OTTAWA- July 24th, 2017 marked a special anniversary for Baseball Canada as the first-ever installment of the Canadian National Baseball Team took the field for the first time 50 years earlier.
The event was the 1967 Pan Am Games and the host city was Winnipeg where the Canadian squad, that was assembled just days prior, dropped a 3-1 decision to Mexico. London, Ontario native Ron Stead toed the rubber for Canada that day in an effort that saw him fan 10 batters over seven innings of work, while limiting Mexico to just five hits. Behind the plate against Mexico was 24 year-old Erwin Doerkson of Eston, Saskatchewan.
“I remember gathering in Brandon, Manitoba for tryouts and days later we were notified that we made the team,” recalled Doerkson. “It all went by pretty fast but was a really enjoyable experience.”
Canada’s management staff consisted of Business Manager Joe Zeman (Saskatoon, SK), Dave Shury (Battleford, SK), Glennis Scott (Brandon, MB) and Field Manager Gerry MacKay (Kenton, MB).
Players were nominated from their provincial associations to attend tryouts and were selected from the various Senior (amateur) Leagues across the country.
“I remember dressing in Canadian attire for the opening ceremonies and being addressed about what it meant to represent Canada,” explained Doerkson. “But looking back we may have been naive to the whole experience as it was the first time representing Canada for all of us.”
The Canadian roster featured a mix of youth and experience ranging from veteran Senior League players to players with college or pro experience. That pro experience proved fatal for Canada after just two games, as four players were deemed ineligible for the remainder of the tournament for having played professionally.
“It was just unfortunate,” said Doerkson. “It came as a shock to all of us and we tried to rally as a team and felt a responsibility to our nation but couldn’t compete after we lost those guys.”
Sitting at 1-1, and with former pros Ron Smith, Ron Stead, Bob McKillop and John Elias on the sidelines, Canada went 1-5 the rest of the way and ultimately finished last in the five-team tournament.
Canadian players, including Doerkson, were forced out of their comfort zones to fill the gaps.
“I was quite fine playing first base with Bob McKillop behind the plate, but after the suspensions I had to catch,” he explained. “I had just started catching the year before and really had no business being back there in that tournament.”
Doerkson recalls a strong US side that smacked 19 hits in a 14-2 win over Canada. Future pro Steve Sogge had four of them while future College Baseball coaching legend Mark Marquess (Stanford) had three.
“It was really windy that day,” said Doerkson with a laugh after recalling his squad making seven errors.
The United States went on to take two of three from Cuba to win the gold medal and for players on the Canadian squad it meant going their separate ways. Some went on to future trips with the National Team, some kept on with their Senior League careers and careers away from baseball.
For Erwin Doerkson, that meant more time with the Saskatchewan Senior League’s Unity Cardinals and a career as a Phys Ed. Teacher in Moose Jaw with one of his pupils being current Baseball Canada Executive Director, Jim Baba.
From time-to-time Doerkson would run into a player or two from that team including his induction into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame along with Lane Jackson, or at a reunion hosted by Manager Gerry MacKay. To this day, he is very proud of being a part of that group and seeing where Canadian baseball has gone since then.
“I definitely (still) feel a sense of pride looking back and having being in baseball my whole life,” he says. “It’s really amazing to see the (National) program in place today and all the Canadians that have gone on to reach the major leagues.”