Thoughts on the Roy Hobbs World Series, from life-long baseball fanatic, Dan Berlin

Roy Hobbs Note:  Dan Berlin is a coach, educator, producer & broadcaster, based in Toronto.  He teaches at Ryerson University, is a sports analyst on CTV News and writes a sports blog.  And is passionate about baseball … Oakville Golden A’s manager Richie Knight passed this missive along from Dan’s Roy Hobbs experience — Day 28 of “30 jerseys in 30 days” – a look at the sports stories behind the jerseys in my collection that have impacted and shaped my life. Each jersey represents a passion, experience or relationship or, in most cases, all three.

A Winner Of A Trip

By Dan Berlin

I’ve come to realize the older I get, the better it gets. That especially holds true when it comes to baseball.

I didn’t always think that way. When my dreams of becoming a big-league ballplayer were dashed by age 19, I figured my career was over. I was done. Washed up. Finished.

Little did I know I had a whole lifetime worth of baseball waiting for me.

After memorable times and experiences at Camp Manitou, in Australia, and with Maccabi, Leaside and Scarborough, it turns out there was still time for an encore performance with the great Oakville Golden A’s.

One of my favorite all-time teammates, Aaron Kashin, started planting a bug in my ear years ago about his annual baseball adventure down south with Oakville.

“You gotta come play with us in Florida this fall,” said Kash.

He suggested I reach out to Richie Knight, who ran the Oakville Golden A’s. Richie has made a long career out of being one of the real good guys in the game and a true class act. Each year, he would send down a couple teams to represent Oakville at the Roy Hobbs World Series in Fort Myers, Florida.

Every fall, more than 4,000 baseball players on 240+ teams flock to Fort Myers to play in Roy Hobbs Baseball’s annual World Series. Players between the ages of 35-80 (there’s a 75+ “Forever Young” division!) come to celebrate the great game of baseball and recapture their youth at spring training complexes across Southwest Florida.

It sounded too good to be true. Not to mention, “The Natural” is my No. 1 all-time favorite baseball movie. I didn’t hesitate to reach out to Richie.

Richie had never seen me play, but the Golden A’s skipper was kind enough to create an extra roster spot for me. What an honor it was to represent Oakville that fall, especially considering Richie was being inducted into the Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame Class of 2018.

Outside of the hot sunny weather, the coolest thing about the RHWS is the quality of the ball diamonds we play on. They’re pristine. But the best part? Every team plays one stadium game at one of the major league parks in the area.

Our first game that year was played against the Kenmore Orioles on one of the outer diamonds at legendary Terry Park, a 100-year-old complex that was once the spring home to some of baseball’s greatest stars. Terry Park was built as a spring training ballpark for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1925 and remained as their spring training home until 1936.

The schedule makers were on our side. Our stadium game was set for JetBlue Park at Fenway South, the home of the Red Sox. JetBlue, which holds just over 10,000 fans, was built with the exact same dimensions as Fenway Park in Boston, complete with the famed “Green Monster” in left. On a sun-drenched Tuesday morning, Oakville entered the cloned cathedral in collective awe. I remember gawking at the Monster while walking across the outfield on the most perfectly manicured grass I’d ever laid my feet on.

Our team took the third base dugout and soaked it all in. We beat one of the local teams that day, the Ft. Myers Hooter’s Blues, 9-5. Longtime Oakville great Greg “Red” McDonald had a big day at the plate, which included a run-scoring double to the wall in center. I had a single in 3 at-bats. What an experience it was.

As luck would have it, we won the reseeding lottery and got to go back to JetBlue Park the very next day to play the Tidewater Drillers. Two games at JetBlue in 2 days … seriously? Our dreams had come true. For 2 magical days at Fenway South, I felt like a big-league ballplayer. As I walked out of that stadium for the final time, I reminisced about the times growing up as a young boy dreaming of the big leagues and the ultimate disappointment of never making it to the show. Any lingering disappointment dissipated that day. I left smiling and satisfied.

We lost early on in the playoffs, but I had such a great time that I decided to go back again the following year. This time around, I helped our other Hall-of-Famer, Tim Lessard, run the team.

We were back at Terry Park on the opening Sunday for our first two games of the tournament. We fell 11-5 to the Chicago Knights in the opener before meeting the Winnipesaukee Muskrats in Game 2. This would be no ordinary round-robin game. We would be face-to-face with a living legend on the mound that afternoon.

We didn’t notice that we going up against one of the most recognizable names in all of sports. Not until our leadoff hitter, Derek Pogue, came back to the dugout after the game’s first at-bat did we realize what the heck was happening.

“Guys, I’m pretty sure that’s Doug Flutie out there pitching,” said Pogey.

We all did a double take. Sure enough, it was him. I couldn’t believe it.

I have very fond and personal memories of Flutie dating back to the ’80s and ‘90s. I remember watching the “Hail Flutie” game on TV and his miracle Hail Mary pass to lead Boston College over Miami on the game’s final play. The very first NFL game I ever went to in 1988 was with my dad and featured the Bills hosting Flutie and his New England Patriots.

I stepped into the box for my first at-bat against Flutie. Here he was, 57 years old and still in terrific shape, pitching against me. The whole scenario was unreal.

On a 2-1 pitch, I singled through the left side on a perfect hit-and-run play to drive in a run. My next at-bat, I lined a 1-0 curveball over the shortstop’s head for a single. While I was taking my leadoff, their first baseman, who was a close friend of Flutie’s and recruited him for the team, asked me if I liked classic Canadian rock.

“Sure I do,” I said. “I grew up big into Rush and Kim Mitchell.”

“Hey, Doug!” the first baseman yelled over to the pitcher’s mound. “This guy likes Kim Mitchell!”

Flutie stepped off. “Might as well go for soda,” Flutie sang, while playing air guitar. I laughed my head off. Then the bastard tried to pick me off. Even at 57, Flutie was a fierce competitor.

Later, Doug came through our dugout to say hey and chat us up a bit. Scotty chanted, “Arrrrrrrgoooooooos.” It was a real highlight. Doug was just one of the guys.

I ended up having a good day on the ball diamond, but not as good as Flutie’s. I finished 2-for-3 off him with an RBI. Flutie, meanwhile, got a couple of hits AND pitched a complete game en route to a 12-9 win. I suppose there’s no shame in losing to a legend but that was our game to win.

Our squad couldn’t seem to right the ship after that. We lost 2 more games over the next 2 days to teams out of New Jersey to drop us to an unimaginable 0-4 for the round-robin. One more loss meant we wouldn’t qualify for the playoff round and would finish with a big bagel around our necks. That’s not exactly the Oakville way.

Scotty Constance would get the start in our do-or-die game vs. the Cincinnati Colt 45’s. He had struggled during the week with his mechanics, and he mentioned back in the room he wasn’t feeling overly-confident heading into the game.

But, we hit the ball well that morning against Cincinnati and built an insurmountable lead. Scotty was cruising along and hadn’t allowed a run through 6 innings. By the time the Colt 45’s came up to bat in the 7th, we were up 10-0 and were 3 outs away from a mercy win. Scotty was sweaty and starting to tire.

With 2 on and 2 out, Scotty gave up a sinking liner to left. It looked like it was going to fall in for a single for sure and bust up his hard-earned shutout bid. I couldn’t even watch.

“Damn it,” I muttered as I turned my back to the play.

By the time I turned back around, the whole team was celebrating. Our left-fielder, Gerry “Finn” Finnerty, made an incredible all-out diving catch to end the ballgame. I couldn’t believe he caught it. No offence.

Unfortunately, that was our lone win of the week. We got knocked out in our next matchup, a close 3-1 game in the first round of the playoffs to the Fort Myers Hooter’s Blues.

Playing with Oakville taught me, it’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game you love. How, at age 46, you still get the chance to go out there and do it. With a great group of guys under the sunny Florida skies. At the Roy Hobbs World Series.

Sounds like a winner to me.