There are few coaches in the annals of Moose Jaw sports who have seen as much success – and built more champions – than what Jim Baba has accomplished in the sport of baseball.
From Canada Games medals to contending at the Pan American Games and world championships, Baba had seen players under his charge accomplish impressive feats, to the point he continues to work for Baseball Canada today as a technical director heading into the 2020 Olympic Games.
With that kind of a pedigree, it came with little surprise when Baba was announced as one of the six inductees for the Moose Jaw and District Sports Hall of Fame. He was enshrined on the Wall of Fame in Mosaic Place during the annual induction banquet on Oct. 20.
“I'm really humbled,” Baba said just prior to the event. “To have your own hometown say you've done enough in sports to be recognized like this, that's quite an achievement, especially to see some of the names on the wall behind me.
“I think the experience in sports that I had, you just kind of carry on your passion for the game. Then something like this happens and you get inducted into the Hall of Fame... My grandkids can come in 30 years and see their grandpa up on the wall, and that's means a lot.”
Baba's love of baseball started at an early age and was in large part a product of father Farris Baba's dedication to the sport. Himself a winner of the Baseball Sask. Special Award of Merit, Farris had Jim learning to catch, throw and hit as a toddler and even finagled his son into organized baseball as soon as he could play the game.
“He registered me and actually had to cheat with my age too, so I could play a little early... just his passion for the game, his love for the game fell over onto me. I just couldn't get him to start cheering for the Yankees like I did,” Baba said with a laugh. “But with his passion for ball, we just kept following it.”
Baba's skill as a player saw him find success throughout his career – beginning with an appearance in the Little League Canada championship final and continuing through his time playing college baseball for Yakima Valley, where they won the state title in 1976. But some of his greatest memories in the sport come from his home diamond.
“Things like winning the SMBL championship here in Moose Jaw. We did it a couple of times and back then I was a cocky 18-, 19-year-old and I played with all the veterans and I was one of the lucky guys who got to come up and play right away,” Baba said. “We had some really great players and even better guys on those teams and it was a blast to be able to play with them.”
It was during his time with the Moose Jaw Devons and Regals that the prospect of coaching at a high level first came to the forefront, courtesy of legendary player/coach Ned Andreoni.
“I was lucky enough when I first joined the Regals, the old guard was still around,” Baba said. “Ned, Larry Tollefson, all those guys were still there. I had a great learning base and doggone if it was a couple of years later and Ned tells me 'ah, I think you should coach.'
“So then you do that, but you never expect to be able to coach Team Canada down the road. But things worked out. We got silver at the 1989 Canada Games and the coach of the Team Canada was at the Games, he spotted me and said 'hey, I want you to go with us in February with this guest coaching opportunity.' I went for two weeks and didn't think nothing of it and then that winter he's calling me and telling me 'by the way, they want you to coach the national team.' So it was just like that; things worked out perfectly.”
Baba ended up as an assistant coach for the 1991 Pan American Games before taking over as the head coach of the Baseball Canada national team from 1993-98 as well as 2003 and 2005, with Canada winning bronze at the 1994 World University Games.
He's served as the executive director of Baseball Canada since 2000 and was the technical director for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto where Canada won the gold medal with an extra-innings win over the United States.
Baba was indicted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame as an individual in 2007 and in 2015 as a member of the Devons/Regals.
He was inducted into the Moose Jaw and District Sports Hall of Fame alongside former NHL standout Doug Smail, former national champion figure skater Susan Humphreys, hockey and baseball athlete/builder George Hunchk, baseball and curling coach Roger Anholt, and multi-sport builder Stanley 'Hub' Gutheridge.