Melvin gives credit to Gillick

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:57 PM ET

The rise of the Milwaukee Brewers has roots in an aspiring pitcher trying to kick-start his career at Labatt Park.

Forty years ago, Chatham's Doug Melvin drove to London, Ont., with a live arm, some Fergie Jenkins-fueled hometown inspiration and a chance to impress a scout named Ken Beardsley.

It was a tryout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, said Melvin, currently serving as the Brewers' general manager, and I spent two years playing minor-pro ball in their organization before I was let go by a man named Murray Cook. He was a Canadian, too, and I didn't understand how he could release another Canadian.

That setback led Melvin to a throwing session in front of Cloyd Boyer and Pat Gillick, then with the New York Yankees. Gillick later became GM of the Toronto Blue Jays and one of the most influential figures in Canadian baseball history.

I probably wouldn't have been in baseball anymore if Pat wouldn't have taken 10-15 minutes to watch me throw on the sidlelines, said Melvin, who will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame June 23 in St. Marys, Ont., along with Rusty Staub, Rheal Cormier and the Canadian senior men's baseball team that won gold at the Pan Am Games in Mexico three months ago. I was able to play a few more years in the Yankees system. Then, Pat went to Toronto and he was pretty on the ball, trying to raid the Yankees' farm system.

The success he and Gord Ash (now Melvin's assistant) had, my mindset started focusing on the scouting and player development. Pat's always been an inspiration for any general manager in the game. He values everybody's job. You have to respect the position they're in.

The 59-year-old Melvin never forgot those lessons.

He valued the contribution of the smallest part-time scout even while running the Texas Rangers (1994-2001) and signing Alex Rodriguez to one of sport's most famous contracts 10 years for $252 million.

Armed with the advice of Gillick and Roland Hemond in Baltimore, he got the Rangers into the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, then repeated the feat in resurgent Milwaukee.

He also looks out for fellow Canadians.

I always felt in Canada, you looked for players that were given an opportunity because they were underdog, he said. We have Brock Kjeldgaard, Nick Bucci, Taylor Green, Gord Ash is my assistant.

(Reliever) John Axford saved 46 games for us last year.

I had to get rid of saying 'eh', but I don't think people viewed you as a Canadian and thought you didn't know anything about baseball. I'm trying to take care of as many Canadians as I can.

Look back at those Blue Jays (World Series) teams, the Expos teams, Rusty Staub. That's what helped the game grow.

Melvin is a veteran hand in the game now. He is looking to help young front office hopefuls Canadian or not enjoy the same run he has in baseball.

If, at some point, you can have a mentor, that's the biggest thing, he said. There's always a player that teaches a younger player how to do the right things on the field.

It's the same in the front office. The game's a little bit different. There are a lot of young people in the game but they hang around too many times with other young people. It's good to gravitate towards the people with experience. I always gravitated. I don't have a college degree. You can manage by story-telling, which is why I think baseball is the best business.

There's stories like Staub, whose name helped build the game in Quebec and he travelled around the country talking about it.

I'll always have the little 'Mtl' as a piece of my heart, Staub said.

Cormier also pitched for the Expos during his 16-year career.

To me, it was a real privilege and blessing to pitch in Montreal, the Moncton, N.B., native said. The whole ordeal of playing on home turf was exciting.

Canadian ball players are, in general, great athletes coming from hockey backgrounds. You pick up a ball, it becomes a game of fun, and when you get to the highest level, it never changes.

Neither does the taste of international success on the diamond. Ernie Whitt, manager of the Canadian team that won at the Pan Ams last year, can attest.

The biggest thing on that is it was the fact (the players) came together as a team, he said. We had a pretty good mix of veterans and youth like Shawn Hill, who kind of took these younger players under his wing and told them how Canadian baseball is supposed to be played.

It all came together. I've been doing this 13 years and we've always been on the side podium listening to someone else's national anthem.

Two other countries looking up at us was a very proud moment for those kids. A lot of them will never make the big leagues and this was their World Series.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RyanAtLFPress


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