#5 Bob Acton
This week's Star of the Week was selected for many reasons. Based on the criteria set out by the selection committee this nominee has met all of them. He is connected in one way or another; teammate, coach, and friend to many players on 3 of the 4 teams participating in the Shootout. He has positively impacted the sport of fastball through his involvement in girls / women's fastball through his coaching at the Bantam level all the way up to College.
For all he has accomplished in fastball, we are privileged to honour Bobby Acton as our Star of the Week for week 5.
On a beautiful spring evening a couple of weeks ago hundreds of friends, old and new, family, current and former athletes and well wishers stopped by the Balmy Beach Club in Toronto to spend, "A Night with Bobby". The room was abuzz in conversation, laughter, music, stories, told and re-told, some true and some embellished, handshakes, hugs, smiles, dancing and heartfelt speeches and words of love and support.
To get a context for the this event, we need to go back to 2011. While in Austria running camps as a Professional Power Skating Instructor, Bobby noticed that he was having some pain in his left shoulder. The pain eventually turned to weakness and numbness. Having played sports for many years and having many nagging injuries, Bobby didn't pay it much attention. However, in 2012, while in Saskatchewan during a session in which he was pitching batting practice, a ball was hit back at him and he wasn't able to get his glove up in time to protect himself. Bobby knew something wasn't right and went to his Dr. to see what it was. This appointment took Bobby on a difficult 2 year journey of MRI's, endless testing, nerve conduction and plasma treatments all of which failed to identify the reason for his condition. Finally in June 2014 after receiving a spinal tap, Bobby's doctor contacted him with the results. He was told that he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease after the New York Yankees first baseman who was known as "The Iron Horse" for his consecutive games played record streak.
Just like Gehrig, who before he would become the Iron Horse had to begin his career somewhere, Bobby began his in the 1963/64 season as a 6yr old hardballer playing for East Riverdale in Toronto's east end. Among his teammates were renowned Ontario Hockey League Director of Hockey Operations and Head Coach of the Brampton Battalion Stan Butler, Olympic Runner Paul Williams and good friend Ronnie Morton.
Moving to the Beaches Optimist League as a 10 year old catcher and left-fielder he played for the "New York" team with Leo Pettipas and John Smrke. Playing for Corpus Christie Bobby played with teammate Fred Butt (week 2 Star of the Week) in the 1967 Ontario Finals in the Squirt division which took place in Niagara-on-the-Lake where they were silver medalists.
As mentioned earlier, Bobby is connected with many players in the Scout Shootout and as with Freddie, these started at a very young age. In 1970, as a 14 year old and catching for our Week 3 Star of the Week. Mark Bendahan, Bobby's Co-Op Taxi team won the Ontario Bantam Championship!
From there he went to play in the Beaches Church League for CCYC with fastpitch notables and excellent players in their own right Barry Higgins, Steve Trotman and brother Patty.
After that and until '77 he played with a variety of teams including Beef Place, with Bud Bodkin, Barry Higgins and Brian Aucoin, Village Caterers with Chris Giamou, Mark Bendahan, Rip Raccippio and Graham Toombs, Metro Merchants where he played alongside Rick Haymes, Jose Lego and Harold Passmore and finishing with Juke Box and teammates Ron Mahabir, Russ Gregory, Grant Doucette and Steve Crummey.
After the '77 season Bobby took a hiatus from ball, and moved to Arizona to live. One of his most notable accomplishments while there was that he was able to secure the Canadian distribution rights to the Juggs pitching machines.
Returning to the Great White North a few years later, Bobby renewed his playing career in 1983 where he lists one of his playing highlights as hitting a homerun off York Merchants star pitcher Richie Miaskowski in the Bulova Watch Tournament at Toronto's CNE. So impressed were they by his batting prowess, the powers to be of the York Merchants signed Bobby to play for them for the 1984 season. Along with Miaskowski, York had pitching for them Mike St. Pierre and standouts Larry Ius and Carmen Pernarella. Unfortunately, during the '83 offseason and before York could unveil their new signee, Bobby ruptured his spleen in a freak accident. Coming into training camp underweight and out of shape, the managing partners of the club must have been having second doubts about their new free-agent and are certain to have been looking at all legal avenues to void his contract. However, cooler heads prevailed and Bobby stayed on and played through a season that saw York win the Ontario Championships in Verona and the Labour Day Classic in Barrie.
The following year saw Bobby return to the Beaches Church League where he played for Beach IGA which was probably known more for its broadcasting potential as it boasted among its line-up the late CITY-TV anchor Mark Dailey and sports reporting slugger Greg Mandzuik. Other players of note were Tommy Dunphy, Paul Linton, Mike St. Pierre and Patty Acton. Bobby highlights this season as being special for a couple of reasons. They played perennial Church League adversaries Re-Max in the finals. Re-Max jumped out to a 2-0 series lead. Due to unforeseen circumstances Bobby had to toe the mound for one of the final games and ended up beating Re-Max 1-0!Poor weather and an unsafe playing field forced the games to be moved and played at historic Dieppe Park. Having overcome a seemingly impossible task, Beach IGA came back to win the final 3 games and the Championship.
After returning to Dieppe in '87 to play one more year with Metro Merchants Bobby saw his playing career start to wind down and he briefly returned to the Beach to coach his old Beach IGA team that had pitchers Barry Higgins and Dave Strauss on the mound, a hard hitting , up and comer Fred Clyke, slugging 3rd baseman Robin Mahabir and veteran second basemen and Week 4 Star of the Week Mike O'Hearn on its roster.
In 1988 he married Heather and retired from ball and together they had son Reid and daughter Avery.
In the ensuing years Bobby was involved in a variety of endeavors including being a sports consultant on over 25 major motion picture and made for TV movies which included 2 time Oscar winner Denzell Washington and 2 time Oscar nominee James Woods. He was responsible for creating the "Thirsty Penguin" bar and grill concept for Canlan ice sports and in charge of facilities for soccer and tennis domes.
However, it wasn't long before Bobby was drawn back to sports yet not as a player but in a coaching capacity. He coached hardball at East York where some of his players received NCAA scholarships including Matt Jebb (U of Maine), Kyle Fillier ( ) and...... (Winthrop U). In 2002 an offer came in to coach the Scarborough Spirit 12yr old girls softball team. Bobby accepted the position and lead the team to a 4th place finish in the provincial championships and 2nd of 108 teams. In 2003 he moved to Leaside where his team won the Provincials. In 2004 his Bantam team was the first ever to win the National Championships as a first year Bantam team. His 2005 team repeated as National Champions lead by pitcher Jenna Caira (4 time National Champion and scholarship recipient at Syracuse University). Bobby moved to Mississauga to coach the Tigers in 2005 and 2006.
Bobby's winning pedigree did not end there. In 2011 he was hired as the Womens Fastball Coach of Humber College - although his team began his first year 0 and 4 they rallied under Bobby's leadership to make it to the finals where they were beaten by Durham College who had on their coaching staff, long-time fastball pitcher Mal Swift. Buoyed by their new found confidence the Humber girls team went on to win back-to-back Provincial Championships and Bobby was named OUAA Women's Fastpitch Coach of the Year in 2012.
During this time he has also been training athletes and currently is the Director of Operations for Beach Sport Academy in Toronto where he is a Youth Conditioning Specialist, Sports Nutritionist and Personal Trainer.
Over his long career in fastpitch Bobby regards the 90's as being the richest era for the caliber of pitchers. He has ranked the best pitchers he has ever faced as, Brad Underwood, Pete Landers, Mark Bendahan, Blair McBratney, Brad Ringuette and Fred Butt. He has played with many ball players throughout his career and listed in no particular order Chris Giamou, Vere Small, George Chapman, Steve Trotman, Mark Bendahan and Duffy Campbell as some of the best he has ever played with.
He lists the 1984 York Merchants team as the best he has played on and Village Caterers with Scott Stirratt, John and Chris Giamou, Billy Reid, Blair Mc Bratney and brother Patty as the best he has played against. Bobby names Dunkirk, St. Catherine's and Port Elgin as his favourite tournaments to have been involved with. His best memory in fastball was with his Jukebox team in St. Catherine's where they won 15 innings, because they didn't have the best team. However he lists his first National Championship with his girls team in Winnipeg as his most satisfying.
Describing himself as the consummate team player, a utility player and master of none, Bobby feels that former players have a responsibility to re-vive the game that has such a positive impact on all our lives. To get more kids involved through coaching and encouragement. He enjoys coaching the girls teams because they are like sponges in their desire to learn and apply their talent. His own involvement in coaching hardball and softball has lead to 40 of his players having received NCAA scholarships!
In fact Bobby's son Reid has seen his own success in athletics - a two time all American defenseman and 2012 NCAA D1 National Champion in Lacrosse, he currently plays professionally for the Florida Launch. Not to be out done, his daughter Avery has started her, "Running for My Dad's Life" initiative her website is www.gofundme.com/cvsoxc. She has run in 3 marathons, 2 in Belgium and 1 in Paris to raise funds for her father.
Which brings us back to "A Night With Bobby". This event was organized to raise funds to help with Bobby's medical care and any equipment he may need through ticket sales, silent auctions, live auctions and raffles. It was a huge success thanks to all those who took part in organizing, attending and spending.
Keeping with this spirit of giving we are happy to announce that, to support Bobby in his battle with ALS, the Durham Bulls have selected the ALS Foundation as the charity their team will be playing for in the Scout Shootout.
In recognition for his long-time involvement in men's fastpitch and his giving back to this great sport through his coaching of both males and females, his winning success at the local and national level, and to show our support of him in his battle with ALS we honour Bobby Acton as this week's Scout Shootout Star of the Week.