Saturday, May 12
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
How how many participants does a passionate baseball man need to teach the game?
Well, on dedication day in Port Moody, BC, a wonderful story provided the answer.
And it was not a very high number.
Bruce Drake shared the story of a clinic years ago during ceremonies as Port Moody officially re-named Westhill Park the Wayne Norton Baseball Diamond. Drake re-told Ian Dixon's story of running a camp with Norton..
Norton passed away Jan. 6 after suffering from ALS. At the time he was a scout for the Seattle Mariners, a two-time winner of the Canadian Baseball Network scout of the year and a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys.
Norton and Dixon were running clinics at various locations in northern BC years ago. After a well-organized, clinic -- with plenty of coaches to help run the stations and more than 100 youngsters -- in Prince George, they were off to Vanderhoof (Pop: 4,439).
They were expecting a smaller turnout when they reached the ball park at 8 a.m., an hour before the start. At 8:15 there were zero coaches or kids. Same thing at 8:30. Ditto at 8:45 and 9 a.m.
“About 9:05 a little guy came walking in from centre field,” Drake said, retelling Dixon’s story. “He had his ball cap on, he was carrying his glove and had his bat over his shoulder with shoes tied on the end.”
Norton and Dixon looked at each other wondering “What to do?” As he got closer Nort said, “Let’s do it.”
So Norton and Dixon staged a clinic for an audience of one.
“He wanted to learn how to play, and Nort was there to share his love of the game.”
Norton gave the youngster a new bat and ball as well as even his pro glove. It was certainly the best clinic the youngster ever attended.
“That Vanderhoof clinic was a microcosm of Wayne’s vision for BC and Canada. He did THAT one with the same commitment and passion he brought to the provincial and national programs as an innovator, coach and administrator,” according to Dixon. “It was a big statement about who Wayne was. So passionate about the game. Baseball was Nort’s game. He carried that same discipline and commitment to everything he did. Baseball in Canada is what it is because of him.”
The renaming of Westhill came on a sunny day with about 60 family members, friends and neighbours in attendance, including Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer John Haar, Greg Douglas of the BC Sorts Hall of Fame and John Berry of Baseball BC.
Also on hand were Tim Kissner, Mariners’ director of international scouting, Jim Robson, a member of the BC Sports Hall of Fame, who announced Vancouver Mountie games when Norton roamed the outfield and nicknamed him the “The Pride of Port Moody,” high school pals Mel Petrie, Al Wightman and Terry Docker, Nort’s brother Brian Norton, son Steve Norton and Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay.
Kissner spoke of Norton’s years with the Mariners and the impressive list of players that he had signed, including the rare feat of having two international signees in the majors at the same time. Each speaker touched on the impact Norton had locally, provincially and nationally.
Kissner brought a duffel bag full of Mariner giveaways - hats, shirts, bobble heads, watches and sunglasses for the youngsters.
Daughter Elizabeth Norton, whose words were read for by Christine Hilliard, quoted Muhammad Ali “There is no greater honour than being recognized in your own home town.”
While that is a boxing quote Elizabeth said “It was relevant today. Dad had the heart of a lion, the strength and perseverance of a prize fighter. I must admit I have profound sorrow in my heart that Dad is not here to see this tribute. But the sun is out, Dad’s light shines through and I feel his love and strength.”
Elizabeth also said she was reminded that her father “IS here, saying that he is proud, humbled and most of all feeling very loved, while signalling two thumbs up from his Field of Dreams.”
Tyler O’Neill’s father, Terry. was also quoted by Elizabeth. Seattle drafted O’Neill and now he is with triple-A Memphis, saying “Mr. O’Neill sang words of praise for Dad how he ‘was more than a scout - he was a mentor and a true friend. Wayne believed in and never gave up on Tyler. Now, a big leagues, Tyler will always remember the man who helped get him there. Wayne allowed this Canadian kid to realize his dreams.”
Elizabeth said, “Even from heaven father is still making dreams come true.”
The Norton’s family expressed gratitude to the Mayor and council for re-naming the ball park in memory Wayne. Council member Deanna Dilsworth and Trudy Norton, Wayne’s wife, unveiled the Wayne Norton Baseball Diamond sign, following the speeches, Mayor Clay threw the first pitch to Steve Norton and then - a highlight of the afternoon - eight children ran the bases: Wayne’s great nieces and nephew as well as three young friends.
The City provided baseball themed cupcakes along with juice boxes. The crowd was asked to tip their baseball caps - especially Support the Nort hats - to our city’s all star team.
Elizabeth’s final words were touching: “I will conclude as I opened with a quote: “Always hustle! You never know who is watching." _ Wayne Norton.”
“Dad - I miss you every day - until we meet again ... ‘I love you more!’”