Back In Time At Bernie Arbour

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Reliving My Dream At Hamilton’s Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium
by Jeffrey Reed
May 11, 2016

Fifteen years ago, I was fortunate enough to live my life-long dream of pitching for the Intercounty Baseball League London Majors. As a disabled athlete – and a 39-year-old IBL rookie – I didn’t accomplish this goal on my own. In fact, I had numerous mentors along the way to living my dream.

Photo by Glen Cuthbert.

Photo by Glen Cuthbert.

On May 8, I returned to Hamilton’s Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium for the first time since July 25, 2001 in order to relive that dream, and to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Cardinals’ home opener versus the Kitchener Panthers. I had lots of help in achieving this goal, too. Cardinals’ assistant general manager, Krystle Thompson, had read my inspirational story, Diamond Dream, and was instrumental in organizing the trip back in time. You can read the entire story about my journey to the IBL here.

When my wife Beth and I established the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award in late-2015, we did so in order to recognize extraordinary feats on the playing field, and concurrently provide a forum for countless other athletes to perpetually inspire new audiences with their own stories. On Monday, we announced East Elgin Secondary School athlete Chelsea Zavitz of St. Thomas as our 2016 Courage Award winner.

Thompson and the entire Cardinals organization were on board 100 per cent in allowing me to launch the Courage Award announcement with a trip back to the mound at Bernie Arbour. If I was going to finally make the trek back to Hamilton, then I wanted the visit to give new life to my own inspirational story, in order to let others tell their stories. As the saying goes, the stars were aligned, and a Mother’s Day trip to the friendly confines of Bernie Arbour came together quicker than an Aroldis Chapman fastball.

Photo by Art Ward.

Photo by Art Ward.

The Panthers, as luck would have it, were scheduled to play the Cards at their home opener. Kitchener DH Sean Reilly was on the Hamilton roster in 2001, and he was the last batter I faced to end my baseball career. For the record, I had absolutely nothing off the mound when I struck out the slugger with a 75 mph backdoor slider and caught him looking to end my scoreless inning.

The same can be said for my ceremonial first pitch, too – some things never change. Opting to throw from the bump with a full windup, rather than tossing a knuckler from the grass infield, my throw to Reilly, now catching me at Bernie Arbour, took a few bounces right into the hands of Panthers manager Dave TeBokherst. He and a few of the Panthers challenged me in a good-natured way to throw from the mound, so I took the dare. It was one of the only times I had thrown a baseball over the past 15 years. Yet as soon as I stood on the mound, it was as if I was back in time in July 2001.

On that eventful night, I was the last pitcher available to the Majors after starter Ryan Reid came up with a lame arm after his seventh inning. Trailing the Cards by a few runs, Majors manager Arden Eddie summoned me to the bullpen. It was the last regular-season game before our early exit from a playoff versus the Guelph Royals. I also coached third base that season (and in 2000), so I was pulling double duty.

Jeffrey Reed, here with his fungo bat, coached third base with the Majors in 2000-01

Jeffrey Reed, here with his fungo bat, coached third base with the Majors in 2000-01

The first batter I faced that night hit the ball right back to me, and I attempted to field the ball, only to deflect it over second baseman Jeremy Hudson’s head. The play was ruled a hit. As some of the Cards bench chirped about taking me yard, my catcher, Scott Smith, called time and told me they were digging in at the plate. I took offense, and in attempting to brush back the batter I instead plunked him in the ribs. There were men on first and second with nobody out.

Hudson came to the mound to calm me down – just as it was on May 8, my heart was beating like a Jackrabbit’s. The next batter hit into a 4-6-3 double play. With a man on third and two out, in stepped Reilly, a rookie in 1997 and now coming into his own as perhaps the greatest hitter ever to play in the IBL.

After fouling off a number of fastballs (and that’s being generous as to the speed of my pitches), Smith and I were on the same page: off-speed sinker, outside corner. We caught Reilly looking to end the 8th inning.

Eddie wanted to get me an IBL at-bat in the 9th, but it didn’t turn out. I ran back to the third base coach’s box to help the Majors mount a comeback, but we lost the game and went limping into the playoffs.

Dating back to when Brian Hanson owned the Cardinals ballclub, I’ve always admired the organization as being a class act. The same can be said about the Panthers. So, it was fantastic having them share my return to Bernie Arbour, especially with Reilly in the lineup.

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After that game in 2001, many of the Cards came up to me and shook my hand on a job well done, as did my Majors teammates, including Eddie who gave me the game ball, inscribed: ‘JR Game Ball 25 July 2001 At Hamilton Scoreless 8th.’

Driving back to London after that game, I was in tears. And when I returned to Bernie Arbour May 8, it was the same scenario. I revisited the bullpen, where Smith and I both worried about my non-existent fastball 15 years ago. Reilly and I chatted at the Bernie Arbour gates upon his arrival. I pulled out the stats from the 2001 season – he hit .323 with 4 HR and 16 RBI, and also pitched 10 innings that season.

Who has stats handy from 15 years ago? I felt like an old, washed-up boxer who carries his press clippings in his pocket everywhere he goes.

Donning the same jersey I had worn in 2001 (and proud to say it still fit well), and wearing a Cardinals cap, I turned a few heads amongst the Cards and Panthers, but it was all in good fun. I visited with Hamilton field boss Dean Castelli on the field and in the dressing room before the game. One of the classiest members of the IBL, Castelli was in the Hamilton lineup during my one inning pitched in 2001.

I was teary eyed up until the press box announcement that I would be throwing out the first pitch. Then, I completely lost it. But I regrouped, thanks to a pat on the back from Castelli, and proudly returned to the Bernie Arbour bump. The first thing I noticed was, it was higher than in 2001. Old age could have been the reason, but I was told that, in fact, the mound was built up over the years.

It was an emotional moment, seeing both teams applauding while lining the first and third baselines. Even the men in blue shook my hand. I will always be grateful for how Thompson and the Cardinals welcomed me back with open arms. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Photo by Art Ward.

Photo by Art Ward.

Unfortunately, the weather turned ugly, as did the ballgame. With a short staff and few arms available, the Cards lost, 27-2. Reilly went 5-for-5 with four singles, a double, two walks, a hit-by-pitch, five runs scored and four RBI.

True to form, Castelli greeted me with a handshake and a hug after the game, despite the big loss. I told him to keep his head up – tomorrow is another day.

And that’s the exact message I brought with me to Bernie Arbour. In 1999, I was an overweight, out-of-shape scribe hunched over a notepad in the Labatt Park press box. Two years later, I was pitching a scoreless inning in the IBL. Indeed, dreams do come true.

My return to Bernie Arbour now offers me additional fodder when retelling my story about pitching the IBL, and while encouraging other athletes to submit nominations for the Courage Award.

On June 14, everyone in attendance at Greenhills Golf Club will have the opportunity to listen to Chelsea Zavitz tell her story, which will in return inspire others to tell theirs.

Read more about the Courage Award here.

As I look at my office desktop, there are now two baseballs side-by-side: the July 25, 2001 game ball; and the ball from my ceremonial first pitch.

Who says you can’t go back in time?

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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