FROM SMALL-TOWN SASKATCHEWAN TO YANKEE STADIUM, DAVE PAGAN DEFIED LONG ODDS TO PITCH IN THE BIG LEAGUES
By Kevin Glew:
Dave Pagan felt numb as he peered in for a sign from Thurman Munson.
And a case of nerves was understandable for a 23-year-old prairie kid who had grown up in a tiny farming community in northeast Saskatchewan and was now pitching in front of more than 28,000 boisterous fans at Yankee Stadium.
It was Canada Day 1973 and Pagan was toeing the big league rubber for the first time. Starting the second game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, the six-foot-two, 175-pound right-hander was poised to deliver his first pitch to up-and-coming third baseman Buddy Bell.
“My first pitch to Thurman Munson landed about six feet in front of the plate,” recalled Pagan. “When I was warming up in the bullpen, I couldn’t feel anything.”
But the hard-throwing Canadian rebounded to get Bell to bounce back to him for his first major league out, and he managed to hold the Indians scoreless in his initial inning.
Unfortunately, after surrendering four hits in the second, he was lifted by Yankees’ manager Ralph Houk. The Bombers still won 11-3, but it wasn’t the storybook debut that Pagan had hoped for.
But the resilient righty would fare much better in three ensuing relief appearances to lower his ERA to 2.84 that season. And for Pagan to be in the big leagues at all was miraculous in itself.
Born in Nipawin, Sask., in 1949, Pagan was raised on a cattle farm on the southside of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town called Snowden. With about 75 people in his community, Pagan had a difficult time finding someone to play catch with, let alone play a game against.
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