Last year, NDG Baseball’s Board of Directors decided to bestowe its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award on a native son who excelled for many years in his chosen profession. However, owing to his recovery from some health issues as well as the short turn around from the selection to the annual coaches’ banquet when such honours are normally awarded, it was mutually agreed that the award would be presented in 2015.
At the time of the selection, or shortly after, I was asked by Graham Nevin to work on media for this event despite stepping away from the NDG Baseball Board and I happily agreed.
Fast forward to July when I started to contact the usual media organizations. As is normally the case, I received zero feedback from the French language organizations and near 100% response from the English language organizations. I continue to regret that the French media is simply not interested in NDG Baseball nor a Quebecer whose career was of international reknown. I also continue to appreciate the English language media for the support it gives to NDG Minor Baseball when called upon.
The honoree was Mr. Jim McKean who, I’m told, grew up on Mariette Street in NDG. He was a star athlete at Monklands High School before spurning upwards of 35 scholarship offers to play football in Canada, playing quarterback and punting for the NDG Maple Leafs, the Montreal Alouettes, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders before injuries forced his retirement in 1967. Mr. McKean continued his education at Concordia and officiated baseball and hockey games. It was the umpire-in-chief for the NDG area who suggested that Jim attend umpire school in Florida, which Jim did in a very low key manner in the late 1960s for fear of failing. He subsequently umpired in the minor leagues before the American League came calling. It is also a little known fact that Mr. McKean kept busy in the winter officiating high school hockey games in the Montreal area and was an assistant coach on the national champion Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team in 1989-1990.
Mr. McKean arrived in town from Florida on August 9th with his friend Dodie Forsyth. Our first media obligation was a double header with CBC and the Suburban Monday evening at Loyola-2, also known as Lionel Geller Field. While waiting for the media representatives to arrive Mr. McKean unassumingly approached a young player and his father to help the youngster with his batting. Mr. McKean spoke at length with the media folks that evening despite the falling rain. The following morning we visited the radio stations at the Bell Media campus at the corner of Papineau and Rene-Levesque. We were only in there for less than an hour but visited Andrew Carter at CJAD800, Terry DiMonte at CHOM 977, and Elliott Price, Sean Coleman, and Jay Farrar at TSN690.
On Thursday morning we visited the Global Montreal studios where Jim was interviewed by Camille Ross live on their morning show. Later in the day Mr. McKean spoke by phone with Stu Cowan of the Gazette for an article that appeared in Saturday’s paper. On Thursday evening Mr. McKean and Ms. Forsyth were the guests of the Montreal Alouettes at Percival Molson Stadium. He joked that they needed a gondola to get to the alumni suite atop the north side of the stadium it was so high up.
Friday evening was the big event, where NDG Baseball presented Jim McKean with the Lifetime Achievement Award at Chalet Bar B Q on Sherbrooke Street. The choice of location was particularly fitting in that it is an NDG institution that everyone knows. There was a good mixture of friends, family, and NDG Baseball executives in attendance in addition to Borough Mayor Russell Copeman. Jim was particularly pleased to see several of his coaches in the hall, including Jackie Wallace and Brian Schee. Master of Ceremonies Graham Nevin introduced Little League Canada’s champion NDG Intermediate Lynx, most of whom attended the evening. Coach Frank Martinez took the opportunity to offer a few words to those in attendance before Mr. Copeman spoke and Mr. McKean was presented the award, after which he spoke in a very informal way. A good question and answer session took place. What caught my attention was how engaged the Intermediate Lynx players were during Mr. McKean’s talk, a testament to his ability to capture an audience’s interest. Also during the evening Mr. McKean granted interviews to the NDG Free Press and to CTV Montreal, who did a live hit during the 6PM news.
The weather could not have been better for Saturday’s Championship Day. The sun was shining. The temperature was seasonal. The 9-10 year old kids came out to play their championship game on Loyola-1, the big field, with Jim McKean as one of the umpires. CTV Montreal and the Suburban came out to cover McKean at first base. While Mr. McKean umpired first base for an inning and a half, everyone from the coaches, players, umpires, NDG Baseball Board members, and parents were all smiles.
Following his time at first base, Mr. McKean granted an interview with CTV Montreal, spoke with adults and children alike, and reacquainted with old friends such as Johnny Elias and George Economides, his coach in the early 1960s with the NDG Maple Leafs.
All in all the events surrounding Mr. McKean’s return to NDG to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award were well organized in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. I enjoyed my time with him, and managed to get an autographed photo of him in addition to having my picture taken with him. I appreciated all the efforts of my fellow committee members Graham Nevin, Terry Doucet, and James Rankine to make Mr. McKean’s stay a most memorable one.
If I am ever in St. Petersburg I know who I can call on.