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2024 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame class stands alone in scope of accomplishments

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Photo credit:© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
29 days ago
The beers are flowing freely inside the Corona Rooftop Patio, but it’s an atypical, special night inside the Rogers Centre on Thursday evening. 
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is celebrating their annual Hall of Fame induction weekend with a kickoff party, aptly named The Opening Pitch and this year’s class promises to be a celebration of Canadian baseball writ large. It is the precursor to Saturday’s induction ceremony in St. Mary’s, Ontario, which will be held at the museum, with a number of Canadian baseball luminaries scheduled to attend. 
Jimmy Key, Paul Godfrey, Ashley Stephenson, Rod Heisler and Howard Birnie are among this year’s inductees, and there was intentional design in selecting a class that represents the broad, expansive history of Canadian baseball, rather than being a de facto wing of the Toronto Blue Jays. 
Jeremy Diamond, chair of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, spoke to Blue Jays Nation about the importance and distinction of the 2024 class. 
“They’re all great but this one in particular is an all-star class,” Diamond told Jays Nation. “We have not even arguably — the best catcher in Canadian history, Russell Martin. Canadian, born in Montreal, played in East York and played for a Canadian team, great checkmarks there.
“Ashley Stevenson: no argument the greatest female baseball player in Canadian history. World Cups, coaches for the Vancouver Canadians, an incredibly distinguished career. And somebody that is not as well-known as they should be in this country. 
“Paul Godfrey in addition to that, who brought the Jays to Toronto and has been a legend in terms of being a builder in the game of baseball for 50 years, we’re really excited to celebrate that class, in addition to Rod Heisler, the King of Leaside Baseball. Howard Burnie and Jimmy Key, who a lot of people will remember as a great lefty from the Blue Jays in the 80s and the 90s.”
Stephenson was further lauded by Sportsnet host Mike Wilner as the greatest women’s baseball player in Canadian history on Thursday evening. It’s hard to argue otherwise. Stephenson excelled as a dual-sport athlete, starring in the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, but baseball was her true calling. She won national team MVP honours in 2005 and 2008, while being named to the 2008 World Cup tournament all-star team. 
“I hope girls and women see this as an example of what you can do through hard work, dedication and perseverance,” Stephenson said in a statement released by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
“The Hall of Fame is forever. I’m so incredibly honoured to be a part of it!”
 
Diamond spoke about the distinction between celebrating former Blue Jays players and telling the full history of Canadian baseball during induction weekend. 
“We have a player category, we have a female category, we have a builder/coach, we try to run the gamut. If it’s all former Jays, it doesn’t really tell the whole story. It’s a good opportunity to celebrate those with different connections to the game. And to have the event tonight at the (Rogers Centre) we’re celebrating the Blue Jays and their careers. And to be able to come in here and take part in an event where there is no game, it’s a pretty unique experience.”
Jimmy Key was a star pitcher for the Blue Jays in the 1980s and was part of the 1992 World Series-winning team, before going on to star with the New York Yankees in the late 1990s. Key gained a standing ovation after a tremendous start during Game 4 of the 1992 World Series, his final appearance with Toronto, before leaving for the Yankees. Paul Godfrey is widely considered to be the architect of the Blue Jays organization in large part due to his lobbying efforts as chairman of Metro Toronto in the 1970s, then spent eight years as CEO from 2000-2008. 
Although this weekend is about the totality of Canadian baseball, there’s a natural invitation to reflect on the 1992 Blue Jays, 32 years removed from the franchise’s first ever World Series victory. 
“Can’t help it, can’t help it,” Diamond said. “I was in this stadium for ’92, ’93, those games. It doesn’t seem like 30 years ago, it seems like about 100 years ago. The memories are great, they talk about it a lot. Buck Martinez is here, he was part of those first really good teams that we had in this city in the 80s, so you can’t help but be a little bit nostalgic, for sure.”
With a number of baseball legends in attendance, you can’t help but meditate on the several generations of Canadian sports history tied together in one room. Ferguson Jenkins was in attendance, while a host of Blue Jays legends rotated through the room, taking photos with fans. And while reflecting on the contributions that builders and players have made to elevate the sport of Canadian baseball, it’s only natural to reflect on the current state of Canadian baseball. 
“It’s better than ever,” Diamond said. 
“There are more Canadians in the major leagues than ever. You have so much young talent. For a while, it was Joey Votto and Larry Walker. You have Cal Quantrill, you have Abraham Toro, you have Edouard Julien, you have all kinds of young players in the game. And credit to Baseball Canada as they’ve sort of used Russell and Larry and Paul Quantrill and Justin Morneau as their mentors and their idols. They’ve come through the system and now they’re in their 20s, they’re poised to take over.”
“We’re not just a hockey country! We have a great tradition of Canadian baseball going back 175-180 years and then we have a great crop that’s doing some great things in the majors today.”
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