Fastball a respite from cancer fight

August 11, 2009

Sudbury, ON

Fastball a respite from cancer fight
Rienguette's mere presence in Callander earns him MVP award
Brad Rienguette didn't throw a pitch or swing a bat during the weekend's Turk Turgeon Memorial fastball tournament in Callander, but he was still named the tournament's most valuable player.
It was Rienguette's presence which had the most impact on teammates on Stewie's Orphans, a collection of friends from throughout the North who captured the championship in the 10-team tournament.
But as former teammate, fellow fastball hurler and friend Ken Besner of North Bay said Sunday morning, I don't think I've ever seen so many grown men cry as I did this weekend."
Rienguette, 50, a world-class fastball pitcher in his day who was the MVP at the 1979 Canadian championships and remained an elite pitcher for two decades, is battling pancreatic and liver cancer.
Known throughout the province's fastball community as a burly, fun-loving figure, the Sudbury native has lost considerable weight and is in constant pain, although he's fighting as hard as I can."
He struggled to watch a couple games from the dugout Saturday, often keeled over in visible pain. He came out for post-game handshakes, which turned into hugs and tears as Rienguette caught up with former teammates such as Besner, Jim Lisk and Terry Vendetti -- Rienguette pitched for North Bay's 1991 Northern Honda provincial championship team.
He had everything as a pitcher, but more than that, he's just a great guy and we
became great friends," Besner said. We've had some good chuckles this weekend, remembering some good times. There are lots of good stories."
When word spread Sunday morning that Rienguette had to leave, there were more guys in the parking lot lined up to say goodbye than on the ball field or inside the Legion hall.
It means a lot," Rienguette said of spending the weekend with fastball friends. Over the last few years, this has been one of my favourite tournaments to just get together with the guys and have a good time.
We go back a long ways, so it's always good to see these guys. It's good to just come back to the ballpark and meet a lot of faces you've seen. Ballplayers are the best."
Rienguette's brothers, Gord and Ted, and father, Ralph, were on hand for the weekend, with Ted taking the field and playing for the first time since 1996. But the weekend was more than fastball.
Friday night there were five of us in the hotel room--in the last five weeks, I've never seen Brad smile so much as he was smiling Friday night," Ted said.
Rienguette first made his mark in the late 1970s, winning provincial titles for the Garson juniors.
While still junior-aged, he joined a St. Catharines team and pitched them to the 1979 senior national championship. At the nationals in St. John's, N. L., that year, Rienguette's fastball was clocked at 102 miles per hour.
I didn't believe it, but that's what they said," Rienguette said.
He's bruised a lot of catchers' hands over the years and batters often had to see two straight heaters whiz by and then wave at a 30-mile-an-hour changeup that seemed to stop in mid-air.
Rienguette estimates he's thrown a dozen no-hitters in competitive fastball, although others say the no-hitter count is more than 20.
What helped earn Rienguette such high regard among fellow players was the respect he's always shown for opponents and for the game.
Some say he probably could have thrown more no-hitters if he desired, but when his team had a comfortable lead, he would often choose to throw the ball in there to give opponents a chance to put the ball in play, rather than embarrass or overwhelm batters.
The whole idea about ball is to have respect for everyone," Rienguette said. If you don't have respect for your fellow ballplayer, you probably don't have much respect for yourself.
So I always tried to treat every ballplayer who came up to play against me like they were the No. 4 hitter on the ball club. That way, I'd show them respect, but I'd never try to embarrass anybody. I don't believe in that stuff."
Rienguette said going right from junior to winning a national championship in 1979 was among his favourite memories, but his experience in the sport is more about friends he's made and people he's met.
It's been a lot of fun over the years," Rienguette said. I've had a pretty amazing career when it comes to travelling places, playing a high level of ball, playing against the world's best and just meeting people from one end of North America to another and having a great time doing it."
North Bay's Bob Desgrosseilliers, who was part of the weekend reunion, came up playing junior ball with Rienguette in Garson.
As good a pitcher as Rienguette was, Desgrosseilliers also compares him to Babe Ruth, in that Rienguette is a character everyone loves and is always having a good time.
The good times were rolling on the weekend, but it was also emotional -- the odds in a battle against pancreatic cancer are not good and many old-time fastball die-hards made the most of an opportunity to share some memories.
At a team gathering Saturday night, teammate Doug Foley said, there was not a dry eye" in the room.
It was beautiful," Foley said. To have the chance for everyone to be together, share a few laughs and have a few beers, it was really special for everyone."

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Brad Rienguette
In 1999, Rienguette's Sudbury Relics won North Bay's World Senior Men's Fastball tournament, playing the weekend with patches on their sleeves to honour slain Sudbury police officer Rick Mac- Donald.
Next weekend's Rick MacDonald Northern Ontario championships have now been renamed in Rienguette's honour.
Organizers of next month's world senior tournament in North Bay will make Rienguette an honorary chairman, after being flooded with requests from throughout the province to do so.

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