Welcome to the first of hopefully many episodes of “Between Two Urns” – Interviews for People.
In this inaugural edition, I, Shaun Keay, sat down with my good friend Craig Cornell (well I assume we were both sitting when we were emailing back and forth), and went over some of the highs and lows so far in his SweatSox career.
If for whatever reason you have no idea who Craig is, shame on you, but don’t worry here’s what you need to know:
Craig Cornell was a part of the franchise changing SweatSox Rookie Class of 2003; the turning point of a team destined for failure. The man with the greatest hair in the league has played in 320 career games so far (4th most in team history, 40th most in NCBL history), and currently ranks in the Top 35 in all-time NCBL plate appearances, runs, hits, and RBI’s.
Cornell is the official SweatSox Consultant, the Treasurer of the NCBL, and the proud owner of a hot tub that he never lets us use, except for Josh that one time.
Learn more about Craig in his own words right here, right now, enjoy:
PART 1: LOOKING BACK
1. Where did you play baseball growing up? What’s your most legendary pre-SweatSox baseball story?
I grew up in a town called Marysville. Today (and even then) it was a community that was a part of the Northside of Fredericton, New Brunswick. It amalgamated with Fredericton in the early 70s but most people from the town refer to themselves as Marysvillers (or Villers) rather than Frederictonians.’
In Marysville, baseball is religion. Baseball Hill is home to Royals Field and in the summer sees 500 or so fans in attendance at Fredericton Royals games. The Royals are the perennial powerhouse of the New Brunswick Senior Baseball League. The Royals (the Marysville Royals) were New Brunswick’s first Canadian Champion in 1981 and the team has featured future major leaguers Paul Hodgson and Matt Stairs.
Royals Field was home to some legendary games. One such game saw the Royals lose 1-0 to the Cuban National team. Spaceman Bill Lee played in the NBSBL for awhile, towing the rubber and playing first base for the Moncton Mets. He used to jaw at fans down the first base line when Moncton was in town. Baseball was the number one entertainment activity in the area.
It was with that backdrop that I and all kids grew up in Marysville. We didn’t want to play in the majors; we wanted to play for the Royals. We would spend countless hours at Royals Field, side streets or backyards playing versions of baseball. It was a passion and many of us got to live the dream and play with the Royals.
Hard to pick a most legendary story because everything seemed like an event. Obviously loved everything about playing senior ball in NB. Even the road trips in the 15 passenger vans were fun. We honed our Forty-five skills and avoided moose on the old highways after games. The games were great; lots of passion; the odd bench clearing brawl; we were all in.
2. How did you end up joining the SweatSox?
I moved to Ottawa in the summer of 2002 after a year in the GTA. I hadn’t really played much since I left the East Coast for Vancouver and I was keen to see what was available in Ottawa. In the offseason, I found a few teams that were “looking for players”. If my memory is correct, I spoke with the Diamondbacks, Mustangs, Hurricanes and SweatSox. I had no idea the caliber of the NCBL or the various tiers but since I hadn’t played since 1998, I figured I shouldn’t strive too high anyway.
So the Hurricanes made their pitch. I went out to some tryouts at one of the domes and after the workout was offered the starting shortstop spot. I was happy that I was going to be able to play in 2003 but slightly concerned that as someone who always had a second basemen’s arm that I was so easily awarded the position.
In the next day or two I had a second “tryout”, this time with the SweatSox. It was slightly more unorthodox as it was over pints at the Prescott. I don’t recall exactly who was there but Chris Chapman was able to convince me to join the SweatSox instead of the Hurricanes. Soon after I went with Chris to my first NCBL meeting where I watched Chris helped vote down the new team application of the West End Warriors. Cory Bond and Dan Massey from that group would join us for opening day (and many other would be Warriors would follow). Within a couple of weeks I had a whole new baseball family. From the ’03 team Marc Lett, Cory, myself and of course you, Shaun have survived.
3. What’s your earliest SweatSox memory?
It is foggy but the aforementioned pints at the Prescott. My first on the field memory was at an early preseason practice thinking wtf have I gotten myself into.
4. What’s your earliest memory of me (Shaun Keay)?
I can’t recall if you were at the Prescott, presumably you were because you don’t miss many team functions, but my earliest on the field memory was thinking this guy is big and can hit a ball a long way.
5. Any special significance to why you wear #17?
I wore #17 during my days playing Junior ball in Fredericton. I had some success so I grew fond of it. It wasn’t available when I played Senior ball (retired for the legendary coach Buzzard Saunders) but when it was an option with the SweatSox I jumped on it.
6. Everybody remembers where they were for the Marc Lett walk-off slam. So where were you *exactly* on September 22, 2013 at 9:01pm?
Jumping up in down in disbelief halfway between the plate and our dugout.
7. What was your own greatest single game performance?
As a SweatSox player, just based on stats probably the 5/5 game against the Acadiens or Opening Day against Winchester in 2014 when I had a decent night including a grand slam. But I will say my most impactful performance was probably game 5 against Cornwall as well.
8. What was the game that we would’ve won if not for you?
I try to block these from my mind. There was the game where I kicked a couple of balls in the Brewer Tourney when Cory was pitching; also a 3 error game against the Gryphons at Kinsmen probably in 2007. I don’t know if we win those games if I wasn’t playing but I certainly didn’t help the cause.
9. What’s the angriest you’ve ever been during a game?
The angriest I’ve probably been is in the semis in 2015. We had won the pennant but were not playing well at all. At one point in the game someone needlessly stole third so I vocalized that we were DOWN5 fairly loudly I guess (editors note: it was Army) . We ended up coming back to win the game and it eventually became a bit of a rallying cry.
Nowadays, we’d much rather be down5 than down3 or down4…5 is special.
10. What’s your most memorable Hyjinx moment?
The great Asshole rules debate in Los Angeles in 2018.
11. What will you remember most from our 2019 championship season?
The offence. We were a force this year. Everybody hit.
12. What do you remember (second) most from our 2013 championship season?
Certainly not the brilliant semi-final win versus the Athletics.
13. What do you remember most from our 2005 championship season?
The debut of OMS vs the Phoenix. It was impressive and he only got better.
15. Of the 3 SweatSox championships, which one are you most proud of?
All three are special for various reasons:
2005 – silenced the people who thought we were stupid to leave tier 4. We kind of set the stage for tier 4 teams taking the jump to tier 3. It’s not a big deal any more.
2013 – was legendary as we finally got over the hump in Tier 2 and gave us some more credibility.
2019 – was kind of the return of our mojo. We had forgotten how to win after the move to Tier 1 so I think in some ways this helped right the ship.
It may be a bit of recency bias but I think 2019 is the correct answer here.
PART 2: THE CORNELL SPECIAL
16. You were once the manager of the SweatSox, accumulating 73 wins over 5 seasons. Those 73 wins are tied for 2nd most all-time with Doug Dorion. Do you think current “Authority” Cory Bond will ever let you fully manage a game so you can break that tie?
Probably. He wouldn’t let me manage enough to catch him for first place but he would probably give me a game. That being said, I take pride in being tied with Dorion. He is the foundation of the franchise.
17. Are you more proud of your perfect hair or seductive eyes?
I’m happy to still have hair that it is mostly still the colour it has always been. Nobody has ever commented about my hair on a napkin though.
18. You’ve won 2 Doug Dorion Memorial Trophies (MVP) so far in your career. There are 3 other SweatSox with exactly 2 Dorion’s on their resume (Doug Dorion, Lee Shields, and my uncle Bruce Gilbert), all Hall-of-Famers. Have you thought about what it means to be part of such a prominent fraternity, and can we expect you to maybe make a run at the even more exclusive 3-timers club next season?
As a non-pitcher, the Dorion thing is tough. We have a lot of talented hitters on this team so to win I would have to outhit them all and then hope the pitchers (who also hit) weren’t too dominant. I want our pitchers to be good. So no, I won’t win again, but I’ll keep trying.
19. Speaking of the SweatSox Hall of Fame, there hasn’t been a single inductee into the SHOF since 2010. As official Curator, why haven’t OG SweatSox like Shawn Gorman or Rob Tiziani, or more modern players like Denver Hunt or Shane White, been inducted yet?
One of the things I dislike about hall of fame inductions is when they get watered down. Barring some unfound research from the 1980’s coming to light, I think the hall of fame voting panel has almost perfectly captured the best players/contributors from the team of the previous millennium. The deserving players of the modern team are mostly still playing. Many other greats had short stints with the team before leaving. The truly obvious omission which needs to be rectified is the pending induction of Mark Dorrington. Every year I think we all hope for a return of the OMS so we often still think of him as active but it may be time to give up that dream and prepare for his induction ceremony.
20. At this year’s banquet, Bill Beelen presented you with the Joe Beelen Volunteer of the Year Award. What did it mean to be formally recognized by the Commissioner and the league for all your hard work as NCBL Treasurer, was there a cash prize with it, and did Bill’s plan to motivate & keep you Treasuring for another 14+ years work?
It’s hard to walk away from a position when you see all of the hard work that both Bill and Joe put into the league. I do my part, but it is minor compared to the effort the two of them put in 12 months a year. I will probably do it for another couple of terms and then we will see.
21. The highlight of our forgettable 2014 season was winning what has to be the only successfully protest in NCBL history. You were the driving force behind this in the moment; what do you remember about #Protest2014?
The thing about the protest is that it was so avoidable. When Adrian went out to bring his starter back in after letting one of his players pitch to a batter to qualify him, I went out and explained the rule to him and the umpire. The umpire said he was going to allow it anyway (because it had just been done earlier in the week). I basically said that if you were going to ignore the rule then we would have to protest the game.
They ignored it. We protested. We lost the game. Won the protest. And then won the game when we had to reset.
I took a bit of grief for protesting but if we had not choked away another game late in the year, that win may have gotten us in the playoffs. And we were the defending champs with a newly added Trep on the roster so who knows what we would have done.
22. Are there any umpires you’d like to “bring back”?
With the Coyotes potentially heading to tier 4, I’m hopeful we get some Neal Phadnis games next year. The league is full of a lot of talented umpires who are as invested in the league as much as the players. Not to single out guys out but umpires like Jean Lazure, Fred Malo, Erik McDonald, and Mark Keeping bring up the quality level of the NCBL with their professionalism and consistency.
And yes, if we could bring back Stu, I would get behind that. Not the other guy though…that tweet aged poorly.
23. You didn’t play Fall Ball with the SweatSox this year, but you have played Fall Ball before. Were you still physically hurt from our championship run this year, or perhaps still mentally hurt from your 0/3 3K (Castillo, BBeelen, Pluym) Fall Ball performance back in 2017?
A little of both. I tore my rotator cuff in late July and was limited to DH duty for the remainder of the year until the last game of the finals when my physiotherapist gave me the greenlight to throw. But I stupidly dove for a ball in the first inning and tore it in another spot. At least it came with a championship.
That 0/3 with 3Ks was tough. I have a pretty decent case as being the worst Fall Ball player of all time.
24. It seems like a lot of work to always have to backtrack on the base paths and pick up your helmet that doesn’t ever seem to stay on your head. Do you ever see yourself wearing a chin strap to help keep that bucket on your melon?
No chin strap but the red helmet is no more. It did not survive Fall garage clean-up. So look for a new helmet, possibly better fitting, in 2020.
25. Are you ever worried that one of your bats, after one of your graceful bat tosses, after what you think is ball 4 (but never is), will just keep floating into the night sky, never to be seen again?
LOL. It is always a lengthy walk back to get the bat.
26. You’re a member of at least 7 SweatChat groups + side chats. Which one is the most enjoyable (or least annoying)?
By far the Powers chat is the best. It is almost entirely filled with useful discussions related to the team. There is humour but it isn’t bogged down by some of the ridiculous tangents some of the other threads go off on. In a word the Powers is just efficient.
27. You’re the mastermind behind the legendary annual SweatTrips. What’s been your #1 highlight so far?
I love seeing the ballpark designs and how they are incorporated into the various neighbourhoods. There are a lot of highlights but I guess my number one is visiting the birthplace of baseball in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was on my checklist of things to do while in New York but it turned out to be infinitely better than I could have ever imagined. If you are planning a baseball trip to New York, contact one of us from the 2018 trip and we will give you the full scoop on Hoboken.
28. You’re been unusually secretive about the 2020 SweatTrip. Usually by this time of year you at least have a basic itinerary planned out. Have you figured out where we’re going? Will everyone be back from last year’s trip?
I have the rough trip schedule planned through 2028 with a couple of additional ideas to incorporate that likely gives us trips until 2031. The 2020 trip will be epic of course. Not sure who will be in this year but as in past years the entire active roster has been invited.
PART 3: FORTUNE TELLER
29. What is your personal baseball goal for the 2020 season?
It would be nice to repeat as champs. I have an outside shot at getting to 300 hits this summer (or most likely next) as do some other guys. That means a lot because it means I will have played with a great group of guys for a lengthy period of time.
30. Do you have a long-term baseball related goal?
Just play as long as I can.
31. Cory Bond drops dead right now. Who steps up as the next manager of the SweatSox?
Me in the interim until we figure out who takes over long-term: Mark Bond or Josh Ramage.
32. Bill Beelen gets headhunted to take over MLB. Who steps up as the next Commissioner of the NCBL?
Joe Beelen. He knows the inner workings of the league already and has been groomed to do this for many years. Or Tim Gautam.
33. Everyone knows the SweatSox goal is to finish no higher than 2nd. So which team is going to win the 2020 Tier 3 pennant?
Probably the Winchester Heat
34. Who wins the Doug Dorion Memorial Trophy next season (no half votes please)?
Mark Bond (but I predict this every year)
35. Who is definitely not winning the Doug Dorion Memorial Trophy in 2020?
No way Eric White is allowed to win his 4th.
PART 4: RAPID FIRE (ALL-TIME)
36. Favorite team to play against?
There are lots of great teams to play against. I’ll say the Braves…good group. Always fun with some good-natured chirping.
37. Least favorite team to play against?
Tough question…not really a good answer here. We got beat so badly in Tier 1 though that it certainly did make the games less enjoyable – so maybe the Panthers – they gave us our final tier one beatdown to ensure we never set foot in the tier again.
38. Favorite field?
Royals Field in Marysville (all time); PNC Park in Pittsburgh (MLB); Hamilton Yards (NCBL)
39. Least favorite field?
Kinsmen (editors note: that’s a shame)
40. Favorite teammate ever?
Too many to name. The current roster is loaded with great guys. I’ve played over ten years with you Shaun, Marc, Cory, Kent, John, Josh, Ross & Cop…that’s a long time with a lot of great memories. Among guys no longer on the squad, both Mark Dorrington and Bill Freeman brought a lot of talent, baseball sense and work ethic to the team. They helped give the SweatSox a lot of credibility. Chris Chapman brought me to the team and only ever takes one beer so he’s high on the list too. So many others.
Among non-SweatSox, my brother Kirk, Brady Moore and Greg Arnold was tremendous teammates when I played in Fredericton
41. Least favorite teammate ever?
Mike – he was a whiner who complained about playing time on one of my youth basketball teams. Suck it up Mike.
42. Favorite baseball position?
Would have thought I would say DH but after DHing consistently for awhile definitely third base.
43. Least favorite baseball position?
44. Favorite “position”?
45. Least favorite “position”?
46. Favorite MLB player?
47. Favorite MLB team?
48. The most overrated stat in baseball is?
49. The most underrated stat in baseball is?
50. Bunt or swing away?
51. The best baseball movie is?
My favourite is Major League; the best is Bull Durham
52. What’s your walk-up song?
No idea. Let’s go with “Out of the Black – Royal Blood”
53. Would you say you’re more of an Alex, Craig, Harmon, Kevin, Larry, Marty, Radon, or Sammy?
I really need to watch that show.
54. You need a base hit to save your life, which NCBL player do you want at the plate (excluding Pat Lyons, that’s too easy)?
It pains me to say it but the most guaranteed hit in the NCBL is an Eric White bunt down the 3rd base line.