#4 Mike o'hearn
Our goal in selecting the "Stars of the Week" is to recognize the accomplishments of those fastpitch players who are connected in some way to the Shootout Showdown either as a player, manager or contributor in some way to this great game.
Our first 3 selections have focused on pitchers who were dominant in their time on the mound and the influence they had on the sport.
This week we are recognizing the career of a player who doesn't know the meaning of the word quit. Whether it's during a game, regardless of the score or in the twilight of his career. He has won many championships and individual awards throughout his long and illustrious career, his determination and commitment are highlighted every time he steps onto the diamond. This year he is to be inducted into the Ontario Master's Hall of Fame. To acknowledge the career and accomplishments of this player we are honouring the fastpitch life and times of Mike "Red Dog" O'Hearn.
For those who know Mike, you know that he likes to share his thoughts and opinions on a wide array of topics. For our interviews we use a selected set of questions as a starting point and then do our write-ups based on the information we get. Mike had the set of questions and provided us with the answers to the questions in his own words. Instead of attempting to edit this and leaving ourselves open to the wrath of O'Hearn by altering his words in any way or being accused of putting words into his mouth we have decided to publish them as they were given to us.
We are proud and happy to present the fastpitch history of Mike "Red Dog" O'Hearn, in his own words....
First played organized ball at 8. My Aunt Bett taught me to throw a ball.
Started off as a catcher in baseball and caught and pitched in softball. Won a playground city championship as a pitcher. Won several city Championships in baseball playing for Pape Rec Center. At 16 I had several pro scouts coming out to watch me play and at 18 I was invited to a tryout with the Montreal Expos. Played in several tournaments around Ontario under a false name. At 19 played in the Leaside Junior League, but could no longer catch. Doctors told me I had knees of a 40 year old man and would be in wheelchair if I didn't get out from behind the plate. Played 3rd base for Perth in Leaside Junior League and when I couldn't catch they moved me to third. First game at third I fielded a ball and threw it into the stands. I retired. Got married at 22 (1976) and wife had never seen me play. In 1977 friend called and talked me into coming out of retirement and I played 2nd base for a team called St. Josephs in a "B" league in West Toronto. I hit .425 after not playing for 3 years. In 1978 I played for St. Josephs again and in the league finals hit a walk off homer to win the championship. A guy watching the game said I should be playing in Dieppe and called me that winter to come play for him. That guy was Bud Bodkin. 1979 I played in Dieppe with Wallace Tavern. Played with guys like Barry Higgins, Brian Aucoin, cigar smoking Walt Harvey and big John Bricknell. Then with Beef Place, Cleanol Services, and Toronto Cavaliers (3 years) in Dieppe. Went to play senior the next year with Mississauga Indians. Came back to Dieppe the next year when Mississauga folded and played for Hollingers. Then senior the next year with Scarborough Ambassadors. Then back to Dieppe the next year with Percy Gibbons and Champion Teamwear for two years. Then left Dieppe to play with Rock N Zoo in Scarborough Major League. Then back to Dieppe to play with Metro Merchants. Through all this I also played in the Beaches Inter-Church League with Nevada Dining Lounge and Beaches IGA. At the end of the 1991 season I became disenchanted with the game and I retired again. In the winter of 1992 Gary Latchford phoned me and talked me into going to a team meeting at his house to meet members of the Regatta Blues which became the Scarborough Blues. I loved the guys and went home that night and told my wife, "looks like I"m back in the game". Scarborough Blues played a couple of years in the Beaches Inter-Church League and a few years in the Scarborough League. In 1992 Gary and I formed a spin-off Scarborough Blues masters team and went to the old-timers (they called it "Senior) tournament in North Bay. In 1995 we finally won it with Gary throwing all 7 games and I hit over .700. Pat Acton caught, and we had Peter Kostin in Centerfield and maybe the best defensive first baseman I ever played with Scott Densem. To this day I still go up to play in that tourny although the last two years it's been played in Callander just south of North Bay. In 1996 Cold Springs Cats asked Gary Latchford and myself to play for their Masters team which was going in the inaugaural OASA Masters Championships in St. Thomas. We had a great team that featured old senior players like Steve Mitts, Roger Cole, Ray Bickle, Dave Ruthowski, Mike McIvor, Paul Goodfellow, John Caine, and was run by Ewart Timlin. First tourny we went to they had a team huddle before the game and were about to break it up when I said "wait a second, what are the signs"? They all started laughing and coach Barry Dawe said "we don't have signs. You guys all know how to play. If you feel like bunting....bunt. If you feel like stealing.....steal." I shook my head, this was a team that had come third at the Canadians one year. We won the very first Ontario Masters without a sign being flashed. The next year (1997) Gary and I decided we would put our own Masters team in the OASA Masters and again went in as Scarborough Blues Masters. On paper we had a great team and had Gary throwing as well as Bill Michell and Stan "Stubby" Woods. We lost two straight in Cobourg and were out by Saturday afternoon. Chris Giamou walked by me and said "Hearny, you put a great team together and no way that should have happened. If you're doing this again next year I'm in. There's unfinished business." I went back to the drawing board and re-tooled the team. Adding players like Mike Kightley, Doug Willoughby, Bill McTavish, Richie Miaskowski, Pat Acton to go along with guys like Blair McBratney, Scott Densem, Chris Giamou, Frank Tibando and Peter Kostin. We went undefeated to the finals where we lost two heartbreakers to Cold Springs including a 1-0 gem thrown by Miaskowski. In 1999 we won the Ontario Masters and repeated as Ontario Masters Champs again in 2000. We also went to the Eastern Canadians in Halifax in 2000 and won that too. After losing the Eastern Canadians in New Brunswick in 1998. I might point out that the Master team we took to Cobourg in 1997 featured Jim Cowdrey. Caused a stir because he wasn't old enough to pitch at that point so we put him in rightfield and he hit a couple of bombs. 2001 Gary and I joined forces with Chris Popovich and put a team in Dieppe Park Major League called Champion Blues. I ran into Tom Berube in the parking lot that year before the first game and he said "geezus, are you still playing"? 2001 was the last year for Scarborough Blues. We took the team to the Eastern Canadians but came up short. In 2002 and 2003 Gary and I along with Mark Thompson and Mike Racioppo took our services to the Richmond Hill Town League. Cold Springs came calling again in 2003 and Gary, Mike Racioppo, Mark Thompson and myself went and played for them in the Ontario Masters. We came 2nd. Losing to Blair McBratney and the Oshawa Ravens in the finals. I also played in a few tournys for Oshawa Ravens including 2 early bird Masters tournys in North Bay. We won them both. Also played for my buddy Bobby Smith in a couple of tournys including one in Elmvale when he called me at home and said "what are you doing right now" and I responded "lying on the couch". He said get your gear together and get up her to Elmvale cause I need some help. I love the guy so I did which also had Frank Marshall and Harold Passmore throwing for them. I also got a call one summer from a buddy who worked as a guard at the East Detention Centre and asked if I could come play for them since they needed some help. I did, and it was a very memorable experience that summer. But I knew if I got thrown in jail I'd be well taken care of. Won a couple more North Bay tournys with Cold Springs in 2005 and 2006 after losing in the final in 2004 after we tried to walk Mike Branchaud to pitch to the next guy and a wild pitch was thrown and runner scored from third. I told Gary Vowles I wouldn't mention he threw it and I'm a man of my word. Of course it didn't hurt when I convinced Paul Foucault to come on board and hit some out for us. He didn't disappoint. In 2006 Gary and I formed a team in the Pickering League and we've been there ever since. We decided to take a team up to North Bay made up of eligible Pickering League players and have had a bit of success losing in the final one year and winning the "A" championship in Callander the last two. Dave Birnie called me in 2011 and asked me to join the Stoney Creek Scrappers where I played for 3 years and we won a couple of titles, but I always felt we should have done better. Then in November of 2013 Fred Butt called and asked me to form the Durham Bulls Legends. You don't say no to Fred.
I've played with and against so many great people I couldn't possible name one team as my favourite. In no particular order the 3 years I spent with Toronto Cavaliers was probably the craziest bunch. If you buy me a beer I'll tell you a few stories including the time the boys tried to steal a plane in Port Elgin. I have a soft spot for Scarborough Blues because it was a launching pad for my Masters career and remain very close to several of those teammates including Gary Latchford, Paul Foucault, Mark Thompson and Mike Racioppo. I'm thankful to Dave Birnie for the Scrappers invite and the opportunity to play with quality people like Mike Sedore, Doug Charlton, Barry Hammond, and John Kemp. Of Course winning the very first Ontario Masters with Cold Springs was special and also gave me the opportunity to play with Sam Forbes in North Bay. Then there's the Durham Bulls. How could it not be fun playing for and managing this bunch. Fred Butt insists fun be a priority.
Top three pitchers I've faces is also tough. Harold Passmore in his day was as good as anyone. Ask Jack Fireman. Then there's scary Fred Butt. Or how about Darren Zack, Todd Martin, Bill Lunney, Brad Underwood, and Blair McBratney on a sunny afternoon at Dieppe with the sun immediately overhead, the crushed gravel infield shimmering and Blair out there throwing a white ball while wearing white pants. After the 3rd one hit the catchers mitt and I walked back to the bench a teammate asked "so what's he throwing"? I said "how would I know, I didn't see any of them". I'd also add Mark Bendahan, Brad Ringuette, Glen Moreland, Andy Skelton, Paul Koert and Rob O'Brien as top pitchers that I have faced.
Favourite tournys over the years have included St. Catherines, Port Perry, Bulova watch, Dunkirk, Beaches Major, Barrie, Meaford, Bradford, Port Elgin, North Bay......ah hell....every small tourny in every small burg I ever played ball in including Pontypool, Elmvale, Belleville, Hastings, Jordan Station, Callander, Grimsby, Mount Hope, Niagara Falls, Ingersoll, Georgetown, Cobourg, Grafton, Trenton, etc, etc.
Other hobbies I enjoy are curling in the winter with my wife, golf (see you May 29th Ewart Timlin), fishing, reading, writing letters to the editor, and being the best husband, father and grandfather I can possibly be.
Too many old fastball memories to relate here but I do still have some moments I think about from time to time. Like winning the Canadian Championship in 1967 at the CNE with my peewee baseball team. Like at the All-Ontario Midget Baseball Championships when I tagged out all three runners trying to score from 3rd on ground balls in the same inning and got blasted at the plate by all three runners. Umpire helped me up after the 3rd collision and said "that's the worst shit kicking I've ever seen a catcher take in one inning". Like the time I broke my nose in the first inning of the first game at the Ontario Masters and played the whole weekend with two black eyes and one eye completely shut. When it happened a few on the bench thought I was gone for the weekend. Mike Racioppo chirpped "gone for the weekend"? "Betcha he doesn't even come out of the game". Or the time I took a hotdog to the plate at Dieppe Park. Had it in my back pocket. Patty Acton was catching and Mark Bendahan was pitching against us. I was trying to rile Patty. First pitch I call time and step out of the box, reach into my pocket and take out the hotdog for a bite. Put it back in. Do the same on the next pitch. Patty is going nuts, telling the umpire I can't be doing that. Umpire scratches his head and tells Patty"I don't know a rule against it".
All in all it's been a ride and I've probably squeezed about 30 extra years out of this body that I never thought I would. I was informed in December that I'm being honoured with induction into the Ontario Masters Hall of Fame. Like I said to someone the other day, if you you hang around long enough they feel obligated to give you something for longevity if for no other reason. I've won my share of things, but more importantly I've had the opportunity to meet and play with and against so many quality people. Maybe it's time to consider getting out. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. Hell I've been saying that for the last 20 years.
The best piece of coaching I ever got was from my mother. I used to sit outside my house as a kid with my hockey stick hoping the older boys down the street would ask me to play. One day they finally did when they were short a body. They were all older than me. They fought over who HAD to take me....the little kid. Within 5 minutes I got hit squarely in the left eye with a frozen tennis ball fired by one of the older guys. I ran home holding my eye and crying. My mother made me take my hand away and my eye was already starting to swell and I couldn't see out of it (mostly from my tears). I'd never felt such pain. She grabbed my shoulders and said "I know how much you've wanted those boys to ask you to play. You've got to go right back out there and show them you can take it or they may never ask you again". I went back out and played as hard as I could with one eye. From that day forward they always asked me to play. I also should thank Debi. Not once all these years has she complained about me missing her birthday or our anniversary because of ball. Without her support I'd never have played as long as I have.