July 21, 2005
Piper swinging awayWrestler gets bat, look out Mariners
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun
Wrestling superstar Rowdy Roddy Piper accepted an autographed bat from Reed Johnson half an hour before the start of last night's game at the Rogers Centre.
"Use it if you want," the Blue Jays outfielder said.
With the timing on a Monday Night Raw interview, Piper answered:
"I'm not very good at batting, but I'm pretty good at hitting people."
Later, when Jays senior vice-president Rob Godfrey walked by and noticed the bat, Piper said: "Pick 'em out. Just tell me which one of the those Seattle guys you want to go after."
World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famers Mean Gene Okerlund, who set the standard for broadcast journalism; Bobby (The Brain) Heenan, perhaps the industry's best manager next to Miss Elizabeth, and Piper were part of WWE Night at the dome. The trio was already in town to promote the arrival of the wrestling organization's digital TV channel in Canada.
Heenan threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Pitching from the mound, he even instructed catcher Ken Huckaby to move back.
"One time in Oakland, myself and an 80-year-old woman -- she was the A's oldest living fan -- both threw out the first pitch," Heenan said before last night's assignment. "Mine went over the third-base dugout."
Piper lived in Toronto in his teens and he is an authentic Scot. He says he played the bagpipes in the City of Toronto Pipe Band and was its youngest member.
"I used to hang around the downtown YMCA. They had this narrow staircase you had to go down," Piper said. "Then, I'd go to the boxing gym on Lansdowne where George Chuvalo and Clyde Gray trained."
After spending some time in Saskatoon, Piper headed to Winnipeg and that's where he entered the ring for his first paying bout.
"The Winnipeg pipe band piped me into the ring, to fight Larry (The Axe) Henning, 320 pounds of Nordic perfection ... and in 10 seconds it was over," Piper said. "I left. My band walked out."
Yet $25 richer for the Winnipeg card, Piper was on his way. One turning point was taking on Maurice (Mad Dog) Vachon in Fort Worth, Tex.
"I was still a teenager and he threw a set of ring stairs on my head," Piper recalled. "After the match he comes storming into my dressing room screaming ... I thought he was going to kill me. He growled: 'You come with me.' "
The two travelled the wrestling circuit together and Vachon showed him the ropes, as they say. He even had Piper training by running in the water off Moncton wearing construction boots.
Vachon, according to Piper, was the toughest opponent he ever faced in the squared circle.
Piper made his Maple Leaf Gardens debut in November of 1980 and was a regular on Atlanta's WTBS before joining the WWF in January 1984. He was more popular than most, but won only one WWF belt -- the Intercontinental title in 1992, winning it from The Mountie (Jacques Rougeau Jr.), before losing it to Bret Hart.
Piper and his wife Kitty have been married 23 years and have four children -- Anastasia, 22; Ariel, 20; Colt, 16; and Fallon, 10.
In the bottom of the fifth, Piper addressed the crowd and spoke -- a mini-version of his Piper's Pit television segment -- about playing his bagpipes for money on Yonge St., and sleeping in the Lansdowne subway station.
He was telling the crowd of 28,801 -- about 5,000 more than showed up to see the Jays the previous night -- how he flew to Toronto from L.A., and the set of the movie Honor and how he was honoured to be here.Then, out of the blue -- almost as if it wasn't staged -- Jays mascot Ace, also clad in a kilt, approached from behind and lifted Piper's kilt for a look-see.
Piper told the crowd to hold on and ripped the kilt off the mascot and summarily thumped him, demoting him to Jack status.
We always thought baseball broadcasting could learn from wrasslin' with one announcer rooting for the home team and the other voice in the booth claiming the umps were homers.
Order his autobiography Roddy Piper: In The Pit with Piper
Bob Elliott is the Toronto Sun's baseball columnist, and recent author of The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way