D-Backs ex­ec­u­tive He­mond hon­ored

88-year-old is in 67th ma­jor-league sea­son

The Arizona Republic - - SPORTS - Char­lie Vas­cel­laro

There are no de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion when it comes to Roland He­mond’s connections to pro­fes­sional base­ball.

Sweep­ing af­fec­tion and ad­mi­ra­tion for He­mond, the 88-year-old ex­ec­u­tive ad­vi­sor to the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs, were on full dis­play dur­ing a re­cent whirl­wind tour of the North­east. It be­gan at the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame in­duc­tion cer­e­mony at Coop­er­stown, N.Y., and con­tin­ued with whistle-stop first pitch tosses at Bos­ton’s Fen­way Park and mi­nor-league McCoy Sta­dium in Paw­tucket, R.I.

He­mond was also hon­ored in his nearby home­town of Cen­tral Falls, R.I., where the youth base­ball field he played on as a teenager was re-named in his honor and he was pre­sented with a key to the city.

In his 67th ma­jor-league sea­son, and ap­proach­ing his 89th birth­day,

He­mond re­mains spry and en­thu­si­as­tic, but one has to won­der how many more ex­ten­sive road trips lie ahead. So it was es­pe­cially poignant for He­mond to be re­united with his fam­ily and some of his long­est last­ing friends in base­ball.

“It’s just been fab­u­lous. I’ve been grin­ning from ear-to-ear all the time and how peo­ple are treat­ing me so well and pay­ing trib­ute to how I may have helped them some way some­how,” He­mond said. “There was no chance of that in my book. I never dreamed that would hap­pen and now here it is, and for my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to see all this, that’s also heart­warm­ing.”

It all be­gan as a fam­ily trip to Coop­er­stown sparked by the in­duc­tion of Detroit Tigers short­stop Alan Tram­mell, who trained with He­mond’s son-in-law Dick Dent dur­ing his play­ing days, in­spir­ing the He­mond clan to make to the trip.

The jour­ney con­tin­ued to pick up mo­men­tum with some prod­ding from Paw­tucket Red Sox Pres­i­dent Dr. Charles Stein­berg, who pre­vi­ously worked with He­mond for the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles. Stein­berg has wanted He­mond to come and throw out a first pitch at McCoy Sta­dium ever since he learned that He­mond was at the first game played there in 1942.

These days, He­mond holds down the fort at Chase Field in his ca­pac­ity as spe­cial as­sis­tant to Di­a­mond­backs Pres­i­dent and CEO Der­rick Hall. In 2017, the seat­ing area be­hind home plate where the work­ing base­ball scouts sit was re­named “The Roland He­mond Scout Sec­tion” in honor of his con­tri­bu­tions to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. He­mond might still be found sit­ting there dur­ing any given game.

“I see quite a few of the games. I’m there on a daily ba­sis ba­si­cally. I’m go­ing to try and keep work­ing for as long as I can,” He­mond said. “It’s ex­u­ber­ant for me and I love it and I try and find ways and means to help young peo­ple grow in the game.”

He­mond has been work­ing in the ma­jor leagues for 67 years, be­gin­ning as ball­park go­pher with the old Bos­ton Braves mi­nor-league af­fil­i­ate in Hart­ford, Conn., be­fore earn­ing a job typ­ing scout­ing re­ports for the big league club in 1951. He fa­mously typed out Hank Aaron’s scout­ing re­port sub­mit­ted by Dewey Griggs in 1952 and has re­mained friendly with Aaron ever since.

“He was still a crosshanded switch hit­ter when we first met at Eau Claire, Wis­con­sin, in 1952. He told me he thought he had more power from the left side but then one day he hit a fan with a foul ball while bat­ting lefty and said he’d never do that again,” said He­mond, who re­cently do­nated more than 2,000 scout­ing re­ports to the Hall of Fame.

He­mond ad­vanced to the level of as­sis­tant farm di­rec­tor and con­tin­ued to work for the Braves through the 1960 sea­son. He mar­ried gen­eral man­ager John Quinn’s daugh­ter Margo in 1958. The cou­ple is cel­e­brat­ing their 60th an­niver­sary this year.

Through­out his lengthy ca­reer he served as gen­eral man­ager for two teams -- the Chicago White Sox (1970-85) and the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles (1988-95) -- and worked in the ex­ec­u­tive of­fices for seven dif­fer­ent teams. He’s had two stints with the Di­a­mond­backs: 19962000 and 2007–present.

He was named Ma­jor League Ex­ec­u­tive of the Year by the “Sport­ing News” in 1972 with the White Sox and with the Ori­oles in 1989, and won the United Press In­ter­na­tional ver­sion of the award with the White Sox in 1983.

Pic­ture per­fect at the Hall

Upon en­try to the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame and Mu­seum, vis­i­tors are im­me­di­ately greeted by a statue of Ne­gro Leagues am­bas­sador and famed oral his­to­rian Buck O’Neil as part of the Hall’s Buck O’Neil Life­time Achieve­ment Award dis­play.

Pre­sented by the Hall’s Board of Direc­tors not more than once ev­ery three years, the award hon­ors “an in­di­vid­ual whose ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts en­hanced base­ball’s pos­i­tive im­pact on so­ci­ety, broad­ened the game’s ap­peal, and whose char­ac­ter, in­tegrity and dig­nity are com­pa­ra­ble to the qual­i­ties ex­hib­ited by O’Neil.”

The award cri­te­ria suits He­mond to a tee. He­mond ex­udes an af­fa­ble en­gaged spirit that tran­scends the base­ball arena. He was the first liv­ing re­cip­i­ent of the award in 2011, af­ter it was cre­ated and pre­sented to O’Neil posthu­mously in MLB ex­ec­u­tive Roland He­mond has a youth base­ball field named in his honor in Cen­tral Falls, R.I. on Aug. 3. 2008.

He­mond has a few awards of his own named af­ter him, in­clud­ing hon­ors pre­sented the White Sox, “Base­ball Amer­ica,” the So­ci­ety for Amer­i­can Base­ball Re­search and the Ari­zona Fall League, which He­mond cre­ated.

He­mond is sched­uled to be in­ducted to the Cac­tus League Hall of Fame at the league’s an­nual lun­cheon in Fe­bru­ary 2019.

As He­mond and his fam­ily had pic­tures taken with the O’Neil statue, a cu­ri­ous ob­server was in­formed that the man who just fin­ished pos­ing was the award’s first re­cip­i­ent, and per­haps he should ask if he would also stand in for the next photo. As is his na­ture, He­mond read­ily agreed.

It’s not un­com­mon for He­mond to re­move one or two of his three World Se­ries cham­pi­onship rings (1957, 2001 and 2005) and place them in the hands of fans, or let peo­ple try them on.

“He does it all the time,” said his son Bob He­mond, “He did it yes­ter­day at the Di­a­mond­backs game. He’s very gra­cious about shar­ing things like that be­cause he knows how spe­cial it is to those folks. He loves to pro­vide that ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Bob He­mond.

First pitch at Fen­way

He­mond’s en­tourage grew at each stop, with about two dozen friends and fam­ily mem­bers gath­er­ing for the games in Bos­ton and Paw­tucket.

“He’s beloved by any­one who’s had any con­nec­tion to him at what­ever level, whether its mi­nor league or ma­jor league. What­ever ca­pac­ity, he’s just so sin­cere,” said Tony La Russa, cur­rent Red Sox vice pres­i­dent and spe­cial as­sis­tant to Dave Dom­browski, pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions.

Both La Russa and Do­browski were hired by He­mond dur­ing his ten­ure as gen­eral man­ager of the White Sox. When He­mond throw out the first pitch on Aug. 2 it co­in­cided with the an­niver­sary of the day he hired La Russa to man­age the White Sox in 1979.

La Russa, who knew He­mond was sched­uled to be in Rhode Is­land the next day, played a ma­jor role in ar­rang­ing the Fen­way Park cer­e­mony.

“So we were talk­ing among our­selves here with (Red Sox chair­man) Tom Werner and (owner) John Henry and we de­cided to have Roland rec­og­nized the day be­fore Paw­tucket,” La Russa said. “And they said, ‘The idea is that that’s the day he hired you and we’re think­ing about do­ing some­thing where he could throw out the first pitch to you,’ but it’s en­tirely a trib­ute to Roland He­mond. The fact that I’m here is a co­in­ci­dence.”

Dom­browski first met He­mond when he was a col­lege stu­dent in­ter­view­ing the ex­ec­u­tive for a the­sis he was writ­ing on the chang­ing rules for base­ball’s gen­eral man­agers. Later they met again at the MLB win­ter meet­ings, where Dom­browski sought ca­reer coun­sel­ing from He­mond.

“I would not have my ca­reer if it wasn’t for Roland, it’s very easy to say,” said Dom­browski, who was re­ferred for his job as di­rec­tor of player de­vel­op­ment with the White Sox by He­mond when he was just 22.

“Roland was my men­tor. He took me un­der his wings … I moved in rel­a­tively close to where Roland lived on the south side of Chicago, so not only did I do things with him at the ball­park all the time but a lot of time he took me along from a so­cial per­spec­tive too,” Dom­browski said. “… And so he helped me shape my whole life at a very young age and I think how for­tu­nate I was not only was I ex­posed to some­one who was very smart in the game of base­ball but also the op­por­tu­nity to learn from him but also be­ing ex­posed to some­one who was as nice as Roland as a per­son they don’t make peo­ple any nicer than Roland.”

Fam­ily re­u­nion in Rhode Is­land

From Bos­ton it was on to Cen­tral Falls, R.I. The first stop on a long day’s tour of his old home­town was the Hig­gin­son Park Lit­tle League Field which was be­ing re­named and ded­i­cated in his He­mond’s honor.

“I made a lot of er­rors on this field,” He­mond said, ad­dress­ing youth league and mi­nor league play­ers in an on-field cer­e­mony.

He­mond was pre­sented with a key to the city by Cen­tral Falls Mayor James Diossa.

“We have a lot of great peo­ple that come from Cen­tral Falls but to reach the sta­tus that Roland has reached by be­ing a Hall of Famer and never for­get­ting his roots that’s what im­presses me the most,” Diossa said.

Stein­berg, the Paw­tucket Red Sox pres­i­dent who pre­vi­ously worked with He­mond in Bal­ti­more, came up with the idea to have He­mond throw out a first pitch at McCoy Sta­dium, set­ting con­se­quent events in mo­tion.

“This is a joy­ous oc­ca­sion be­cause we get to wel­come home to Cen­tral Falls a lit­tle boy who was born here in 1929 to a fam­ily of im­mi­grants. He was just like you. He loved base­ball,” Stein­berg said.

“He was at the first game played at McCoy Sta­dium in Paw­tucket in 1942 and he can tell you about it. He worked hard and treated peo­ple kindly. He is a prince of kind­ness … Above all else he has been a teacher. He has changed peo­ple’s lives.”

Just a few blocks away from the ball­field is He­mond’s child­hood home at 35 Fletcher Street, where fam­ily mem­bers also gath­ered af­ter the field ded­i­ca­tion and also vis­ited the Saint Raphael Acad­emy ju­nior high school he at­tended just blocks away from McCoy Sta­dium.

“This has been the most cher­ished day of my ca­reer right here in Cen­tral Falls, it’s be­yond my wildest dreams,” He­mond said.

BIL­LIE WEISS/BOS­TON RED SOX, GETTY IM­AGES

MLB ex­ec­u­tive Roland He­mond threw out the first pitch at Bos­ton’s Fen­way Park be­fore an Aug. 2 Red Sox game.

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