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INSTANT REPLAY: You’re outta here!
Where was YouTube when we needed it?
You see, if the comical situation about to be described had happened nowadays, it would no doubt make the rounds via YouTube. However, since it took place 15 years ago – back on Dec. 19, 1997 – here’s the best Instant Replay version of it.
First off, let’s meet the story’s main characters: Ryan Dempster, the former North Shore Twins pitcher who will begin his 16th major league season this spring, and Rob Fai, the assistant general manager of the Vancouver Canadians who will broadcast the club’s ballgames for his seventh straight season in 2013.
So this is a baseball story, right? Well, no, it’s actually a basketball story and the supporting cast is the 1997-98 Carson Graham senior girls’ basketball team, pictured over there in their yearbook photo guffawing for the camera.
Rob Fai had come from Toronto and was taking courses at Capilano College. He coached a couple of years of junior girls’ basketball at Balmoral, then moved on to Carson Graham to coach the seniors as the players moved up to Grade 11.
“I got to know Ryan through a couple of his friends,” Rob was saying the other day. “He was in the minors with the [Florida, now Miami] Marlins back then, so when he would come back he wanted to work. So we ended up working together at The Keg down [then] on Esplanade by Lonsdale. I told him I was coaching basketball and he said he used to play, so I said, ‘Why don’t you come out [and help].’”
Rob was 23 at the time and Ryan just 20. “So he came out,” says Rob. “The girls immediately flocked to him. Some of the girls thought he was cute. Some of the girls thought he could give them some insight. Between the two it was a pretty good fit.
“Ryan was such a good guy to have on the team because he was really positive and really went to bat for the players, so to speak, to use a baseball terminology. He was really passionate about it. The players really migrated to him.” And to Ryan’s car.
Kirsten Dixon – who now teaches elementary school in West Van, splitting her time between Cedardale and Pauline Johnson where her basketball team just missed making it to the West Van elementary schools final – played for Carson Graham back then as a Grade 11. The Eagles had a game in Vancouver and Kirsten remembers, “Lindsay Pimlott and I ended up going with Rob and Ryan in Ryan’s car. It was a green Mustang. We thought it was pretty cool.” She laughs at the recollection.
“When he bought it,” Rob notes, “it was brand new. He bought it with his signing bonus when he got drafted in the third round by the [Texas] Rangers in 1995 and signed for about $200,000. I think that was the first thing he bought… the car was his big splurge. I remember driving in it with him a few times. He and Rich Harden [the major league pitcher from Victoria], both of them drove faster than I’ve ever driven in my life. They had that need for speed. I’m sure on that day when we had the players in there, and I’m covering my butt here, I’m sure we drove the speed limit and everything was fine.”
On the last day of school before Christmas, Carson Graham played a 1:30 Friday afternoon game at Handsworth.
At some point in the second half, the referee tossed Ryan out of the game.
“You know, it was just one of those situations,” Rob explains, “I don’t know if he saw a foul or a travel that didn’t get called but I think it was something the referee didn’t do and Ryan was very passionately making his point. Finally the referee gave Ryan the heave-ho and the referee wasn’t going to start play again until he had exited the building.
“What made it funny was Ryan hadn’t been to Handsworth before and he didn’t know his way around… and he couldn’t find the exit. The players on the bench were right beside me and at one point, one of the girls leaned forward and said, ‘I don’t think he knows how to get out.’ So a smirk became a giggle and a giggle became a laugh and the laugh was just the final straw. It was pretty funny. It was all in good fun and it suited Ryan’s personality to a tee because he’s Captain Positivity. He had just a tremendous vibe all year. You know, when I look back, he shouldn’t have got kicked out of that game. The reality was, he was trying to make a point. The cool thing about Ryan is he’s not a guy who stays mad.”
Well maybe and maybe not.
Ryan had his major-league debut with the Marlins just five months later on May 23, 1998. He moved to the Cincinnati Reds in 2002, to the Chicago Cubs in 2004 and returned to Texas in 2012. He has now pitched in 547 big league games with 124 wins, more than any Canadian except hall-of-famer Ferguson Jenkins.
That basketball season is now a long time ago. But in 2010, following a game he pitched for the Cubs in Seattle, he recalled what great athletes Carson Graham had, bringing up Lindsay Pimlott’s name as an example. Lindsay (now a Vancouver police officer), Kirsten Dixon and five others were stalwarts in three sports and 11 played for Carson’s provincial rugby champions, including scrumhalf Aidan McKinnon who later played for Canada.
I casually asked him about his ejection. His immediate response – and I do mean immediate – was, “I’m still mad about that.” He was so passionate about it, you’d think it had happened the day before.
This is episode 471 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.
Len Corben’s latest book about longtime West Van High teacher Ernie Kershaw who also played pro ball for the Vancouver Capilanos in the 1930s and ’40s, is titled The Pitching Professor: The Life and Times of Ernie Kershaw. It’s available by contacting Len at 604-988-0455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.