For­mer pro dig­ging in

The Compass - - ORTHTE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

Base­ball devo­tee Rich But­ler has re­al­ized a num­ber of dreams in his 39 years:

• sign­ing his first pro­fes­sional base­ball con­tract in 1990 with the Toronto Blue Jays;

• mak­ing his pro­fes­sional de­but with the Jays in 1997;

• hit­ting his first ma­jor league home­run off Scott Eyre on April 1, 1998;

• belt­ing a homer off a pitch from all-star hurler Roy Hal­la­day.

Now, But­ler gets to re­al­ize one more goal — run­ning a base­ball camp in the area where his fam­ily roots run deep.

Be­gin­ning on Aug. 27, But­ler will be con­duct­ing the first an­nual But­ler Base­ball Elite Camp at the field in Up­per Is­land Cove.

“It’s like re­al­iz­ing an­other life­long dream,” But­ler said last week of the four-day clinic.

The op­por­tu­nity came when his wife, Jackie, ac­cepted a per­ma­nent job in Up­per Is­land Cove, her home­town.

“He al­ways called me son. I just said, ‘yes Mr. Cle­mens.’” — Rich But­ler

But­ler saw a chance to help grow the game of base­ball when he ac­com­pa­nied Jackie and their daugh­ter, Carrie Daisy, to the Con­cep­tion Bay North town.

“I had been want­ing to start some­thing here 10 years ago,” he said.

Base­ball suc­cess

But­ler never had the op­por­tu­nity to do so be­cause his job as in­struc­tor at the Home­run Base­ball Academy, which he op­er­ates with his World Se­ries cham­pion brother Rob But­ler, took up so much of his time.

“I was go­ing 12 months-a-year, seven days-a-week,” he said. “I just didn’t have the time.”

With his fam­ily in Up­per Is­land Cove, But­ler said he would be spend­ing much more time here and hopes to make the per­ma­nent move in the near fu­ture.

“I ’m go­ing to be here for a month at a time or two months at a time,” he said. “It’s per­fect. Now, I can come here and build it.”

But­ler had been in contact with Scott Adams, a mem­ber of the Con­cep­tion Bay North base­ball ex­ec­u­tive, about bring­ing a But­ler Base­ball camp to the re­gion.

Adams has been a big pro­po­nent of base­ball for a num­ber of years. He, along with oth­ers like Scott Mercer, have helped grow the pro­gram over the last num­ber of years.

“To grow, you need peo­ple like Scott Adams and Mercer,” said But­ler. “And, with But­ler Base­ball, it’s a per­fect fit.”

Since his ar­rival in New­found­land and Labrador, But­ler has been mak­ing the rounds.

He has been in But­lerville, where is fa­ther Frank is from, where he has taken some cuts wi t h young soft­bal lers and re­cently at­tended the pro­vin­cial ban­tam AA cham­pi­onship game be­tween the CBN Bull­dogs and the Gan­der Pi­lots.

“I was just amazed at the ex­cite­ment, the draw, the crowd. It was awe­some,” said But­ler. “Base­ball as a whole in New­found­land has re­ally taken off.”

The de­tails sur­round­ing the camp were only ham­mered out re­cently.

The camp runs from Aug. 2730 and is lim­ited to play­ers as old as ban­tam. Ath­letes in the mos­quito age group will be go­ing from 10 a.m. to noon, while pee­wee and ban­tam ath­letes run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Each camp is lim­ited to 16 play­ers and will help play­ers in all facets of the game.

Mi­nor league ex­pe­ri­ence

But­ler, of East York, Ont . , signed his first pro con­tract 1990 with the Jays.

“It was ac­tu­ally kind of scary,” he said. “At that time, there ac­tu­ally wasn’t a lot of Cana­di­ans who were in pro ball. There was no one we could talk too, me and Rob.

“It was, like, oh my God, I got to sign this con­tract and I got to get on the road. I was 17 years old.”

It was also ex­cit­ing for But­ler, who en­joyed the chal­lenge of mak­ing it to the big leagues.

“I knew it was go­ing to be tough … pro ball is re­ally tough,” he said. “I only started learn­ing real base­ball when I started pro ball.”

But­ler started in rookie ball with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays when he was 18 years-of-age.

The next year, But­ler would move to A ball and the Myr­tle Beach Hur­ri­canes, where he played with fu­ture ma­jor lea­guers Alex Gon­za­lez, Christ Stynes and Paul Spoljaric.

He said the mi­nor league ex­pe­ri­ence is close to the one you might f ind in the movie Bul l Durham, about a mi­nor league fran­chise, the Durham Bulls.

“You have your quirky guys. You have all of these dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and char­ac­ters,” said But­ler. “They fight each other, and do weird things.”

He tells one story which could be ripped right from the Bull Durham script. But­ler, Alex Gon­za­lez and Chris Stynes broke into their home sta­dium in Myr­tle Beach and re­moved the tarp dur­ing a rain­storm, flood­ing the field.

“We did the slid­ing thing … when the cops came over the hill, we snuck back out,” he said. “They never did find out who did it.”

When his brother Rob was win­ning a World Se­ries with the Blue Jays, Rich was with the Knoxville Smok­ies of the South­ern League, the Blue Jays AA af­fil­i­ate.

He said the en­ergy and the ex­cite­ment from that win, and the one i n 1 9 9 2 , re v e rberat ed throughout the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We all cel­e­brated,” said But­ler. “From rookie ball to AAA. We all sat to­gether watch­ing it on the tele­vi­sions.”

Break­ing through

It took But­ler seven years to get to the big leagues be­cause of var­i­ous in­juries.

“I com­pletely tore my shoul­der and missed two years,” he said.

In 1997, But­ler made his pro­fes­sional de­but with the Blue Jays against the New York Mets at Shea Sta­dium in New York City.

“I still re­mem­ber not feel­ing my feet as I was walk­ing out into the sta­dium and see­ing the crowd,” he said. “It was a dream come true, but at the same time it was fright­en­ing. It’s al­most like I ’m out­side my­self look­ing at my­self.”

His first ma­jor league hit came on Sept. 9, 1997 off Ken Hill.

‘Mr. Cle­mens’

But­ler spent seven games with the Blue Jays in 1997. His locker mate was seven-time Cy Young award win­ner Roger Cle­mens, re­garded by some as among the great­est pitch­ers to ever play the game.

“He al­ways called me son,” he said. “I just said, ‘ y e s Mr. Cle­mens.’”

That win­ter But­ler was left un­pro­tected in the ex­pan­sion draft and was taken by the Tamp Bay Devil Rays in 1998.

There, he was locker mates with one of his base­ball heroes and Red Sox great Wade Boggs.

“He was al­ways talk­ing base­ball,” But­ler re­mem­bers.

It was in a Devil Rays uni­form that he hit his first ca­reer home­run.

“It was an inside fast­ball and see you later,” said But­ler.

For But­ler, there was a dif­fer­ence be­tween the Blue Jays and the Devil Rays.

“Play­ing on your home turf and be­ing Cana­dian, there was some­thing ex­tra spe­cial about Toronto,” he said.

But­ler said his track record speaks for it­self, and his pro­gram should help the play­ers in CBN.

“We ran a re­ally good pro­gram in On­tario, prob­a­bly one of the tops in Canada,” he said. “They’re go­ing to ben­e­fit so much. I re­ally work them out and pol­ish their skills, all through hard work.”

nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/the Com­pass THE COM­PASS

For­mer ma­jor league ball player Rich But­ler will be hold­ing his first an­nual But­ler Base­ball Elite camp in Up­per Is­land Cove, Aug. 27.

Sub­mit­ted photo

Rich But­ler is shown steal­ing a base dur­ing his mi­nor league play­ing days with the Knoxville Smok­ies.

Sub­mit­ted photo

Rich But­ler is shown in ac­tion with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays dur­ing the 1998 sea­son.

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