Fergie Jenkins gets stamp honour

AEDAN HELMER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 PM ET

OTTAWA -- As a young athlete growing up in Chatham baseball icon Fergie Jenkins only ever envisioned his face on a baseball card.

Now, Canada's only entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be staring back at his image in the form of a commemorative postage stamp, to be issued by Canada Post in February to mark the start of Black History Month.

"The first picture I thought of was myself as a rookie, the first time in the big leagues in 1965 when they took a shot of me at Shea Stadium," said Jenkins. "As a kid, you grow up (thinking), 'Do you think I could really be a professional athlete and get put on a baseball card?' which is pretty fantastic and now you're on a stamp.

"I always thought the awards you get when you're out of the game is the icing on the cake, and having your country honour you is such a great tribute," said Jenkins, who celebrated his 68th birthday with a sneak preview of the stamp at Ottawa's Lowe-Martin printing press on Monday. "My mother always told me you have to be proud of your heritage and remember where you're born."

The significance of issuing the stamp during Black History Month is not lost on the two-time Cy Young Award-winner, who was inducted into Cooperstown in 1991 and invested into the Order of Canada in 2007.

Jenkins was one of the first black baseball players to play in Little Rock, Ark., at a time when the civil rights movement was peaking.

"It was an experience, but that's what sport is all about: Having these experiences, having to face some turmoils," said Jenkins. "The test was going out there to be successful."

It was out of the frying pan and into the fire, literally, when the pitcher earned his callup to the big leagues.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, touching off riots across America just prior to the start of the 1968 baseball season, and entering his second year with the Chicago Cubs, Jenkins and his teammates arrived to a city on fire.

"When Martin Luther King was assassinated, we were in Houston at the time and we heard about it, and then we had to go from there to Chicago," Jenkins recalled.

'Troubling time'

"It was kind of a troubling time. There were so many cities that were having problems, and they soon enough got over it. But some of the cities had to suffer with a lot of burning and destruction."

Suddenly, there was more to baseball than just the game on the field, and Jenkins was the face of the franchise in a city torn apart by racial violence.

"We were questioned a lot of times, Did we want to play, did we want to perform?' And I think most of the athletes when we had clubhouse meetings said 'Yes, let's do it.' We had to face that particular challenge and we went ahead and did it," said Jenkins.


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