager. At that time, Bay’s name was buried on the Expos’ depth chart.
“According to Leip, he had direct orders from the top that I was to play the least amount possible,” said Bay. “But every time he put me in there, I kept hitting and he kept saying, ‘I’m just going to keep playing you. I don’t care what they say.’ And I ended up playing a lot more that year than I probably should have and because of that, I got a lot more opportunities the next year and the year after.”
Bay finished that year with a .304 batting average with two home runs and 17 stolen bases in 35 games, but he struggled mightily to begin the following year – batting .195 with just one home run in 38 games at class-A Advanced Jupiter. This was the only time he contemplated quitting.
“I was kind of struggling and I wasn’t someone the Expos had invested a lot in, so I didn’t have a lot of leash,” said Bay at the pre-induction ceremony press conference. “I remember calling home and saying that I might just quit before they let me go. And my dad was like, ‘Well, you can do what you want, but you don’t want to look back and have regrets.’”
He took his dad’s wisdom to heart and decided to “keep grinding” and he started to hit again. But following two seasons in the Expos organization, he was dealt to the New York Mets and then to the San Diego Padres in just over a four-month span in 2002. After making his big league debut with the Padres in 2003, Bay was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it was in Steeltown that he’d become a star.
He assumed starting left field duties for the club on May 7, 2004 and never looked back, hitting .282 and belting 26 home runs in 120 games that season to become the first – and still only – Canadian to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Bay continued to excel for the Pirates over the next four seasons, registering back-to-back 30-home run, 100-RBI campaigns in 2005 and 2006 and earning all-star honours in each of those years.
After socking 22 home runs in 106 contests to begin the 2008 campaign, he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox at the July 31 trade deadline. In Beantown, he continued to be a power threat, belting nine home runs down the stretch to help the Red Sox to a playoff berth. In the American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels, he batted a team-best .412 (7-for-17) to help his club advance to the American League Championship Series. Bay returned to Fenway the next season to club a career-best 36 home runs and register 119 RBI. For his efforts, he earned his third all-star nod, a Silver Slugger Award and a seventh-place finish in the MVP voting.
Following that season, he signed a four-year deal with the New York Mets and he would finish his 11-year major league career with the Seattle Mariners in 2013.
Over the course of his career, Bay was named the winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award, as top Canadian player, three times (2004, 2005, 2009) and suited up for the Canadian national team at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. He was added to Baseball Canada’s Wall of Excellence in 2014.
Not a bad resume for a 22nd round draft pick who was traded three times before getting his first extended big league opportunity.
So how did he achieve all of this?
There’s no doubt his grit, determination and positive attitude helped, but he couldn’t have accomplished all of this without the support of his family. The first person he thanked in his induction speech was his wife, Kristen.
“My career definitely hasn’t been linear. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but she’s been my biggest supporter,” said Bay.
His three children, Addison, Evelyn and Garrett, were also on hand at the ceremony, as were his parents and sister, who have always supported him.
Bay shared that one of the most important lessons his dad taught him was when he was a Little Leaguer and he lost his temper and violently tossed his helmet after he struck out. His dad took him aside and said to him, “When you do well, it looks good on you. When you do bad (like throw a helmet), it looks bad on me.”
“From that day on, I ran out every ground ball as hard as I could until I stopped playing in the big leagues,” said Bay, who wanted to make his family proud.
And he did make them proud. As a husband, dad, son and brother, he grinded it out to not only play in major leagues but become a three-time all-star and now a Hall of Famer.