#10 Jack Fireman
What does it say about a major fastball sponsor when his fondest memory of the game is not winning Canada's first ever International Softball Congress World Championship; not in winning 3 Canadian National Championships; not in winning multiple Maccabi Games gold medals; not in being inducted into both the Maccabi Games Hall of Fame ( 2009) or the ISC Hall of Fame ( 2015)? No, Jack Fireman's fondest fastball memory is in reuniting his legendary Toronto Gators 20 years after their magical season of 1993, and spending 13 days in Italy with the group who have become his closest friends in life. What it says is while Jack Fireman has made a habit of finding success in all walks of life, his greatest fastball memories are about sharing time with his family and his friends through a game that has been pretty good to him. Ironically, that 13 days in Italy also saw his Gator Legends win 7 straight games, not give up an earned run, and win a gold medal in the Elite 35 plus division of the World Masters Games. Losing is just not an option with Jack.
Jack was not always a fastball guy. Back in his younger days he was a player in a Toronto lawyer's co-ed lob ball league. Typical of Jack, his team did not lose a game in five years. Now the swagger of being a lob-ball champ had a certain bragging right to it but Jack needed more of a challenge. In 1992 a couple of friends, Mark Bendahan and Bob Green, both members of a strong and long running York Merchants team suggested he get involved with fastball. Jack did not really know the players but jumped in with a modest sponsorship and the Merchants became the York Gators, a moniker based on his role as one of the City's top litigators.
The York Gators were a solid team in 1992, but with the game still sporting strong teams in Owen Sound, Waterloo, Oshawa and the Ottawa area, among others, the Gators did not meet the winning expectation of Jack. He decided to build his own team from the ground up, went to the 1992 World Tournament to scout players and by the end of September that year he had put a powerhouse on paper and the Toronto Gators were born.
The 1993 Gators were assembled to try to win a Canadian Championship that first year. The Gators expectations of a perfect season were squashed in the first tournament of the year, losing to Harold Passmore, in Erie,Pa. Jack was incensed at losing and the next weekend the Gators splashed out of the swamp to win the Waterloo Tournament, and set the stage for a monster season.
The Gators were all but indestructible in 1993, winning everywhere they went, amassing a huge fan base, drawing the wrath of opposition who had lost key players to the upstarts and having to endure the arrogant on field swagger of an owner the likes of which Ontario fastball had never before encountered.. When the ISC World Tournament came around in August, Jack had recanted his desire to win the Canadians' and set his sights on the bigger prize in Kimberly Wisconsin, the ISC World Championship. To the delight of Jack Fireman his boys delivered, winning the first ever ISC World Championship going north of the 49th parallel. They did it by beating the 4 time world champion National Health Care Distributors/Penn Corp in the "if game" of a titanic playoff battle. A week later in Waterloo, the Gators captured the first of three Canadian Championships and the dream season was complete.
Jack has a special fondness for that 1993 season and the success of his Gators that first year. He continued to tweak his lineup, always looking for the best player to fill positional spots, add to his already dominant pitching staff, looking for a hitter who could drive in one more run. Injuries impacted his 1994 season and the Gators lost both the World title and the Canadian championship. The 1995 Gator squad, perhaps the greatest club team of that era, put Jack back on top with both a dramatic ISC World Championship victory and the second of his three Canadian crowns. Sadly for Gator fans and Jack, increasing demands and offers from opposition sponsors, and teams, would see the 1996 campaign as the end of the Toronto Gators of the 1990's. They went out in style by winning their 3rd Canadian Championship in 4 years.
Jack Fireman has had a lot of memories in fastball and whiles the 20 year Gator reunion tour of Italy in 2013 is his fondest, he will never forget the great ISC World titles of 1993 and 1995. When asked about his greatest accomplishment of a long sponsorship career he said," keeping a group of guys together for over 22 years and building close personal friendships with the boys. Little did I know when I started down this road in 1992 that some of my closest friends would come from the Gator fraternity" While his team went nearly 20 years before going back to the diamond Jack has hosted team bbq's and golf events every summer since the last pitch just to be able to spend time with his team. He may be the only sponsor in the game that has consistently reached out to keep the fastball friendships and magic alive. He is hard pressed to name individuals who have become special to him outside the chalk lines for fear of missing someone. That said Jack has particular fondness for the great Darren Zack, his captain Adam Smith, Brian Paton, Chuck Hendricks and Terry Challis. His long friendship with Mark Bendahan and Bob Green has only grown stronger and Roddy Wetherell has become an integral part of his life on and off the field.
While the Gators of the 1990's are a distant memory Jack is back in the game full force again, running both a 50 Plus Legends team and a solid open team. He dreams of winning another ISC World Championship with his 'new' Gators and would love to cap a historic career with an ISC Legends title with the players who started it all for him. Obviously he has seen a lot of changes in the game over 23 years. When asked what he sees as the biggest changes from the '90's to now he didn't hesitate, "Pitching overall was better then; hitting is better now. Back in that era every team had 2, generally 3, guys who would be the ace on any team today. There are still outstanding individual pitchers today mind you but back then if one came out another of equal toughness came in. The hitting today, whether through technology of bats and balls or because the pitching is not as strong, is better." That said, when asked to name 5 of who he considered the best pitchers of his era he pondered and replied, "Obviously for me Darren Zack is number one. There were a lot of great ones in the 90's but I would have to include, Mike Piechnik, Peter Meredith, and what Michael White did to Team Canada at the ISF tournament in 1996 was incredible. I guess as much as I hate to admit it, Brad Underwood was one of the greatest."
Overall, Jack has watched and sponsored a lot of truly gifted ball players. He has no hesitation when asked who were the best of his guys, " Darren Zack for sure, Adam Smith was just a warrior and a tremendous leader, Brian Paton and today there is no better player in the game than Ben Enoka ( the current Gator centerfielder)."
The game of fastball has changed and perhaps it has taken a step back in popularity. Jack Fireman's recipe to make the game more enticing to the youth of the generation is simple, "Publicize it more, and take advantage of the media and the web to let the kids see the tremendous opportunities that are out there for travel, for educational opportunities through scholarships and for building lifelong friendships."
Jack Fireman is now 76 years old and at that age he says his plans for the future in fastball are "year to year". He has built a hugely successful law practice and has had more success in fastball than he ever dreamed. He has earned the respect of his legal profession and been honoured for his contribution to not only sport but to the game of life. He is the proud father to son James and his wife Emily, and grandpa to their son Sam. While his daughter Belinda lives in Calgary he still makes it a priority to share special vacation and holiday time with her and his twin granddaughters Olivia and Zoe, and grandson Cyrus.
Jack Fireman's fondest fastball memory was about time spent in Italy in 2013, 20 years after his first big time fastball champion. It is not surprising that both his children and 3 of his grandchildren shared that adventure with him. It is all about family and friends for Jack at this point of the game.
For his unselfish contributions to fastball from lob ball to the pinnacle of international success at the highest levels, and for providing the opportunity for so many players to achieve their dreams of a lifetime, we are proud to honour Jack Fireman, who is to be inducted into the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame in August 2015, with the Scout Shootouts Star of the Week.