SURREY — The tall guy standing in deep centre field rears back and flings the ball skyward as hard as he can throw the thing. It seems like it stays up there forever. Meanwhile, somewhere below, peering into the heavens and running this way and that as he follows the flight path, is a kid wanting to know more about baseball.
As it hangs up there, the man shouts mercilessly at the kid. “I don’t think you’ll ever get this one,” he bellows. “You won’t catch it like that!” But the kid does indeed get under it, his glove positioned perfectly. When the ball hits, it does so with a “thwack,” before bouncing off and to the ground.
The kid came this close to the most amazing catch of his young career. But that doesn’t seem good enough for the man, who shouts, “Oh, I did not just see that!”
Soon, you realize what’s going on here. The kid in question is laughing. The dozen other kids standing in centre field are laughing. The man is laughing. And in the huddle a few seconds later, you can see the young players are eating up everything he says. They love him. They love his fake drill-sergeant routine and his mock anger. And they’re learning.
(PICTURED: Surrey’s Charlie Leavers learns how to bat.)
Another ball goes up. This time, the man is more sincere. “My eyes, my feet, my glove,” he repeats over and over. It’s like the “Be the ball” moment from “Caddyshack.” And this time, the kid squeezes it. It’s a great catch.
Later, several kids spot my camera and come up to me. They ask, hopefully, if I’d gotten a photo “when he was mad” because they really wanted to see it. “He’s so funny.”
“I’m like the Doctor Doolittle of adults,” the man says later. “I’d like to grow up one damn day, but not now.
“I try my best to be myself and they end up giggling, and then I end up laughing, and then we end up doing silly stuff. And then they end up learning. I don’t even know how I do it sometimes. I just do it.
“The kids, they understand you. They smell you like a dog. A horse knows when you’re nervous, so he’ll buck you. A dog knows when you’re scared, so he’ll bite you. Kids know when you’re genuine and a good person, or a bad person.”
The man, it seems, is a hell of a guy. He was also a helluva baseball player – with the Toronto Blue Jays. Indeed, he’s widely considered one of the top Jays of all time.
His name is Lloyd Moseby and he accrued 869 runs, 1,494 hits, 169 home runs, 737 RBI and 280 stolen bases in a major-league career that spanned 12 years. The guy can play ball, and now in the latter half of his life he’s a great instructor, too.
On Saturday, he was at Lionel Courchene Park baseball diamond, as a main ingredient in the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays Honda Super Camp. And as great as it is for the kids, it’s just as cool for the parents and the local baseball volunteers, who get to see and experience four ex-Blue Jays live and in person.
(PICTURED: Duane Ward talks to the kids about pitching.)
“I applied online,” said Bob Wipf, 1st VP of Surrey Canadian Baseball Association, while explaining later how this wonderful little field in North Surrey got to host the camp. “They had it in Vancouver two years ago, and I think White Rock had it last year.”
But for Wipf and the SCBA, it’s more than just a kid’s affair.
“We’ve had declining numbers in baseball in Surrey, and we’re just trying to get a little promotion for the sport, really. It’s way different than it was 10, 15 years ago.
“I think a lot of it in Surrey is a culture shift. Cloverdale has way more players than we do, because there’s a lot more young families out there. Abbotsford and Chilliwack are huge. But here, in our older levels like Bantam, which is 14 and 15, and Midget, which is 16, 17, and 18, we’ve got just one team.”
“And yeah, it’s been fun, especially for us guys, seeing all these players we saw when we were growing up. They’re all interesting guys.”
Over near home plate is another group of kids learning how to become better hitters. At the helm is John Mayberry. An All-Star twice in his big league career, Mayberry sports a lifetime batting average of .253 and 255 home runs.
“What else is there better to do?” he drawled. “I’m not a hunter, I’m not a fisherman. I’ve spent my whole life between two lines, and I know what’s going on between those two lines.
“Kids this age just want to play baseball. They wanna go out and do good and then go home and laugh and joke with their parents and have a good time.
“I don’t want to fill their heads up with too much. Keep your feet planted, keep your balance, head down, two hands on the bat. I don’t want the bat swinging them, I want them swinging the bat. My job is to plant a seed. They might not get it right now, but they will.”
(PICTURED: John Mayberry gives Natalie some batting tips.)
Duane Ward shares those sentiments. He is perhaps best known best for his stellar relief work during the Jays’ consecutive championship runs in 1992 and 1993. At the park in Surrey, he sat in a dugout and talked about his love of baseball.
“When I was coming up, the older generation guys were passing their knowledge on to me,” he said. “Now, as a baseball player, I want to give back to the kids, to pass on knowledge from generation to generation.
“I started doing these camps about nine years ago. Then the Blue Jays got involved with it, and we stated travelling across all of Canada. We’ve been doing it for six years, with the help from a lot of the alumni, and they really took off.”
I ask if the kids, all of them born long after his retirement, know who he is. “I think the parents do,” he replied with a laugh. “But that’s important. It starts with us with the parents, and then it finishes with the kids.
“Listen, when I was growing up, my dad didn’t know much in my mind. At least I didn’t think he did, ’cause I was a kid. But if somebody else came along and told me the same thing, I listened. Dad and mom don’t know anything, but that guy does.
“All of us here did things differently. But we did one thing the same – we got to the top. And that’s what it’s all about – to try to find a way for one of these kids here today to get to the big leagues.”