I have had a chance, via the main subject of them, to peruse a couple of Trail Times items from 64 years ago, reporting that 17 year-old Gordon Tench was signed to play pro baseball by the eventually infamous St. Louis Browns.
Tench, who had played just three years of organized baseball, under the tutelage of a then-young Andy Bileski, was a hard throwing right hander who caught the eye of a Browns scout among 130 kids who attended a coaching/tryout camp in Butler Park.
The late Irv Lavaratto of Rossland was also singled out as a talented dark horse prospect.
For Tench it was the beginning of a five-year stint of class D, C and winter ball, which he wouldn’t have missed, even though the only time he set foot in a major league setting was one spring training where the winter ball pitchers, being in game shape, were called on to pitch batting practice for the big leaguers in Florida – until the big league pitchers worked their way into shape.
“I never had a losing season,” in the minor pros, says Tench, while admitting a high walk rate kept him from moving higher in the baseball chain.
Still, he got to live and play in Reading, California and Pocatello, Idaho, both still ball hotbeds, and in Mexico in winter. How many of us, now, seek the warmth of Mexico when it is cold here? He got paid to live there and to play his favourite sport while he was at it. Not too bad even at wages that in those days weren’t much higher than Cominco pay..
It was almost two decades before Tench moved back to Trail, and Shaver’s Bench, where he still lives.
Back home he played fastball for the Kootenay Hotel and baseball with the Rossland Capilanos.
A naturally strong right arm, an appreciation for baseball and the willingness to give the sporting life a shot was what it took, and Tench had all of those attributes.
Not much better than to be able to say you have had an interesting life, no matter how or when it ends.
Accompanying the article was a column by the Times’ sports editor of the moment, Eric Bishop. Bishop was loquacious and opinionated and well-liked here, all good attributes for a columnist. But, the gist of his comments around the training camp is just wrong.
Like most Canadians, he just believed it when an American said Canadians, including people here, did not know baseball, kinda sucked at it even, on the same day he singled out two 17 year-olds, one with three years ball under his belt, as prospects.
It is true, in my not small experience, that most Canadian cities, especially then, were not, “ball towns.”
That wasn’t true about Trail then and isn’t now. Players from here were routinely called up by, before and after WW2, and had success with, semi-pro and minor pro teams based in the U.S.and Canada, and it was only three seasons later that what was once (and for a long time) the best Little League in Canada – and one of the best in Western North America – was created.
Players from here got scholarships to division ! NCAA schools as far back as the early 60s and, despite the fact most of the top young players created here moved away, teams from here have usually held their own against teams from Spokane and other U.S. towns
Yet Bishop bought into the Amercan’s claim that local kids, “were doing everything wrong.” What was wrong was that superior, condescending, attitude.
This is a good ball town, better than most of any size in Canada, and we should just appreciate that.