Indigenous Games: Ontario baseball team's secret weapon is a former major leaguer
Scott Bullett’s pedigree gains him instant respect with the players
The Ontario baseball team has brought along a special weapon to the North American Indigenous Games.
It's the kind of experience that no other team in the tournament has: a major-league player on their bench.
Over parts of four major-league seasons in the late nineties, Scott Bullett made more than 400 plate appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs.
He was never a star. But he made it, hitting six home runs and driving in 42 runs in 247 career games.
This week he's on the bench for the Ontario team and is keeping busy as the squad's third base coach as they pile up runs. The team defeated Saskatchewan in the semifinals Thursday and will play Wisconsin for gold on Friday.
"I asked him if he'd be interested and [he] jumped at the opportunity," Ontario's team manager Earle Cottrelle says. "I don't think a lot of people know he is here. I have tried to keep it quiet but our kids and our families know and they are thrilled."
You may be wondering how a former major-leaguer ended up on this bench.
During Bullet's rise to the major leagues, one of his minor league stops was in Welland, Ont. He ended up meeting his wife there and has called the city home ever since. Bullet runs a baseball academy where the Ontario team has held tryouts for the last two Indigenous Games.
"I told Earl I want to be there, I will volunteer my time, just let me know, I will come to the Games," Bullett says. "He was ecstatic, the players I've worked with for years were excited and here I am."
Bullet's major-league pedigree gained him instant respect with the players who haven't been shy to pepper him with questions.
"They are like kids in a candy store," Bullett laughs. "Their eyes get big because they have a coach on the team that played Major League Baseball and I am just trying to educate them and tell them my story, the roads I travelled and the dedication you need to be successful in this sport."
Bonds, Sosa attention grabbers
When you played with guys like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, it gets these teenagers' attention.
Bullet's love of the game is obvious and infectious. He is usually smiling and the West Virginia native's booming voice makes him hard to miss on the diamond.
"He is definitely a great addition. He is very funny on the field, on the bench. He obviously knows the game," outfield Kieron Jones says. "He has more of a sense for the game. He always seems to know what to do, when to do it. It's great to see him here, I'm glad he came"
"It's been pretty cool to have a former major-league player on the bench," infielder Ty Showan says. He is helpful with positioning. We made a play the other day I wasn't sure about and I asked him about it and he brought me on to the field to show me."
It's Bullett's positive banter and constant re-enforcement that has really impressed both fellow coaches and parents.
"It's been great seeing him on the bench interacting with the kids," Cherie Showan says. "It's been great watch him out there. You can tell he keeps the bench pretty pumped up.
Bullett hasn't confined his advice to the diamond. He knows about the thrills of making it the game's highest level. He also knows glory can be fleeting and stresses the importance of education to these players.
"I am trying to tell these kids how to act off the field. When you take the uniform off you have an image to uphold. In their communities, kids might be looking up to them and saying 'hey they are doing the right thing," Bullett stresses.
"My parents always spoke about education. That's why I always ask these kids, what are you going to do when the sweat dries and you can play no more? You have to have an education to fall back on."
Bullet's association with this team and its kids won't end with these Games.
"He wants to work with us to help us grow," team manager Earl Cottrelle says.
"And we are in the process of putting together kind of an all Indigenous all-star team."
It always helps to have a little major-league experience in your corner.