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Moose Jaw’s Rod Heisler talks Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction

Former Team Canada standout, member of 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams, enshrined in Hall of Fame this past weekend in St. Mary’s, Ont.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- Any time a player reaches one of the pinnacles of achievement in their chosen sport, there’s always a moment or two that helped push that dream along.

For Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame member Rod Heisler, one of his came back in the earliest years of his career when he was starting out with the Moose Jaw Devons.

One of the standouts with the team back in the day was Roy Rowley, a former Team Canada player who had played college ball out in California. Rowley often wore his Baseball Canada jacket to games, and being around a player of that stature gave Heisler a hard goal to shoot for in his career.

Even if things weren’t perfect right off the start.

“I always admired that red jacket, and my very first meeting with Roy, I was throwing live to him and he wasn’t all that impressed because I wasn’t pinpoint with my control,” Heisler explained. “Him being a left-handed batter and me a left-handed pitcher, it didn’t go too well, but as the season went on I remember him telling me ‘ you keep working on things, and one day you might get one of these jackets, too’.”

Fast forward about 35 years or so, and not only did Heisler get one of those jackets, he’s now considered one of the best to ever wear one.

It was thanks to his years of top-level play with Canada at the Olympics and multiple Pan American Games in addition to his success back home that Heisler was enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame during the June 15 weekend in St. Mary’s, Ont. 

The star-studded event was an awe-inspiring experience for the long-time Moose Jaw baseball standout, and one that was as unforgettable as can be.

“It was a really enjoyable three days, there’s no question about it,” Heisler said shortly after returning home from the induction ceremony. “Lorie and myself went down, and my kids came down with their loved ones, so we had a good group down there and it was a great weekend. They took very good care of me, for sure, and likewise with the family, they were welcoming for everybody, it was everything we could have asked for.”

It was back in early February that Heisler got the news that he had been elected to the Hall, and needless to say, that alone was an incredible experience.

“I was driving and I had to pull over to return the call, and I thought they would be calling me about the ‘84 Olympic team, being the first Olympic team, that the whole team would be inducted,” Heisler said. “I thought he was calling all the guys, and that was my first thought.

But then (Hall of Fame director of operations) Scott Crawford said ‘no, you’re going in’.

“So I had to process that, that it was me, and I had never thought in any dream that that was possible and I just couldn’t believe it… To me, the Hall of Fame was a place for (guys like fellow 2024 inductees and former Blue Jays standouts Jimmy Key and Russell Martin), not an amateur summer baseball player. So that’s where I’m kind of ‘wow’, but I appreciate them welcoming me. It’s a surprise and it’s a pretty cool honour to go in with those names.”

Heisler, Key and Martin were joined by female baseball pioneer Ashley Stephenson, Toronto Blue Jays architect Paul Godfrey and longtime baseball volunteer Howard Birnie as the Class of ‘24.

Heisler’s Team Canada duties began in 1978, when still as a student at Bemidji State University he was named to the Canadian national team for the Amateur World Series. He went on to compete in three Pan American Games (1979, 1983 and 1987), three Intercontinental Cups (1981, 1983 and 1985), one Pacific Cup (1986), and one World Cup (1988). 

Then there was the biggest stage of them all. Heisler started Canada’s first-ever game at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and returned to the Olympics for the 1988 Games in Seoul.

That all led to this past weekend as Heisler joined his fellow luminaries in officially becoming members of the Hall of Fame.

“All of them were wonderful to meet, very accommodating to talk to,” Heisler said. “We were all able to visit and chat and tell some stories and it was great to meet everyone.”

Even with the Major League talent around him, Heisler said that the induction of Birnie was closest to his heart, given his dedication as a volunteer with baseball in all capacities in Ontario.

“I reflect back to my mom and dad and the hours they put in volunteering and fundraising for minor sports, and Howard’s induction means a lot because he was such a long-time volunteer,” lauded Heisler. “If it wasn’t for people like him and all the volunteers like my mom and dad, people like me wouldn’t have been able to play. So his induction had a dual purpose and meant a lot to me as well.”

Heisler had a chance to spent quite a bit of time with the 2024 Jack Graney Award winner for media dedication, none other than legendary Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez.

“I had met him quite a few years ago just in passing, and I was impressed with him all weekend,” Heisler said. “He only had to be there for the award, but was at everything. He was in the golf tournament, then Saturday he was at stuff all day, and in between he visited a couple hospitals, a care home and went to a kids ball tournament…He put in some big time hours just being there for the weekend and that’s the kind of guy he is. We had a couple of times where we just sat and visited and it was a lot of fun.”

Heisler also came across one of his former Team Canada coaches during a visit to Rogers Centre for a Jays game. And while the first-ever Canadian elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown didn’t recognize Rod at first, once Ferguson Jenkins realized who he was, the stories quickly began to flow.

“I hadn’t seen him in 30-some years, I went up to him and I think he thought I was just looking for an autograph, but when I told him we were together in ‘87 and I showed him the photo, he jumped up and now we were talkin’,” Heisler said. “That was a lot of fun, we spent the weekend doing stuff together and everything, and that was pretty cool.”

The entire induction weekend itself was just filled with chats with Canada’s baseball elite, even beyond the many conversations with Martin, Stephenson and his fellow inductees.

“Some of the people who were there, ex Major Leaguers who have been inducted, it was something else,” Heisler said. “Ernie Whitt was there the whole weekend and he’s still coaching the national men’s team, then I talked to Steve Rogers from the Expos, too, he was very interesting to talk to with all he’s done. They were all so accommodating and I was totally impressed.”

Needless to say, Heisler has received a ton of congratulatory calls and messages from folks who watched him play over the years since his induction was announced.

“A lot of times I don’t get a chance to say thank you, but I definitely appreciate the calls and the congratulations from everyone who sent them to me, I really appreciated it,” he said. 

Now, with his name officially next to some of the best to ever play the game in Canada, Heisler hopes he can be an inspiration for the next Moose Jaw player to break through on the international scene.

“You never know, somebody looking up to someone whether they’re a pro or an amateur, it might create dreams and dreams can come true.”

Extra innings… Some of the first Devons teams Heisler played with ended up having a few Hall of Fame luminaries -- among Heisler’s former teammates are Hockey Hall of Famer Clark Gillies and Canadian Football Hall of Famer Brian Towriss, both of whom played baseball in the off-season of their respective sports.

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