By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
The heavy hitters, his friends for decades, were there at the Celebration of Life to see off scout Wayne Norton the other day in Port Moody, BC.
The list read like a who’s who of Seattle Mariners officials: Hall of Famer Pat Gillick, Mariners general manager in 2000-2003; Bob Engle, former Latin and international scouting director of the Mariners, Tim Kissner, Mariners director of international scouting and Seattle scouting director Tom Allison.
Also there was Baseball Canada’s Greg Hamilton. It was Norton’s idea to form a Canadian Junior National Team after meeting a badminton player who played for the Canadian Junior National Team. Hamilton runs Baseball Canada, along with Jim Baba and Jason Dickson.
They came from four provinces and two countries to celebrate Norton’s life at the Inlet Theatre and Galleria, at City Hall in Port Moody, BC, roughly 325 people in all.
Yet besides the baseball crew there were members of the gang Norton and his wife Trudith of 54 years were a part of: Terry and Karen Docker, Al and Marleen Wightman, Danny and Gail Knight. Mel and Ruth Petrie (Abbotsford, BC), plus Bob and Gaye Baird. Danny Knight passed last fall.
Bob and Gaye Baird dated in high school, Mel and Ruth met the first year at the University of British Columbia and were also married 50 plus years.
The stories and memories from Gillick, Engle and Kissner were all excellent, heart warming and touching. If pinned down Gillick would have likely named Norton as his best friend -- they were also together when Gillick ran the Baltimore Orioles 1996–1998 and when the Blue Jays helped found the National Baseball Institute which ran for 13 seasons under John Haar sending eight Canadians to the majors. Engle, who signed Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez, travelled through Italy, Holland and elsewhere with Norton.
Trudith told Gillick that he would hit clean-up among the speakers “which was a rare assignment for a former left-handed pitcher.”
Ian Dixon, a close friend of Norton’s, hosted the event as thoughts and memories came from Christine Hilliard, coordinator of the TriCities ALS Walk, Gerry Zipursky, former executive director of the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre when Norton was the athletic director and Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay.
Family members on hand included Steve and Daniella Norton, their daughter Carolyn, Gina and Natasha; Beth Norton and Derek Malpage plus Trudy’s sister Carol Belanger.
Yet a couple of Norton’s gang also went all the way back to his roots before pro ball and prepared these thoughts about Wayne for Trudith.
Friends then. Friends now. Friends forever.
Mel Petrie’s stories
It can be challenging to look back and recall what we did in our youth almost 60 years ago. I will try to do two things give a sense of what that those years were like provide a few anecdotes from those years.
Upon reflection, the No. 1 takeaway for me personally from those earlier times was how lucky we all were to grow up in this place, at that time, with the people that we did. Port Moody was a small town but we had so much. We had the ocean to swim in, empty lots and the surrounding forests to play in, the school grounds for football and baseball, the tennis courts for ball hockey, some good sled hills and so on. And, we had the good fortune to live in a time when we could run free for hours on end during the day. There was not much in the way of organized activity but we sure were whizzes at creating our own activities.
When we started to get interested in sports, it was baseball that was king. Moody had a senior team in the Dewdney league. It was good baseball and popular. I can clearly remember Jack Black driving around town with loudspeakers mounted on top of a car announcing “baseball at the school grounds tonight.” We kids went to shag foul ball for a dime, and to watch the “big boys” play ball.
When we were Little League age the town organized a couple of teams so we could play some real games with an umpire but mostly we just played scrub or 500 or anything baseball. Equipment was never a problem because of people like Mr. Lowe. His house was about four doors down the lane from the elementary school grounds and we were allowed to walk unannounced into his basement any time and grab the gunnysack which held a few bats, the bases, etc.
As we got older and a little better, we would spend hours playing a game we called American Ping Pang. This was a baseball game we could play with four or six 6 players and it was an excellent game for developing our fielding skills. When we reached Babe Ruth league age (13-15), Wayne and good friend Bob Baird trail blazed by going up to play in a league in Blue Mountain Park up in the Como Lake area of Coquitlam. No surprise to any of us, they did very well and inspired Al Wightman and myself to follow them and try out for the same team when we reached Connie Mac League age (16-to-18. We all made it as starters and reached the provincials each year winning the BC Connie Mack championship in the middle year of the three: 1960.
Wayne and Bob both went to Whitworth College in Spokane on scholarships and both signed pro contracts. Wayne had a long and successful career playing, media, as a builder, and as a scout that most of here are familiar with. Wayne had a very successful local athletic career, excelling at a high level in both baseball and basketball, and pretty much any sport he took up and there were many. Wayne was part of a cohort of good athletes that went thru Moody High at the time. I think one of the reasons for success was the fact that while we played sports year round they were not the same sport. Most of the group played volleyball, then basketball, then track and field, and then Baseball.
Wayne was a top athlete, a good teammate, a good friend, a great competitor and just one of the boys. Without a doubt one the very best to come out of the Port Moody area all time. He will be missed but well remembered.
A few short memories from back in the day:
1. One of our favourite was playing pick- up no-pads tackle football om the weekends in the fall. We would beat on each other for a couple of hours and then all walk home together, comparing charley horses, bruises etc and laughing as we compared the creative ways we had succeeded in ripping each others T-shirts to shreds. There was a time I almost ended his baseball career in its infancy when I unfortunately tackled him into a tree, injuring his shoulder, but with no long lasting effects.
2. The time early in junior years of high school when several of our classmates of the female persuasion showed up at his house and proposed a game of spin the bottle. I guess maybe his lips got tired or something because he generously called me up to pop over and provide some relief.
3. When we first got our drivers licences but before we each bought our cars Wayne had borrowed his dad’s station wagon and we went for a spin over around the bay. He was negotiating a sharp turn at the east end of Alderside road when a telephone pole jumped out in front him and put a large dent in the front fender of his dad’s car. The call home was not a happy one.
4. The two of us pooled about $1.25 to squire a six-pack of beer one evening -- three beers each was more than enough to make us a bit wobbly ... OK a lot wobbly ... so we called our friend Reg Miller came by to pick us up and warehouse us for a few hours until our heads cleared. Some 15 years after we had graduated I took our son Mike to a few games at Nat Bailey when Wayne was playing for the Triple-A Mounties.
5. One night Wayne hit in the first and hit a frozen rope into the gap in right centre for a stand-up double. Up again in the third or fourth inning he hits another right on the nose and out of the park for a homer. Nature can be cruel. The skies open... game is washed out. Those hits never showed up in the stats but it was fun to watch.
6. Lastly, Wayne pitched so many good games that they all run together after all these years. So instead, 1 will wind it up by recalling one of the most unusual games he ever pitched. Its noon time, a tournament game at Queen’s Park Stadium in New West. Those of you who have played slow pitch know that its attraction is the non stop action. This was kind of the extreme opposite of non-stop action at least for us position players. As usual he pitched well ... in fact he threw a no hitter He also struck out about 15 in a seven inning game. What moved it into the realm of unusual was the fact he also walked about a dozen. Not a lot of action in the field that day unless you were the pitcher or the catcher. Still, another ‘W.
Those were good times. Rest easy old friend.
And from Bob Baird ... Baird and Norton lived next door to each other in Port Moody for several years, then Norton and his family moved a couple of blocks away during their teen years.
A RHP who pitched three seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization at class-D Kingsport Pirates, class-A Batavia Pirates and class-A Reno Silver Sox.
Wayne Norton: A friend, a neighbour, a classmate, and a teammate. When you have been friends with somebody for over 60 years, there are so many celebratory stories that could be told that it makes it almost impossible to choose one or two to tell here. Especially since it is a mixed audience.
To put it in perspective, we were BFFs before BFF was even a thing. We were neighbours and classmates starting from the fifth grade. We became very close friends, and, most importantly, from a life impacting perspective, we were teammates in virtually every competitive sporting activity.
We became Gang Members — in a good way and not in the way gang members have become in today’s society. No tattoos, no secret meetings, but we did have shotguns for hunting and we drove hot rods, if you count a 1949 Austin as a hot rod. Gradually our Gang expanded to include a number of other sports-minded guys, some of whom are still friends and are here today to participate in the celebration of Wayne’s life — Al, Terry, Mel for example.
Back in the day, if it wasn’t raining we would all be outside playing baseball or football or street hockey (hey, we are Canadians, eh) or occasionally even soccer. And if the weather wasn’t okay we would be indoors playing basketball or floor hockey or pool or bowling. In fact, our Gang would break in to the local community centre in order to play basketball which, incidentally, honed our shooting skills because we wouldn’t turn on the lights in order to ensure we didn’t get caught. We found out later that the Town administrators actually knew what we were doing all along and supported our actions (this was way before insurance coverage was an issue). But, I digress.
If you can bear with me, there is one story I would like to tell that I am sure none of you has heard or is even aware of except maybe Trudy if Wayne discussed his day at the office in those days. This story is about how Wayne actually helped me get in to my reasonably successful international business career in computers and business management.
It was spring training time in Florida in 1964. I was in my third year with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and Wayne was in his fourth year and playing in the Kansas City or Oakland (can’t remember — senior’s moment — not relevant) A’s system. Our major league teams happened to be playing a spring training exhibition game against each other in the hot sun at Daytona Beach and we both happened to be on that day’s rosters.
Although, for my whole life I had been playing the outfield, the Pirates were trying to make me in to a relief pitcher and decided to bring me in to pitch the sixth inning. Unbeknownst to me, Wayne was on the bench waiting for the right moment to pinch hit — he swore it was just a coincidence that they chose to send him in to face me. FYI, I don’t believe in coincidences.
Anyhow, this was the one and only time, other than Little League, that we faced each other in a serious mano-eh-mano situation. Since we hadn’t actually seen each other for a couple of years when Wayne dug in at home plate, I thought it was appropriate to send him a message from the Gang to get this confrontation started. I tipped my hat and he tipped his hat to acknowledge the situation. Now, you old-timers who are here today also know that in the good old days a message by the pitcher was affectionately known as “chin music” — a high and inside fast ball the closer the better. So, my first pitch knocked him on his ass.
Now, if this chin music didn’t start a brawl, the next pitch was usually a curve ball in the hope of fooling the batter. Unfortunately, since I was a pitcher-in-training, my curve ball was usually straighter than my fast ball. After I shook off the catcher who was calling for my non-existent curve ball, I leaned back and fired my best fast ball. Wayne swung and hit a line drive so hard it was still rising when it hit the top of the fence in right center field. Our right fielder, a hall of famer — Roberto Clemente — didn’t even bother to move.
When Wayne jogged past second base, he turned back to me and tipped his hat with one finger raised in salute — and not his teacup finger. I tipped my hat back to him, which, apparently, was not the attitude the Pirates’ management wanted to see in their relief pitchers and I was unceremoniously removed. As revenge, I did manage to use up the remaining hot water in the showers before the end of the game and the rest of the team showed up.
Shortly thereafter I was assigned to the Reno franchise, which was much closer to Gang headquarters, which, in turn, was a small blessing when I was released after a few weeks. I then went back to university, took several courses in computers and information technology and consequently, started a long, successful career in IT.
Thanks Wayne. You will be missed, my Friend, but never forgotten.
They came from near and far. Now Wayne Norton is looking down watching, getting ready to evaluate 30 spring training camps.