Hall of Famer Blyleven's Canadian roots

Dutch baseball player Bert Blyleven attends a news conference announcing his election to baseball's...

Dutch baseball player Bert Blyleven attends a news conference announcing his election to baseball's Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria in New York January 6, 2011. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

BOB ELLIOT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:33 PM ET

TORONTO - Canada weekend in Cooperstown kicks off next Friday when the Hall of Famers and new inductees arrive.

Pat Gillick, former Blue Jays general manager and a Canadian citizen, and Robbie Alomar, the first to wear a Jays’ cap on his plaque, will be inducted during Sunday’s ceremonies.

Dave Van Horne, ex-voice of Canada’s original team, the Montreal Expos, will be presented with the Ford C. Frick award for excellence in broadcasting on Saturday at Doubleday Field.

Not to be overlooked is right-hander Bert Blyleven, who was born in Holland and spent four years on the Canadian prairies.

The Blylevens, parents Joe and Jenny, baby Bert along with older siblings, Frank and Betsy, moved to a farm owned by the Berry family in a “rural area” near Saskatoon, Sask., as Blyleven recalls.

The Blylevens had $74 when they landed in Montreal in 1953. Bert was two.

“My mother didn’t want to leave Holland, but my father’s brother moved to the United States and my father had the dream to join him some day,” Blyleven said Friday from Minneapolis.

“After World War II, it was easier for European families to get into Canada than the United States. Canada had lost so many brave servicemen in the War, they needed people to work the farms,” Blyleven said. “I remember my mother telling me we had to wait in Montreal a long time before the Berry family came to get us and then we headed west.”

Blyleven was on the prairies until 1957 when he was six.

“I remember snow on the ground, I recall the day my father told Mr. Berry he could not work his land any more and he was moving to California, that’s when we moved into Melville,” Blyleven said.

Joe went to California, with the family moving to Melville, Sask. awaiting their U.S. visas and passports.

So, Terry Puhl, who played 15 years in the majors, mostly with the Houston Astros, is the second best player to have ever lived in Melville, falling behind the Hall of Famer.

“We lived in a two-room house in Melville with an outhouse, we got our water from a well,” Blyleven said. “We didn’t have much, but we had a lot of love. My two younger sisters — Trudy and Jenny — were born in Canada.”

Blyleven has not been back to Saskatchewan since ... “I went to Edmonton on a rehab assignment with the California Angels (in 1992), but that’s not the same province, right?”

Right, you are.

“My parents told stories about hiding underneath the house when the Nazis came through (Holland),” Blyleven said.

Born in Zeist, Netherlands as Rik Aalbert Blijleven, his U.S. passport read Rik Aalbert Blyleven.

His baseball card reads a lifetime 287-250 record in 22 seasons with 3,701 strikeouts in 4,970 innings — fifth all-time. He retired in 1992.

When they got to California and moved into the house, his dad called the family inside, pulled the cord on the toilet and they watched the water disappear.

“It was amazing,” said Blyleven of the first time the family had indoor plumbing.

“Born in Holland, I’m very proud to be going in as the first Dutchman in the Hall of Fame,” Blyleven said.

Blyleven credited his start to his father, Joe, who straightened bumpers for a living and played catch with his son all the time. Joe died in 2004.

Another early influence was Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully who painted word pictures of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, both on their way to the Hall of Fame.

“Listening to (Scully’s) description of Mr. Koufax’s curve fall off the table, was the same way I saw mine,” said Blyleven, known for his nose-to-toes curve. Blyleven scored Dodger games in his Little League score book when either Koufax or Drysdale pitched.

He compared Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay and Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander to Drysdale.

Blyleven met Drysdale over the years and introduced himself to Koufax once.

“(Koufax’s) hands were so big. Bob Feller said Mr. Koufax held his curve ball the same way I did,” the newest Hall of Fame starter said. “I’m looking forward to seeing if he grips his curve the same way.”


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