A great friend and my former literary agent, a fancy term for “he got me my first book deal,” was the first to mention what an “incredible” softball player the Canucks head coach is. from Vancouver Bruce Boudreau had been, after watching multisport “Gabby” play softball in the late 1970s in Niagara Falls. Before that, Boudreau played baseball.
“He was unreal” Blake Corosky told me, “he was quick, he could hit, and he was an incredible player.”
Corosky would know that, even on second thought, because he currently represents a variety of professional baseball players, including major leaguers, in his company True Gravity Baseball.
“I played it as much as I played hockey in my teenage years, it was a big passion, it was something I loved and I was pretty good at it,” Boudreau said of selling less. “In the summer, baseball teams would come and have tryouts (in Toronto) and I went to one, and I went to two, I was constantly asked by Pittsburgh (Pirates) to hang out, and the end of one, they asked me to go play rookie ball in Florida, and I said “no, I’m a hockey player”.
Boudreau was developing an on-ice career that would include 30 professional games in the former World Hockey Association (WHA) and another 141 in the NHL.
“It was right after we won the Memorial Cup and I was determined to be a hockey player,” Boudreau said.
He actually won two Memorial Cups with the Toronto Marlboros, in 1973 and 1975. The young forward had 365 regular season points over three seasons. Not too shabby, Gabby.
And believe it or not, the future head coach of the Vancouver Canucks was arguably just as good at baseball.
“I played on about three or four baseball teams every summer,” Boudreau said. “I had just turned 18, I had never left Canada, I just thought I was going to be a hockey player. It’s only years later, you see bo jackson playing two sports, and guys like that, and I was like “man I should have tried that, that would have been awesome!” I watch it now and wish I had.
Boudreau was a left-handed center.
“I could run, believe it or not, and I could punch,” Gabby said.
Once he switched to softball, although he was left-handed, if he wasn’t pitching, he was playing shortstop. He joined an incredible group of multi-sport hockey players called the Pro Stars, sponsored by Molson Brewing at the time, who competed against other less accomplished softball stars. Over four seasons, the games have raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity.
Some games featured a range of future Hockey Hall of Famers, including Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, and Mike Gartner.
“It was the highest level of softball you could go to in Ontario,” Boudreau said. “I had been playing in the men’s leagues since I was 14 and I was doing well. I had the chance to play against some of the greats, a guy called Eddie Feigner“the king and his court”, played against them a few times and had the chance to hit him. »
I saw Feigner play an exhibition with only two or three defensemen behind him at the Pontiac Silverdome around the same time. Arguably the greatest softball player of all time, Feigner hit opposing batters while throwing from second base. Few hitters would make contact if he pitched from the mound.
“He never knocked me out,” Boudreau said happily. “I’m pretty sure he only had one receiver, one shortstop and one first baseman. He traveled all over North America to challenge teams.
While Feigner drew large crowds at the barnstorm, Boudreau’s teams didn’t fare too badly either. They attracted up to 1,000 fans while playing in what was called the Ontario Fastball (softball) league, which was basically the sports version of a professional league.
“We were getting hundreds and hundreds of people to the games,” Boudreau said. “It was a big problem in Toronto and across Ontario. I loved this sport, I played it even when I went to the minors and played (hockey) in St. Catharines, and I continued to play it until I was thirty, so it was a real passion for me.