Fernandez goes to the hall

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

The year was 1974.

The manager of the Dominican team, the Estrellas Orientales, was Tony LaRussa.

And the young bat boy was confident.

"You know, some day I'll play shortstop for you," 12-year-old Tony Fernandez told LaRussa.

Thirteen years later, LaRussa wrote Fernandez's name on the lineup card for the American League team at the all-star game in Oakland.

Fernandez's baseball journey from the Dominican sandlots to the minors, to a 17-year major-league career, took another step yesterday: The five-time all-star was one of four people elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

THE OTHERS ARE:

- The late Peter Widdrington of London, Ont.

Widdrington was the Jays chairman of the board during their back-to-back World Series years in 1992-93.

"He was passionate about baseball," his daughter, Lucinda, said.

- Right-hander Billy Harris, 76, of Duguayville, N.B., who lives in Kennewick, Wash.

Harris pitched seven innings in his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957, a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium.

"If I'd signed with a team other than the Dodgers, I'd have been in the big leagues quicker," said Harris, who was relieved that day by Sandy Koufax. Harris pitched 15 seasons in the minors, winning 174 games and recording 1,373 strikeouts.

- Builder Gladwyn Scott, 76, of Hamiota, Man.

Scott put together and coached the first Team Canada for the 1967 Pan Am Games. The Canucks handed Cuba a 10-9 defeat, its first loss in 12 seasons.

Those four contributors to Canadian baseball, likely with former leadoff man Fernandez hitting cleanup, will be inducted June 28 in St. Marys, Ont.

Fernandez's parents lived just behind the right field fence of Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro de Macoris.

The park was a natural magnet to the youngster.

Fernandez limped as he fielded ground balls from LaRussa that day in 1974 -- he was waiting surgery to have a bone chip removed from his right knee. Fernandez served on the grounds crew and also loaded equipment for trips.

"I'd do anything to stay in the park so I could watch for free," said Fernandez, now 45. "I remember (LaRussa) well. He gave me affirmation.I would have loved to have played a season for him."

The Blue Jays and scout Epy Guerrero, not LaRussa's A's, signed Fernandez in 1981. The next year was his first big-league camp in Dunedin, Fla.

"I remember walking in, seeing big John Mayberry, Otto Velez, Dave Stieb," Fernandez told reporters on a conference call. "It was intimidating playing against those big guys. Having Alfredo Griffin (a Dominican, as a teammate) helped."

Growing up idolizing flashy infielder Pepe Frias, Fernandez called the 1993 Jays the best, with the 1987 (final-day losers to the Detroit Tigers) and 1985 (AL East champs) teams close behind.

General manager Pat Gillick tagged Fernandez the team MVP in 1985.

Fernandez retired in 2001 with 2,276 hits. In 1999, he passed Julio Franco as the Dominican career hits leader, a title the ageless Franco would regain.

"The Houston Astros were my island's team when I was a boy," Fernandez said. "The Astros had Cesar Cedeno, their games were on TV. Then, the Reds were popular with Cesar Geromino and Davey Concepcion.

"The Dodgers were popular with Pedro Guerrero and Manny Mota. But there was a time when the Jays were the team with Damo Garcia, George Bell, Alfredo and myself."

Fernandez had a career .288 average, hitting over .300 four times. He holds Blue Jays marks in games played (1,450), at-bats (5,335), hits (1,583) and triples (72). At times he was moody and sulked during his 12 years with the Jays, second to only Stieb.

Fernandez had three tours of duty with the Jays -- his second in 1993, when he was acquired after shortstop Dick Schofield suffered a season-ending surgery. The Jays would not have repeated as World Series champs in 1993 without him.


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