The knowledge that Jack built

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

Jay Triano learned plenty from former Team Canada basketball coach Jack Donohue.

"A small part of what I learned from Jack was basketball," said the Toronto Raptors head coach before throwing out the ceremonial pitch last night before Roy Halladay took to the mound for the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.

"Everything about Jack was about team, about team building. Outside my family, he was the most influential person in my life."

The native New Yorker died six years ago in his adopted home of Kanata. As the mourners left the overflowing church, the song Sweet Georgia Brown played over the speakers.

Donohue also taught Triano and other members of the national program about baseball.

"He'd try and stump us: 'Why do they call it a Texas League single?' " Triano said. "Coach said some Texas League parks didn't have outfield fences so outfielders played deeper than normal. A guy would hit a fly ball that would be an out in other parks, but in Texas it fell in for a single."

And Donohue, one of Canada's funniest after-dinner speakers, would ask what it was called when a farmer's pig wandered onto the field, put the ball in its mouth and the outfielders couldn't catch it before the batter had raced around the bases?

"An inside-the-pork home run," Triano said.

Why do they call a high pop up to the outfield a "can of corn?"

"In the stores, the cans of corn were stacked so high (in Texas), you'd use a piece of metal to knock a can off and then catch the can," Triano said.

On Triano's first visit to Yankee Stadium -- Donohue knew a guy with tickets -- he met Dave Winfield and then went into a back-room downstairs.

"We left with game-day, giveaways -- for every home date of the season," Triano said. "We learned quickly, if he asked you to go somewhere it had a chance to be something special."

Over the years, a lot of people have tried to pry out of Donohue his favourite all-time player from 17 years coaching Team Canada, including Olympic berths in 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988. Triano always was in the late coach's final four.

It's like Don Cherry says about Hall of Fame coach Brian Kilrea: "He must be a good guy ... To have me as his best friend."

Baseball was a part of Canada's hoops program from 1978-88 when Triano was there. A Strat-O-Matic baseball board game went on the plane to South America, Europe or Latin America.

Having travelled on a few buses with different sports teams over the years, when it comes to rowdiness the sports would rank thusly: Football, hockey, baseball and finally basketball. So a board game would be a good fit with the cerebral hoopsters. But baseball on a hoops bus?

"We played Strat-O-Matic in a restaurant in Greece, with play by play," Triano said.

"Now, here's the next hitter, batting .361. He singled his last time up."

Triano did not do a Jerry Howarth impression.

On his previous visit to the Rogers Centre, he spotted Harold Baines coaching with the White Sox and told a friend: "Now, he was a darn good Strat-O-Matic hitter."

Donohue took his hoops team to Olympic Stadium to see the Montreal Expos and meet legendary umpire John McSherry, who just happened to be Donohue's student manager in Grade 9 at Power Memorial Academy, winners of 71 consecutive games with Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Triano has his own baseball background, winning the Ontario midget championship in 1974 and the Canadian championship at Repentigny, Que., for the Niagara Falls Cupolo's under coach Tom Newton.

Twenty years later Triano coached his coach's son, Greg Newton of Duke University.

The Raptors coach played first and was a left-handed hitter.

"I could slap the ball the other way, beat out the odd ground ball," Triano said. "I wasn't much of baseball guy."

How would his Strat-O-Matic card read?

"Single, single, single," Triano said.


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