By Deryck Kissoondath: Special to the Times
In the small town of St Mary’s, Ont., the newly renovated Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed Jason Bay into its eminent fold.
On June 15, hundreds gathered outside its doors early, to get a peak at some of the rich history that it holds commemorating the highlights of players and events that make up Canada’s mark in professional baseball, which now includes the storied career of the Trail native.
“It is humbling and has a greater magnitude being here, it is a great honour,” said Bay.
For the Bay family, this was a very proud day as they showed up in full support to watch the Induction. The Bay contingent included his wife, Kristen; children, Addison, Evelyn, and Garrett; parents Kelly and Dave; sister, Lauren and her family; his aunt, cousins, and nephews. They all got a chance to hear a sentimental and humorous speech after fellow inductee and Canadian, former Chicago Cub’s pitcher, Fergie Jenkins, helped him into his jacket.
Over the past few years, Bay hasn’t really thought much of playing baseball but has focussed on raising the kids, but when a fan asked him to sign his National Rookie of the Year card, “My emotions and memories came back.”
For Bay, grinding and perseverance was a huge part of his career.
“From Kindergarten to Grade 2, all I wanted to be was a baseball player, except for Grade 2 when I wanted to be a cab driver,” laughed Bay. “My highlight was getting to Major League Baseball. By all accounts I was a statistic that never should have happened. Looking at pure numbers, the game is about who makes it and who stays. I was a 22nd round pick who was traded a few times in the minors. I was scratching and clawing here and there, so to make it for 10 years is great.”
Bay began his career playing Trail Little League, and kept advancing through Junior League, then Gonzaga, the minors and the majors, adding “I was going to keep playing until they tell me I can’t.”
It was the even keel and motivation that kept Bay going as he remembered draft day in Trail.
“So draft day comes and my modem drive is hooked up and I’m waiting. After 20 rounds, my name hasn’t been called so I decided to go down to the Columbia River and go fishing … thinking about it now I have to wonder about what my parents were thinking when I told them that I didn’t get drafted and I’m going to the river.”
His desire to play baseball didn’t wane as he persevered through the minors.
“All I wanted was a shot. If we can do it great, if not at least I had an opportunity. It wasn’t linear and it took some ups and downs in the minors but every opportunity, I got better.”
It was his positive attitude and success that caught the eye of Tim Leiper, Bay’s first manager in rookie ball, while playing for the Montreal Expos organization.
“I was a magnet below the bottom of the depth chart, and I know Leiper had direct orders from up top to play me the least amount of minutes, but every time he put me in I kept hitting and he kept putting me in, which gave me an opportunity a year after that.”
Bay’s success and confidence in Pittsburgh led to his trade to the playoff-bound Boston Red Sox in 2008, and most thought that Bay was there to replace the popular Manny Ramirez.
“I was the one who came in and replaced Manny, but I thought I was coming and playing, and I wasn’t replacing anyone. Boston helped because in Pittsburgh we struggled, but here it was worst to first. Every day was like being in the playoffs. It was the atmosphere every day; the intensity was the most stressful and fun at the same time.”
Pressure did not seem to faze Bay as he showed great resilience and confidence while playing for his country in the Baseball World Classic in 2006 when the Canadians defeated the United States.
“The first year we didn’t know what to expect and we beat the United States and I remember getting a call from Wayne Gretzky, and I thought that this was pretty cool. It was almost too intense for March. I remember in 2009 in Toronto, when we had 50,000 people at the game, but I was only used to playing in front of 4,000 people. It was a playoff atmosphere.”
Bay was very grateful for the support that he received from his wife of 20 years. He remembered clearly the night that he was traded from Pittsburgh to the contending Boston Red Sox.
“I came home and said, ‘I was traded to Boston and I’m in the line up tomorrow night.’ She said, ‘You go and do what you got to do.’ We had a two year old at the time and she was eight months pregnant.”
He was also quick to acknowledge his parents who, “Never missed a game, never criticized, and never faltered in their belief in me.”
As he acknowledged his family, Bay made a special announcement to his three kids and calmly and emotionally told them “I learn from all of you every day and I know that you wanted to be mentioned by name. Here is what I learned, from Addison tenacity, from Evelyn passion, and from Garrett kindness.”
He quickly added “Let this be a reminder to you, I was once cool, and did have a job.”
Bay’s success, awards, and accolades in the majors are impressive, yet for the young man from a small smelter town in the Kootenays, character has marked his career from start to finish.
“Strangers shape our path and what we become. I was a grinder who did a few things well but nothing great. I take a lot of pride in that, as it is inherently Canadian.
“At the end of my career, I hope my roommates say, ‘I was a better person than a player.’ I always tried to be the same guy every day, whether I was 0-for-4 or 4-for-4.”
Trail coach Andy Bilesky (1984) and pitcher Chris Kissock (2012) were also inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Joining Bay as 2019 inductees are pitcher and Gibsons, BC native Ryan Dempster, Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson, and former Toronto Blue Jays GM Gord Ash.