The ring is the thing

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

Nobody from Wandering River ever won a World Series ring before.

Nor Edmonton. Nor Alberta. Nor a Prairie province.

"Don't jinx me," said Orv Franchuk.

"With the, 'Curse of the Bambino,' you're worried about me?" I said.

"You have a point," said Franchuk, who as the minor-league hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox, an outfit that hasn't won a World Series since 1918, qualifies for arguably the most treasured of all World Series rings.

"I thought about that on the way out of Fenway Park the other night. I can't think of anyone from our part of the world with a World Series ring."

Indeed. I checked it out with Baseball Canada and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Reggie Cleveland of Swift Current, Sask., became the first Canadian pitcher ever to start a World Series - Game 5 in 1975 - but that was with the cursed Boston Red Sox, so you know he didn't win one. Terry Puhl of Melville, Sask., made it to a National League Championships Series but not a World Series. That's pretty much it.

IT WOULD BE SPECIAL

"Anybody who owns a World Series ring ... that's special. It would be huge to win one. It would mean a lot. All the years I put into this game," said Franchuk.

Some Canadian is going to win one.

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C., is only the 11th Canadian to play in a World Series.

Cardinals coach Dave McKay, who like Walker is from B.C., won a World Series ring as a coach with the 1989 Oakland A's.

"I never thought of something like that when I was a kid. I just wanted to be involved in the game. I never thought one day I'd be part of a major-league organization which would fly myself and my wife to Fenway Park to the World Series," said Franchuk, who will return for a Game 6 and/or 7 if necessary.

"I couldn't help but sit there in Fenway Park and think of when I was a kid. My late brother Mike used to pitch to me. My mom, sometimes between flipping pancakes for breakfast and milking cows, would flip baseballs to me. I remember in school in Lac La Biche listening to the games on the radio. We didn't have television."

Not many hitting instructors of a Major League Baseball organization come from Wandering River or have Amesbury listed as place of birth on their passport. None, actually. Not many hitting instructors of a Major League Baseball organization grew up in Lac La Biche, never played a day in the big leagues nor a day in the minor leagues, either. Not a one. Ever.

"Being Canadian has always been something that's been looked down on in baseball. I feel like I deserve it as much as anybody," said Franchuk.

He's a whale of a story, this 60-year-old who didn't turn pro until after he spent 20 years as an Edmonton school teacher.

His World Series used to be the Lacombe Lions Baseball Tournament every summer.

"That was the highlight of my baseball world in those days," he said.

Making the ill-fated Edmonton Oilers Western Canada League baseball team as a teenager in the early '60s gave Franchuk enough exposure to win a baseball scholarship at Pepperdine in California.

Managing and catching in the old Alberta Major Baseball League was Franchuk's baseball life while he taught school in Edmonton.

Coach of the Canadian National Team for three World Baseball Championships, Franchuk had been an area scout for Cincinnati and slid into a similar situation with the California Angels when they became the Trappers' parent team. The Angels hired him to manage teams in the low minor leagues.

"The key to the whole thing was that Oakland hooked up with the Trappers in 1995 and the A's needed a hitting coach," he recalled.

"I just happened to be in Edmonton. Mel Kowalchuk was instrumental in the whole thing. I'd been working for the Trappers in the winter. It was ideal because I'd be at home and it turned out to be the stepping stone to doing what I'm doing."

The Red Sox came after him at age 58 to offer him his dream job. For the past two years he's spent parts of the season in Boston with the big-league team and the rest of the year flying around the minors and down to the Dominican Republic and Venezuela checking out Baby BoSox.

THEN THERE'S BELLHORN ...

And it's with special pride that he watches Mark Bellhorn in this World Series which features ex-Trapper Jim Edmonds with the Cardinals.

"I had him for three years in Edmonton," he said of Bellhorn, three-for-six with four RBI while he watched him in games 1 and 2 in Boston.

"Bellhorn was an up-and-down player in Edmonton. Up to the major leagues. Back down. He didn't get an opportunity to make the big-league club. He'd go up to Oakland for 15 days and not get a time at bat.

"I told our organization that I thought if he gets a chance to play he'd be a success. I told them he's a solid kid, the kind of kid you want your daughter to marry. And to get him for a $400,000 salary ... he's been a bargain."

Franchuk figures he's earned a World Series ring. And he'd love nothing better than for Bellhorn to deliver it.


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