AS I SEE IT COLUMN: The toughest baseball player ever


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When you get to be as old as this scribe is and you used to play baseball, you’ve met a whole bunch of baseball players along the way.

Let me tell you about the toughest baseball player I’ve ever seen.

The Oxford dictionary defines tough as being able “to endure hardship or pain.”

Longstanding La Broquerie Reeve John Giesbrecht played baseball without a glove for his entire life. (The Carillon Archives)
Longstanding La Broquerie Reeve John Giesbrecht played baseball without a glove for his entire life. (The Carillon Archives)

I’ve played on provincial championship teams, won a medal at the fastpitch Nationals, had the great fortune to play with the best junior-aged pitcher in all of Canada (Greg Bouchard) and the best hitter in the country (Randy Dutaime), and none of them, none of my other teammates and no member of an opposing team comes even remotely close to being the world’s toughest baseball player.

I met this amazing baseball player at a Sunday School picnic in Grunthal in the 1970’s.

Readers of The Carillon will know him as a long-serving Reeve, but before I reveal his name, let me explain why he is easily – by orders of magnitude – the toughest ball player I’ve ever seen.

What made him so tough?

He played without a glove. And even though he didn’t have a glove, he didn’t hide in the outfield where he would only encounter a few balls.

No, this tough guy wanted to play at first base, where he is involved on almost every play.

When the game started, those of us playing in the infield would gently lob a ball to first when a grounder was hit our way, because none of us wanted to hurt him. After all, he didn’t have a glove.

After several hitters beat our very slow throws to first, this tough guy told all of us to stop taking it easy on him and “to burn it in there.”

So we did. And the sound of a hard-thrown ball heading to first base and hitting raw flesh is a sound I can still distinctly remember, even though it was more than half a century ago.

If us infielders got a slow grounder and had to really pepper it to the toughest ball player of all time to get the runner out, we would throw it hard, and the tough guy would catch it without flinching.

All of us on the diamond that Sunday summer afternoon were blown away by his toughness. His teammates and opponents alike were in awe of what we were witnessing.

I asked him in between innings why he didn’t have a glove, he said his family never had the money to buy a glove. And when I asked him if he wanted to borrow a glove to play first, he said “I don’t how to use a glove. I only know how to catch with my bare hands.”

In the same way I can vividly remember the unique sound of his bare hands catching balls at first base, I can clearly remember looking at his hands after the game. His hands were so tough from decades of hard work on the farm, they kind of looked like they were leather ball gloves.

At a choral concert a few weeks ago I got to share this story with the tough guy himself.

He is John Giesbrecht, the man who was the Reeve of La Broquerie for over 30 years.

Over three decades of public service is amazing in its own right, but playing first base without a glove is the stuff of legends. It’s the kind of thing if you saw it on TV or in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it. But it happened. We saw it with our own eyes and heard it with our own ears.

Congratulations Mr. Giesbrecht, on your many years of service to your community but also for being the toughest ball player of all time.

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