By Jonathan Hodgson
Canadian Baseball Network
One takes your breath away. Two in four days drops you to your knees.
Canada’s collegiate and amateur community is mourning two huge losses, after the passing of Jonathan Cote (Delta, BC) and Clint Fystro (Peace River, Alta.).
Jonathan Cote passed away on May 28 after a month-long battle with brain cancer. It was his third bout with cancer since 2016, as documented by this CBN article.
Born in New Westminister, BC, Cote moved to Delta, BC where he played in the British Columbia Premier Baseball League with the North Delta Blue Jays.
An outfielder and pitcher growing up, Cote dedicated himself to pitching, earning a scholarship to Colorado Mesa University (NCAA Div. 2) after a breakout season in the BCPBL in 2014 when he led the league in strikeouts with 78 in 51 innings pitched.
After a year at CMU, he transferred to Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo. Pitching on a college scholarship was no small achievement for the undersized southpaw who battled the odds throughout his career, and life, to achieve great things.
Cote’s biggest motto in life was ‘Never Give Up!’ and it showed in his bulldog mentality on the mound, and maybe even more so in his unwavering, unrelenting resolve to beat every comebacker that life hit back at him. After he received a clean bill of health after surgery and radiation for a brain tumour in 2016, Cote returned to classes at Otero, and was driven to resume his baseball career.
Though doctors had told him that his final battle was one that he was not going to win, he approached it with the same resolve that he had every other time, not allowing illness to rob him of his drive and his unshakable confidence.
There was Cote the bulldog, and there was Cote the friend and son. The needs of others around him always came first, and he wore an attitude of thankfulness and love on his sleeve.
Playing baseball was a great passion of Cote’s, but it was not his identity. Baseball is what allowed him to make the deep impact that he had on people.
Cote’s mom, Candice, said to me, “I wish Jonathan would have realized what an impact he actually had on people.”
Well, actually, I think he did. He just never did it for himself, and didn’t make a big deal out of it.
Cote would tell me in quiet during his final weeks that he was thankful – not just okay - that cancer had presented him with an opportunity to make himself a better person and deepen his faith, and to be an example to those around him.
He knew the impact he had; it just wasn’t about him.
To more accurately understand Jonathan Cote, one needs to know where his identity was rooted, and that was with his Christian faith.
Two Bible references are inscribed on Cote’s white baseball glove: Galations 2:20 & Psalm 18:2
It was his foundation in faith that allowed him to have confidence and peace through it all, maintaining his thankful and loving attitude to all those around him.
The baseball community quickly came to Cote’s support during his final battle.
Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman had a conversation with Cote via text message on his 22nd birthday, during which Cote sent Stroman photos of that white glove. This was an amazing lift for Cote, who has long-admired Stroman and emulated him as another undersized pitcher, and drawing inspiration from the confidence he exudes on and off of the mound.
Cote and I would laugh when he told me about the time he met Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and “totally big leagued” Sanchez by mistake, because he was so excited to get a picture taken with Stroman.
Mitch Haniger and fellow Canadian pitcher James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) of the Mariners sent him a video wishing him a happy birthday, and Jamie Campbell of Sportsnet voiced his support during that night’s episode of Blue Jays Central.
Each of the gestures were appreciated beyond words.
The Mariners were Cote’s favourite team and he watched and followed them faithfully. Cote and his mom drove to Seattle to take in Opening Day in April, and they had seats in the outfield when Ichiro, back with the Mariners, made a vintage Ichiro wall-scaling, home run-robbing catch.
The Mariners game was on in Cote’s hospital room on the evening of May 8, the night Paxton pitched his no-hitter against the Blue Jays, becoming the first Canadian to pitch a major no-hitter in the major leagues on Canadian soil.
James, if you read this, words cannot communicate the joy you brought into that hospital room, and to Jonathan that night. Thank you.
Finally, Scott Walford, a 2017 draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens who plays with the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals, visited to talk hockey and try his hand at talking baseball.
Cancer did not beat Cote. It never affected his character and the love and thankfulness he carried in his heart, and it never shook his faith. In fact, like he said himself, he used it to make him better in all areas.
The ball is now in the hand of all the different branches of Jonathan’s baseball family. In times like these, all of his baseball families unite with each other to become one family with Cote’s.
We will carry on his memory and his impact.
Clint Fystro, 72, passed away on May 31, after a two-year battle with cancer.
Fystro was a highly regarded and respected pioneer and advocate for baseball at all levels in Alberta, and nationally. His contributions to the game include tenures as the president of Baseball Alberta, and the Western Canadian Baseball Association. He also served as general manager for Team Alberta at the Canada Games.
Fystro was voted by his peers as Baseball Canada Volunteer of the Year in 2016.
Fystro joined the Okotoks Dawgs board of directors in 2003 as they were expanding their program, which began as a youth development program in 1995, to also include a summer-collegiate team competing in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL).
The Dawgs played three seasons at Calgary’s Foothills Stadium, winning the WMBL title in 2004, before moving to Okotoks in 2007, where both arms of the program have blossomed into one of the elite and most reputable programs of their kind.
Fystro was a passionate, vocal supporter of the Dawgs, who wanted nothing but the very best for the team at all times.
His businesslike approach was picked up by his son, AJ, who led the Dawgs summer-collegiate team to championships as head coach in 2008-09, and was on the coaching staff for the team’s first title in Calgary.
Fystro was a vital contributor to the growth of the Dawgs since 2003, being “instrumental in facilitating some key Dawgs business partnerships,” according to the Dawgs website.
For his contributions, Fystro was inducted into the Okotoks Dawgs Hall of Fame in 2017.
Though home for Fystro became St. Albert, Alta., he was a steady presence at Seaman Stadium throughout the summers, and never missed a Dawgs road game in Edmonton. You could always count on a straightforward, thought-provoking discussion on the current state of the team and last night’s game, and a genuine interest in the well-being of you and your family.
Clint Fystro was an outstanding contributor to baseball in our country, and a well-loved friend, who will be greatly missed. He wanted to be with his Dawgs this summer. And he will be.
We send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Jonathan Cote and Clint Fystro. The baseball community mourns their loss with you, and we also celebrate their lives, and give thanks for the impact they had.
I’m afraid a tip o’ the cap won’t do it this time. My hat is off to you, my friends.