By Deryck Kissoondath
In the small town of St Marys, Ontario stands the newly renovated Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. On Saturday June 15, 2019, people 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 some of Canada’s mark in professional baseball.
On that morning as Trail B.C.’s Jason Bay was announced to the media, he was very calm and when asked about his feelings about the being inducted he replied “It is humbling and has a greater magnitude being here, it is a great honour.” He added that over the past few years he hadn’t really thought much of playing baseball but had focussed on raising the kids but when a fan asked him to sign the National Rookie of the Year card, “My emotions and memories came back.”
For Bay grinding and perseverance would be a huge part of his career. He remembered “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.” As he thought about the highlights of his career he added “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.” According to Bay “Getting there and the path I took was my greatest achievement! I played little league, kept playing, Junior League, then Gonzaga, I just kept playing. 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 jokingly remembered draft day at Gonzaga University. “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 tell them I’m going to the river.”
He was very clear in his desire to play baseball “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. According to Bay “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 was paramount to him being traded to the playoff bound Boston Red Sox in 2008. It was thought that Bay would be there to replace the popular Manny Ramirez but Bay recollected “I was the one who came in and replaced Manny, but I think I was coming and playing, and I wasn’t replacing anyone. Boston helped be 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 most stressful and fun at the same time.”
Pressure did not seem to faze Bay as he had shown great resilience and confidence while playing for his country in the Baseball World Classic in 2006 when the Canadians defeated the United States. Bay remembers “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.”
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: wife, Kristen; children, Addison, Evelyn, and Garrett; parents; 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 great Canadian Cub’s pitcher, Fergie Jenkins, helped him into his jacket.
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. Bay emotionally said “I came home and said I was traded to Boston and I’m in the line up tomorrow night. She said you go and go what you got to do. We had a two year old at the time and she was eight months pregnant. The people behind you help you get to where you are.”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 pointed out that “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 that my roommates say, I was a better person than a player. I always tried to be the same guy every day, whether I was 0/4 or 4/4.”
For Bay and his family the time in St. Mary’s was busy yet it was paramount in recognizing his achievements, and a testament to his success throughout his career. Keeping an even keel and never giving up was instrumental in Bay making to the majors. As for today, “I run the kids around, the family Uber driver, and I fish as much as I can!” which is well-deserved after such a long and productive baseball career.