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If not for the steady downpour, Brian Kilrea would have celebrated his 86th birthday on Wednesday the same way he enjoyed about 50 days this summer.
But instead of chasing a ball around Rideau View Golf Club in his regular foursome with Bert O’Brien, Brian Ladas and Tony Benoit, the legendary former coach/GM of the Ottawa 67’s was also happy to say he had a “day of nothing” ahead of him.
“I’m just going to watch a couple of the taped programs I have, hope it stops raining long enough to walk the dog, then crack a beer,” he said before the clock struck noon. “And then wait for the ball game tonight.”
To know Kilrea is to know he loves baseball. Asked to name the four Baltimore Orioles pitchers who won 20 games in the same season, he nailed Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer before stalling.
“I hate when my memory fails me,” he said with a laugh when told it is a 49-year old trivia question.
“Pat Dobson? I wouldn’t have gotten that one. I don’t remember him.”
He was able, however, to point out the Atlanta Braves that had the great pitching staff of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smotlz and Steve Avery in the 1990s only won one World Series, and he did recall from his childhood days when the Cleveland Indians staff was so good Hall of Famer Bob Feller was the fifth starter.
“They said he threw 100 mph, plus,” Kilrea said. “I’ll never forget one of the stories that was in the newspaper. The batter got up, Feller threw, the ump said ‘strike one’. The guy never took the bat off his shoulder. Next pitch, ‘strike two.’ The guy never took the bat off his shoulder. Next pitch the umpire calls ‘strike three’. The batter turned around to the ump and said, ‘I think that sounded high.’
“Funny how those old-time lines can stick in your head.”
If Kilrea could be granted a birthday wish it might very well have been for the Los Angeles Dodgers to win Game 2 of the World Series. He’s been a true blue Dodgers fan since they were in Brooklyn.
On Tuesday, he did an Zoom interview (set up on his end by daughter Diane) with Jimmy Fox, who starred for Kilrea’s 67’s in the late ’70s and has done Los Angeles Kings TV for decades.
“We talked hockey but he’s a Dodgers fan and we talked about them too,” Kilrea said. “And I had just hung up with him when Darren Pang (another former 67’s star now in TV) called, and he’s a baseball fan too.”
Kilrea started cheering for the Dodgers because Sammy Denofrio’s brother John, who owns Shamrock Parking and was always a great supporter of amateur sports in Ottawa — used to get the weekend ball games on TV.
“It seemed the Dodgers were always on, so I became a Dodgers fan,” said Kilrea, who rhymed off about a dozen names from their glory days and explained how the great Roberto Clemente only became a Pirate because Branch Rickey, the team’s GM from 1942-50, protected Carl Furillo instead of him.
At the time, Clemente was with the Montreal Royals, who were Dodgers triple-A affiliate. “Clemente was a Dodger,” said Kilrea. “Imagine that.”
In the famous recroom at his home, Kilrea also has a signed pennant and baseball from Sandy Koufax, one of the greatest lefties of all-time, because years ago Koufax happened to be playing at the same Vero Beach golf course as Peter Gaw, a former 67 who was later an assistant coach for Kilrea.
Now, he’d like nothing more than to be in that recroom, watching his own TV, when the Dodgers end a 32-year World Series drought in the next week.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” Kilrea said, feeling good about how strong the Dodgers looked in Game 1. “They’ve had some tough times getting over the top. Let’s hope they’ve got one leg on it now.”
Let’s also hope that of the 17 days left in the golf season at his course, more will be like the weather forecast is for Friday, when it’s supposed to be sunny and 22C, than it was Wednesday. But then, some of us have been trying for days to get a tee time Friday, and the best we’ve found available is 3:21 p.m.
At that, you’d have to trot around the course to be able to get a round in before sunset.
“You could get nine in,” suggested Kilrea. “And there will be lights in the bar.”
MORE FROM KILLER’S CORNER
Kilrea says “there’s no possible way” the OHL could have games without bodychecking, something Ontario Sports Minister Lisa McLeod stated could only be “incremental” for the season to go on amid the pandemic. “You go into the corner and automatically you’re going to be bumping heads,” Kilrea said. “You go to the net looking for a rebound you’re going to be knocked into the goalie by a defenceman … so there’s no possible way.” As someone who has always considered billets the lifeblood of a junior team, he would also be concerned about living arrangements for the players. For a “landlady” to take in a player could be risky in present conditions. “I’m just waiting for the league to come out and say we’ve decided that we’ll wait, like the Western League, and tentatively put Jan. 5 or Jan. 10 as the start and see if there’s any break in the COVID,” he said. “Maybe you would get 40 or 36 games, or whatever the case may be. That would be a little more than half (a regular schedule) and would still give you a good indication of the good teams and the bad teams. That could still work and they could still play for the Memorial Cup. I think it’s going to be wait and see.”
ON THIS (Oct. 22) DATE
Exactly 54 years ago, three days after his professional debut, Bobby Orr scored his first NHL goal off a 50-foot slap shot against Montreal Canadiens goalie Gump Worsley at Boston Garden. “As a rule, I never talk about the goals I scored, but I will never forget that one,” he later wrote in his book Orr: My Story. “The fans at the Garden were on their feet, not because the goal was a work of art — it was their way of welcoming me to Boston … that was the start of a very special relationship.”
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