By Scott Taylor
Morgan de Pena was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame in June as a member of the Player/Builder category.
Manitoba Baseball Hall of Famer Roy Seidler remembers the time Morgan de Pena showed the world his true sense of humour. In fact, Seidler remembers that de Pena was able to laugh at a time when most baseball players would probably start a fight.
The scene is right out of a book on the history of Manitoba baseball. Roy, and his brothers Wayne and Brian, had long been the caretakers of the Manitoba Senior Baseball League’s Giroux A’s and the family had just hired a professional landscaper to come out to Giroux and refurbish the ball field.
The landscaper did a beautiful job, but there was one problem. Instead of rebuilding the pitcher’s mound 60 feet, six inches from homeplate, the landscaper built it 66 feet from the dish.
Roy picks up the story:
“So in our first game, we’re facing the Elmwood Giants in what should be a real pitchers’ duel,” Seidler said. “Brian (Roy’s late brother) was pitching for us while Morgan was going to pitch for Elmwood.
“We’d all looked at the field and while a couple of us thought the look from first base to third base across the mound was kind of odd, nobody really said much. The mound was the right height, so we just let it go.
“So the first inning starts and Hall of Famer Sam Tascona is the umpire. Brian goes out there and he’s struggling with his fastball but he doesn’t know why. He’s huffing and puffing trying to get it up to the plate and after he gives up a couple of runs in the first inning, he comes to the dugout and says, ‘Roy, there is something wrong with that mound. I’m killing myself trying to get it up there.’
“Well, we just thought it was a typical pitcher whining about a rough inning, when Morgan goes to the mound for Elmwood. He was a great pitcher. He had this big hook for a curve ball, but in this game, his curve ball was falling five feet short of the plate and bouncing up.
“So we light Morgan up for a few runs in the first and he’s hot. He says to Sam, ‘This mound is too far away,’ and he proceeds to pace it off. He yells something at Sam and Sam yells back, ‘It’s the end of the first inning. We started the game under these conditions and we’ll finish it under these conditions,’ and that was that.
“At the end of the game, every pitcher got ripped and it finished like 12-11 or something. We won and Elmwood wasn’t very happy. We eventually fixed the mound and thought that was the end of it.
“A month later, we run into Morgan at a tournament and he’s still on me about the mound that night, so I admitted to him that it was 66 feet from the plate. I thought, ‘Oh, oh, Morgan is going to be all over me.’ And yet, he just looked at me and started to laugh. ‘I knew it,’ he said. ‘I knew it.’ And that was it. We always thought Morgan was a good guy but at that point, I just thought he was a great guy. He has all the qualities of a guy you’d want as a teammate and a friend.”
On Saturday night, June 5, Morgan de Pena and 11 other players, builders, teams and families were inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame in Morden. It was a celebration of what’s great about the game in our province and de Pena, now 53, enjoyed every minute of the evening.
“It was a great time,” he said recently, sitting at his desk in the new Sport Manitoba Centre on Pacific Ave. “It’s always great to see those guys, although I’m still coaching and doing clinics throughout the province and I still see a lot of those guys every weekend.”
Morgan de Pena isn’t a guy who played the game, stopped and went on to something else. He’s a guy who never stopped giving back to the sport he loved more than all the others he played – and he played those others well. Perhaps one of the greatest all-around athletes every produced in Manitoba, de Pena pitched and played football for Mayville State University in Mayville, N.D. and he also played goal for the St. James Canadians of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
While at Mayville, he also coached volleyball and women’s gymnastics – he actually became quite an accomplished gymnastics coach – and since returning to Winnipeg, a day has never gone by in which he wasn’t involved in sport in some way.
Today, he’s the executive director of Baseball Manitoba and he still coaches his 14-year-old son Curtis’s baseball team and his 16-year-old daughter Melanie’s softball team. That’s commitment.
“They said I threw hard,” replied de Pena when asked about his 35-year amateur baseball career. “There were times when I thought I threw hard, but maybe I didn’t. I believed that if I hit somebody and they didn’t wince in pain, then I wasn’t throwing hard enough. And believe me, I hit a lot of guys. I only had a vague idea of where it was going.”
Bill Chapple, Hank Lemoine, Brock McConachy and Ron Seafoot joined de Pena as players in the Hall of Fame Class of 2010. Al Kinley, Maurice Kohut and Seafoot joined de Pena as builders. The 1966-71 Brandon Cloverleafs and the 1980-85 Deloraine Royals were the two teams inducted while in the special category, both the Fortin Family from Lundar and the Kollasevich Family from Winnipeg (by way of Rapid City) were also named to the Hall.
Former Goldeyes catcher Troy Fortin is now a member of the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame. Fortin was inducted in June along with his brother Blaine and father Roy. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
For the Fortins it was a tremendous honor. The family patriarch, Roy Fortin was a lefthanded pitcher who could hit with the best Manitoba had to offer. He also coached countless minor baseball teams and even pitched Grosse Isle into the final of the 1990 Manitoba Twilight Championship against the powerhouse Giroux A’s.
Meanwhile, oldest son Troy was a great defensive catcher who could hit a ton. He represented Canada at the Friendship Games in Tyler, Texas, in 1992 where he hit .390 with 18 RBI and was named MVP. He also won the MVP award at the 1992 World Youth Tournament in Monterrey, Mexico. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1993 and played six years in the Twins minor league system before signing with the Winnipeg Goldeyes where he played three outstanding seasons. He also won a bronze medal with Team Canada in the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg.
Today, Troy works for Shaw TV and last season, he was honored by the Goldeyes on Troy Fortin Night at Canwest Park.
“I never thought I’d ever be asked back to have a night in my honor,” Fortin said modestly. “I loved playing the game and now I love coaching and watching my son Trey play the game. Trey’s also a hockey player and I love that aspect of my life, as well. These days I’m the cable guy and I’m also a coach. I’m really enjoying the coaching aspect of the game.”
Troy’s younger brother Blaine, was also honored at the Manitoba Hall of Fame banquet on June 5. As the third and final member of the Fortin Family to be inducted, many believe Blaine could have been the best player of the trio. In 1994, he was not only named the Manitoba Player of the Year but the Baseball Canada Player of the Year. In 1995, he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and played three years in their minor league system. He also represented Canada at the 1994 World Junior Championship.
“Troy and Blaine were both great players, but are also very different people,” said de Pena, who not only played against Roy, but coached both boys at one point in their careers. “They were both good guys, good competitors and great athletes, but Troy was super intense, he never backed down from anything. Blaine was bigger and easier going. I’m happy to say both are still coaching and Blaine is now the president of Interlake Minor Baseball.
“They’ve both left their marks on the game in this province, no doubt about that.”
For all of the inductees, a place in the Hall of Fame is both an honor and a credit to what they gave back to the game of baseball here in Manitoba.
For a man like de Pena, who never pitched a game until he was 15 and never got any real coaching until he was 19, it was a marvelous surprise that still seems somewhat surreal.
“My body says I’m 53, but in my head, I still feel I could play like I did when was 28,” de Pena said with a grin. “I started as a kid playing house league ball in River Heights. I remember I really wanted to make the Little League team. They had these awesome uniforms with embroidered cresting and everything. I really wanted to make that team and wear one of those uniforms.
“Instead, I was cut and I had to play house league, where I got a black T-shirt. I never even got a hat. But I kept playing and eventually I reached a point where I made the St. Boniface Legionnaires. There, I got some real coaching from Jim Devono and Jack Scott. They were the first guys who really worked with me as a pitcher. I look back on it now and figure I was very, very lucky.