Trail’s biggest baseball talent hit a home run with local fans at the Trail Smoke Eaters game on Saturday.
Jason Bay, a former Major Leaguer, was back home for the holidays and with the assistance of local organizers, the Smoke Eaters, and the City of Trail, met with fans before the game in recognition of the City’s recent agreement to rename the local baseball diamond, “Jason Bay Field at Butler Park”.
“It’s always fun (to return home),” said the 41-year-old Bay. “We come back three times a year, and the kids love it. It’s fun especially doing something like this, I get to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time, family members, and friends who are like ‘You remember me?’ and I do. You don’t get that in a lot of places so it’s pretty cool.”
The current Seattle resident sat for more than an hour signing baseball cards prior to the Smokies’ hockey game. Fans waited patiently in line as Bay signed close to 500 of the limited edition baseball cards provided by Hall’s Printing, chatted with old friends and new, and took photos and selfies with seemingly countless fans of all ages.
“That’s where a three-letter last name comes in quite handy, when signing your name,” laughed Bay. “There are worse tragedies in the world that’s for sure.”
One resident clutched a faded photo of her Trail little-league league team on which Bay played.
“It was our house league team,” said Bay. “And actually one of my buddies floated that around on the text messages so that’s a collector’s item, and the first one of those I’ve ever signed.”
Longtime resident Lou DeRosa organized the initiative to add Jason Bay’s name to Butler Park in recognition of the Trail native’s incredible baseball career. The proposal was approved by the City in November, and with the support of council, a recently formed committee is raising funds for the project.
“I think it’s great,” said Bay. “Honestly, there is a lot of people who deserve a lot more credit for that than me. Lou is one of them, but there’s a ton of guys. It’s very humbling to come back, and I haven’t played for five or six years, so to have people say, ‘I loved watching’ and all that, it’s very humbling, like I said, and the whole baseball-field thing is just icing on the cake.”
Organizer Keith Smyth was thrilled with the turnout, as close to 2,600 fans packed the Cominco Arena for the Smoke Eaters-Centennial game following the signing.
“It was pleasing to see the great turnout and interest,” said Smyth. “Jason did a wonderful job, his friendliness and genuineness really came through.”
Bay, who played 11 seasons in the major leagues, won National League Rookie of the Year honours with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where, as a slugger and outfielder, he played six seasons before being traded to the Red Sox in 2008. In 2009 he earned a Silver Slugger award in Boston before agreeing to a four-year, $66 million deal with the New York Mets.
After three injury-riddled seasons with the Mets, Bay finished his career with the Seattle Mariners, retiring after appearances in 68 games in 2013.
He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame last June in St. Mary’s, Ont. with his family in attendance.
Since his retirement, being a husband to wife Kristen and father to Addison, Evelyn, and Garrett has consumed his life, but it’s a role he can’t get enough of. A few times each year, he revisits mom and dad, Kelly and David, grandfather Leonard, and his many friends and fans in Greater Trail.
“I can’t complain,” added Jason. “I’m just a dad with three busy kids I drive around. ‘I’m the Driver,’ I joke all the time. I ski as much as I can, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I mean I was blessed enough to be able to do that, and to have the time now with the kids that I missed early on, I love it.”
Few players owned the passion, skill, and work ethic of Bay, and none were more humble and well-grounded. While he may miss the game at times, there is no doubt that the game misses Jason Bay more.