CAMBRIDGE – When the teacher asked the class of summer students what they wanted to be when they grew up, Rob Ducey’s hand shot up with an unusual answer: A Major League Baseball player.
The teacher laughed. In the 1980s, Canadian kids just didn’t go on to be professional baseball players.
But that reaction lit a fire within Ducey, who was in Grade 12 at Glenview Park Secondary School in south Galt.
“I was the butt of the joke for the next week. It was kind of like, ‘I’ll show you,’” he told the Canadian Baseball Network recently.
It looks like Ducey, 48, is the one laughing now. On Saturday, he’ll be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame along with Tom Heinke, Tim Raines and George Bell.
The hard-hitting, Cambridge-raised outfielder made it to the big leagues at time when Canadians were rarely scouted and weren’t eligible for the major league draft.
In 1983, he left Cambridge on partial scholarship to play at Seminole Community College near Orlando, Florida. Soon, scouts from the Pittsburg Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays took notice of his speed and athleticism.
He signed with the Blue Jays in the summer of 1984 as a free agent and was sent to the team’s affiliate in Medicine Hat, where he was named MVP.
When he made his major league debut at Exhibition Stadium in 1987, 22,000 Blue Jays fans gave him a standing ovation. No one seemed to care that he popped out, or that his chances of permanently cracking the lineup were slim with an outfield manned by stars Jesse Barfield, George Bell, and Lloyd Moseby.
Over a 14-year Major League career, Ducey played for the Jays, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies, before ending his career with the Montreal Expos in 2001.
Ducey, who also played in Japan for two years and was Team Canada’s designated hitter at the 2004 Olympics, hit .242 in 703 Major League games, including 31 home runs.
Not bad for a kid who didn’t play baseball until he was 15, after being invited by Herb Schiel to try out for the junior-level Cambridge Terriers. Before that, fast-pitch softball was his game, and his goal was to one day play for the local men’s travel softball team.
At 16, Rob Ducey almost quit baseball, because he thought it was too slow compared to his beloved fast-pitch game. But his step dad Ed Heather convinced him to stick it out.
Ducey thanks Heather, who married Anita Ducey when Ducey was 17, for that.
“I think about it, the ‘what ifs.’ If I had of hung it up, I wouldn’t be here now,” said Ducey, who was given up for adoption by his English mother and Trinidadian father shortly after his birth in 1965.
Ducey’s induction Saturday at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s is open to the public. It runs from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., followed by an autograph session.