Hundreds descend on downtown Chatham to honour Fergie Jenkins

Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins stands with his bronze sculpture in front of the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre. Photo credit: Robyn Brady, CKXS News.Jenkins

Chatham-Kent residents turned out in droves this weekend to honour a local legend.

A ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance was held in downtown Chatham Saturday to honour Baseball Hall of Famer and Chatham-native Fergie Jenkins.

The former Chicago Cubs pitcher made his way to the Civic Centre Saturday afternoon, accompanied by the Branch 642 Royal Canadian Legion Pipe Band, and was introduced to the crowd by Chatham-Kent’s town crier, George Sims.

Jenkins spoke of his love of baseball, family, and community. He says having not one but two sculptures recognizing his achievements is humbling, but his success is shared.

“Being honoured in your hometown, I think it’s fabulous. When the Cubs retired my number in ’09 and last year with the statue (at Wrigley Field,) believe me I’m really, really proud of the fact that I did something, when you think about it, I wanted to do,” Jenkins said. “I had great teammates telling me we’re going to back you, we’re going to play hard for you, they scored runs for me, played great defence. I played for four organizations, Phillies, Cubs, Texas, and Boston. I look back, I had great teammates.”

Jenkins was the first Canadian ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and played in the majors from 1965 until 1983. He threw 267 complete games over the course of his career, with 49 shut-outs, and earned seven 20-win seasons, six of those back-to-back.

Jenkins says the secret to success is simple, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“You know, all it took was hard work, and I didn’t shy from hard work, I enjoyed that part of it,” Jenkins said. “I think in the long run, those little things help you. My dad was one of those that always told me ‘If you’re going to be a good sportsman, play hard, do what you got to do,’ and my mother always said ‘What you start, finish.’”

Among the special guests at Saturday’s celebration included fellow Canadian-born Hall of Famer Larry Walker, marking the first time the two HOF’ers have been in the same Canadian City at the same time. Three-time all-star Jim Kern, who played with Jenkins in Texas, was also in attendance, along with Jenkins’ former Cubs roommate Byron Browne, and former Toronto Blue Jay outfielder Jessie Barfield, among others. During the ceremony, Mayor Darrin Canniff also played a recorded message from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

Jenkins’ talent was discovered by Philadelphia Phillies scout and fellow Chatham resident Gene Dzaidura, whose son Chris spoke during Saturday’s ceremony. In an emotional tribute, Dzaidura spoke of the special bond that developed between his late father and Jenkins, from mentor to friend.

The sculpture, created by artist Lou Cella, was paid for with support from FirstOntario Credit Union and an anonymous donor.

“Fergie embodies a lot of the great qualities we see throughout Chatham-Kent: tenacity, kindness, hard work, and a will to succeed,” said Mayor Canniff. “For many years to come, this statue will serve as a great reminder of what Jenkins has done both for the game of baseball and for the community of Chatham-Kent.”

Jenkins will also be honoured in St Marys this month as the road leading through the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame property will be unofficially renamed Ferguson Jenkins Way.

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