Tim Raines, George Bell head Canada's baseball hall inductees
Will be officially inducted in ceremony along with Rob Ducey, Tom Cheek, Nat Bailey on Saturday
Tim Raines and George Bell were both superstar outfielders who enjoyed their peak years in Canadian markets.
Their Canadian connection will live on for years to come.
Raines and Bell will be officially inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday. The Class of 2013 also includes former outfielder Rob Ducey, former announcer Tom Cheek and longtime minor-league owner Nat Bailey.
"When you start playing professional baseball, you don't ever think about this," a smiling Raines said Friday. "When your career is over it's when you really start thinking about it. But I never dreamed when I first signed out of high school that this day would ever come.
"But it's a special day, it's a special achievement and it's something you have until the day you die."
Raines played in the outfield for six major-league teams from 1979 to 2002 and had a glorious run with the Montreal Expos through the 1980's. The seven-time all-star won two World Series as a player later in his playing career and added a third title as a coach.
Nicknamed "Rock," he retired with a career .294 average with 2,605 hits, 170 homers and 808 stolen bases.
"You knew when you were facing him, you were facing one of the best," said former Blue Jays closer Tom Henke, a 2011 Hall inductee.
Bell spent 12 seasons in the major leagues with Toronto, the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox but enjoyed his best success with the Blue Jays. The three-time all-star won the American League MVP with Toronto in 1987 after hitting .308 with 47 homers and 134 runs batted in.
A lasting image for Toronto fans is of Bell making the game-ending catch in left field when the Blue Jays won their first American League East division title.
"I think catching that last out in 1985 was the best [memory] ever," Bell said.
"I went down on my knees and pray to the Lord. I [caught] the last out," he added.
Ducey, a 48-year-old Toronto native who grew up in Cambridge, Ont., played for both Toronto and Montreal over his 13-year pro career. He played for Canada at the 2004 Athens Olympics and later moved into coaching.
"I think a lot of the friendships and relationships over the course of 20 years, 25 years and even ongoing now, people you meet in the game and opportunities that present themselves because of the game," Ducey said of his special memories. "I think that's the fondest part of the whole deal."
Cheek, who died in 2005, broadcast 4,306 consecutive Jays games from Toronto's first-ever contest right up until June 2, 2004. He was recently named as the recipient of the 2013 Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence by the Baseball Hall of Fame and will be honoured again next month in Cooperstown.
Bailey, who died in 1978, purchased the triple-A Vancouver Mounties in the mid-50's and helped raise the sport's interest in the city.
Bell, Raines and Ducey were on hand for a golf tournament and banquet on a rainy Friday morning in the small town of St. Marys, Ont., about a two-hour drive west of Toronto. They were all smiles as they shared some laughs with old friends and recalled the fond memories of their playing days.
Raines said Montreal was a very special city for him.
"It meant everything to me," he said. "Actually, I grew up in Montreal. I was a 19-year-old kid when I first went there and I was almost 30 when I left. Just the raw excitement of the fans, competing at the major-league level, it was like home for me.
"I felt like I was an adopted son of Montreal and I enjoyed every minute of it."
Man of few words
Bell, often a man of few words, was happy to be back in the area and proud of his latest accomplishment.
"I think it's one of the more beautiful honours you can have in baseball or any kind of sport," he said.
Henke remembers Bell as being a tremendous competitor.
"George was a guy you'd want to go to war with," he said. "He was a great teammate."
He recalled Bell's leadership in the clubhouse really standing out.
"George was an old-school guy where he took the young guys aside and said, 'Hey, this is the right way to do things, this is the wrong way to do things. This is the way you're supposed to act when you're in the big leagues,"' he said. "He was one of those type of guys that was able to do that with young players and I think everybody appreciated that."
Raines, who like Bell is 53, recalled thriving off the energy in the stadium during his days patrolling the Montreal outfield.
"I was a proud guy. I was a guy that had fun doing what I was doing and the fans got me excited to do what I did," he said. "For my teammates who played with me, they knew how I was. You couldn't tell if I went 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, I was the same guy and I just enjoyed the competition and the camaraderie with my teammates.
"I just enjoyed playing the game."