Ani Kyd Wolf is a musician, film director and actor trying to turn a very special double play.
Wolf was on the production team for one of the most acclaimed baseball movies of the past three years. The Silent Natural hit several long-balls on the film festival circuit, as well as with the hearing challenged community. It was an official entry (one of only 10) in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s 14th Annual Film Festival held at the Bullpen Theatre in Cooperstown. It stars Sheree J. Wilson (Walker, Texas Ranger), Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), Vernon Wells (Road Warrior), and deaf actor Miles Barbee in the lead role of William “Dummy” Hoy, the first deaf baseball star in history. Hoy played MLB centre field from 1888 to 1902 starting with the Washington Nationals and most notably for the Cincinnati Reds with whom he retired and is a member of their team Hall of Fame.
But perhaps Hoy’s most enduring legacy is seen at the end of every pitch when umpires gesture different ways for balls or strikes. It is believed he played a role in the development of these hand signals.
What doesn’t have to be believed, because the records are clear, is the way he played baseball. During his major league career he hit .288, got more than 2,000 hits, drove in 725 runs, and stole 596 bases. He once threw out three runners at home plate from centre field, unassisted, in a single game. At the age of 99, to a standing ovation he could see and surely feel but not hear, he threw out the first pitch of Game 3 at the 1961 World Series at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
From that true diamond tale, Wolf is involved in the development of a second baseball biopic. This one depicts the life of ace pitcher Phil Marchildon whose top-of-the-rotation career with the Philadelphia Athletics was interrupted by only 1.1 innings pitched for the Boston Red Sox to end his career and three years hurling machine gun fire from the tail of a Halifax bomber high over Nazi-infested Europe.
Suffering from acute PTSD and the physical trauma of nine months in a hellish prisoner of war camp to close WW2, he came back to anchor the A’s pitching staff and finish with a career 3.93 earned run average and 481 strikeouts.
Marchildon was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, the first year of the organization’s existence. He was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.
That’s right, Marchildon was a hero of the Royal Canadian Air Force as well as major league baseball.
He was also a relative of Wolf’s, she being born in Hamilton, the daughter of folk singer Dianne Kyd. Her family is largely rooted in Ontario, although Wolf was raised in B.C. from the age of 10.
After the edifying experience of telling the Dummy Hoy story on film, Wolf was hooked on the sport’s unique ability to drive in a good human tale. She could think of none better than her own forbearer.
“I come from a baseball family,” said Wolf from her home in the hamlet of Hixon, located halfway between Prince George and Quesnel in northern British Columbia. “My younger brother Luke is really into it. He’s no major leaguer but he’s in his 40s and still just loves to play, and he said ‘you know, you’ve got to read about Phil Marchildon; he’s family.’ He is our grandmother’s first cousin. Luke kept telling me to read his story, so, ok, fine, I’ll read his story. And when I dove into his life, I was blown away. I was like ‘Can this be real? Is this actually real and a member of my family?’ It became immediately important to me to do a film about Phil.”
Wolf had grown up knowing of the major leaguer in their family tree. It wasn’t an obscure relative, either. Although he passed away in Toronto in 1997 before she could meet him, she knew his direct descendants in the generations closer to her own.
Until her brother pushed his biography into her hands – Ace: Phil Marchildon, Canada’s Pitching Sensation and Wartime Hero written by Brian Kendall – she did not grasp just how cinematic his life had been. Wolf admitted she had to look a bunch of facts up as she read the book because she just couldn’t believe it all happened to one person, but it was all verifiable.
“It is almost like a Forrest Gump story, where one guy goes from famous situation to famous situation, but he always considered himself just a kid from Penatang (the nickname of his small Ontario hometown of Penetanguishene),” said Wolf. “We don’t have to warp it for dramatic purposes, we just have to tell it like it happened. The real challenge is going to be what to leave out, because there is so much amazing material to this man’s life. That’s what we are going through right now. The way Heather has it set up in the script is quite beautifully woven.”
Heather Kyd is her aunt, who grew up knowing her cousin Phil. She is also an experienced writer. She has taken on the screenplay duties while Wolf is handling the directing and co-producing roles. Marchildon’s daughter Donna is helping flesh out the detailed truths of the story for them.
Marchildon was just a local ball player for his employer’s team, Creighton Mines, in the Nickel Belt League. He got a full-ride scholarship after high school for St. Michael’s College in Toronto but that was for football.
The pigskin career got fumbled, however, but at age 20 he was a standout pitcher for the Spencer Foundry Rangers back in his hometown and the following year was the ace of the Penetanguishene Foundrymen (also called the Shipbuilders in some reports) who won silver in the 1934 Ontario Baseball Amateur Association championship.
His friends encouraged him to attend a tryout game for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International Baseball League, a farm system for the major leagues. At the tryout, Marchildon struck out the side in two straight innings and got an immediate offer to pitch in the big city.
The legendary baseball manager Connie Mack watched Marchildon develop in Toronto for a season and called him up to his Philadelphia Athletics team in 1940. His first two rookie outings were disastrous but with a fastball in the 90s and a lively curve ball, the A’s knew he just needed some experience. He went 10-15 in 1941, and he was on his way.
The next season the A’s only won 55 games, and Marchildon got the W in 17 of them. He was on his way to being a star player, but Marchildon could not sit idly by when the war was underway and every healthy man was hearing the call for duty. He enlisted in the RCAF. He was trained throughout 1943 and was assigned to his first mission in 1944 as part of a seven-man crew. He was given the position of tail gunner, a position not all that different from being a pitcher. You were all alone, your back to your teammates, the enemy was coming for you first, and it was your job to mow ‘em down with the best shots you could target at them. Being in the spotlight out on the pitcher’s mound was fraught with pressure, but being in the crosshairs as a tail gunner was fraught with peril.
He flew 26 missions. On the last one, all the fears came to pass. Their plane caught fire over northern Germany. Crewmembers had to abandon the bomber. The tail gunner is in a particularly precarious position in such aircraft. They are frequently the first ones targeted by enemy air attack, and if there is any airborne emergency, the tail gunner has to crawl through the tail tube to even consider escape. Somehow Marchildon and one other soldier aboard, George Gill, managed to parachute out of their disabled Halifax. They plunged into the cold, salty waves near Denmark, where four hours later Danish fishers heard their cries.
Denmark was not allied with Germany, but Hitler’s establishment considered that country a de facto brother state. The Nazis limited the brutality of their Danish occupation. When the Danes pulled the two Canadians from the water, that was as close to rescue as they would come. Nazis were waiting to collect them on shore.
Marchildon was officially “Missing In Action” while he was imprisoned in the infamous Stalag Luft III prison camp (the setting of post-war movies The Great Escape and The Wooden Horse). For nine months he barely survived malnutrition and other desperate conditions as the war waged. In the final days, he and the other allied inmates were subjected to a death march as their captors forced them out into the winter elements to hike en mass to other POW camps to avoid advancing Soviet troops. They were finally liberated by Allied soldiers only days before the final end of the war.
Marchildon, with an emaciated body and a traumatized mind, was sent home into the waiting embrace of his fiancé Irene. Together, they faced the emotionally crushing aftermath of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The POW camp was liberated in April. Connie Mack was soon contacting him to come pitch for the A’s and on August 29 at Shibe Park he was re-introduced to the fans who treated him to Phil Marchildon Night with ceremonies in between that night’s double-header. He then took the mound and pitched five innings of one-run ball in the second game.
That was just the beginning of his second act in baseball. In the 1946 season, he won 13 games for the lowly A’s, earned a 3.49 ERA and a WHIP of 1.372 – all while still trying to recover some of the 30 pounds he lost in the prison, joint and muscle deterioration, and somehow quiet the demons in his mind that sometimes came to visit him on the mound while tens of thousands of fans were screaming.
His 1947 results were even better. He was the Athletics’ opening day pitcher, got 19 wins on a losing ball club, two shutouts, and a 3.22 ERA that year. He faced a career high 1,172 batters for the season, 21 of his starts were complete games, and threw but one wild pitch the entire year. However, he led the majors in walks issued (140) and batters hit by pitches (seven) and at the age of 33, the signs of twilight were starting to glow on the horizon of his career.
It was an impressive career by any estimation. He pitched to future Hall of Famers like Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, George Kell, Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Luke Appling, Jimmie Foxx and Joe Cronin.
The next season was notable for another reason. Jackie Robinson may have broken the colour barrier first, but 1947 also saw four others make the jump from the Negro Leagues. Robinson and his fellow Brooklyn Dodger teammate Dan Bankhead played in the National League, so Marchildon never got to face them. However, Marchildon lined up against three of the five that year – the American League colour pioneer Larry Doby of Cleveland, Willard Brown of the St. Louis Browns (both went on to the Hall of Fame), and Hank Thompson also on the Browns.
In the 1948 season, in a July 15 doubleheader with Cleveland, Marchildon pitched game one and the first black pitcher in the American League (Bankhead broke the National League colour barrier for pitchers with Brooklyn the season before), Satchel Paige, pitched in game two. Paige made his majors debut less than a week earlier on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Marchildon also went head to head with future Hall of Fame pitchers like Hal Newhouser and Bob Feller.
Feller was another who interrupted his stellar career to go to war, as did Marchildon’s Athletics teammate Dick Fowler who was also away for three years before returning to the Philadelphia starting rotation. Fowler was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame two years after Marchildon – two Ontario boys in the A’s rotation at the same time.
The war and the baseball would be inextricable for Marchildon, no matter what the on-field results. He would later say that the war heaped upon him all the worst circumstances his life would encounter and yet he did not regret his service to country and taking on the battle for democratic freedom.
His wife Irene was another element to the Marchildon story. She bore the private weight of his PTSD right alongside him, even if such things were not understood in those times. She and Marchildon carried on together when, in hindsight (again, not a well understood condition at the time), Marchildon tore a rotator cuff but continued to pitch. This amplified the loss in his effectiveness in his last years in baseball. Irene would stand by his side as a true life-partner through it all. Wolf called it “a beautiful love story” underpinning the battles on the ball fields and in the air.
He struggled in 1950 in Triple-A Buffalo, he tried out for the Maple Leafs again in 1951 but couldn’t make the team, and sank into a brief depression over his forced retirement from baseball while still a relatively young man.
Once again, though, his fortunes made a strong defensive play. Marchildon got a job at an aviation company – one that was working on a little project he had some background with. It was a little air force project called the Avro Arrow, a prototype Canadian fighter jet that had the world excited. Despite the plane’s stellar training flight results, the development program got cancelled due to politics. Marchildon and the Arrow were together as military brothers, both noted for hurtling missiles with speed and precision, both forced to retire before their time for reasons they could not control or overcome.
“So many people have never heard of him, but he has such a compelling story,” said Wolf. “The family has said for years ‘Phil’s story has got to be a film, his life was just mind-blowing’ and my brother Luke is the catalyst of this.”
Wolf feels ready to take it on now thanks in large part to the storytelling and baseball atmosphere she experienced behind the scenes in The Silent Natural. It was an American story, shot mostly in Kentucky, with an almost entirely American cast and crew (notable fact: all deaf characters in the film were portrayed by deaf actors), but Wolf felt strongly moved by the Dummy Hoy narrative.
She met the movie’s director and lead scriptwriter Dave Risotto at the AFM (American Film Market) Convention several years ago and they struck up a working friendship. Wolf was transitioning into the film industry after many years primarily in the music sector, and Risotto had been involved in a number of past endeavours (eight years in the US Air Force including service in Vietnam, acting, film editing and more) leading him towards directing movies. “He needed a producer on board, and I really loved the story,” said Wolf. “We got along really well and shared a lot of the same ideas for getting the project from A to B to C.”
They linked up on the production team along with Branscombe Richmond (110 episodes of Renegade, among other credits) to assemble all the parts for The Silent Natural.
“It has been doing really well. It was such a cool process, really fun, and the Dummy Hoy story is pretty cool: the first deaf Major League Baseball star,” said Wolf. “It looks great, it has some great people in it, great actors, a lot of people really like it, it won a bunch of awards in film festivals. It’s still out there doing cool, incredible things.”
Risotto insisted that she have a small on-screen part in the film. The only other Canuck in the cast was Canadian film legend Tyler Mane (Sabretooth in the X-Men franchise, Chopper in the TV series of the same name, iconic horror character Michael Myers in the Halloween reboot). The movie tough-guy from Saskatchewan played the part of a protective teammate who sticks up for Hoy when others on the team were hostile to the deaf player in their midst.
“Tyler and I went to a guitar show when we were in Nashville,” said Wolf (Nashville was near their filming location). “It was pretty funny, actually. I ended up buying this mandolin / banjo thing that I haven’t played since I bought it, pretty much, it’s this insane thing. And he bought a really cool acoustic guitar. He’s an amazing guitar player, actually. So yeah, the two Canadians on the production, that’s it, just the two of us.”
In the way a Canadian can feel moved by an American tale, she knows the Marchildon story will be embraced by Americans and the world. An interesting life transcends all borders.
“It’s true Canadian history and I feel so strongly that this story be told,” she said.
The major challenge she faces is accumulating the funding to roll cameras. She’s making pitches of her own, now, everywhere from board rooms to elevators where investors might be. But like Marchildon’s fastball, she is confident this film will strike financial success. It’s a Canadian project with appeal in the United States, England, and beyond.
“It’s my blood. I was literally born to do this. The family has been waiting for some film director to take this on, and it was perfect that it be me. I’ve got one baseball film under my belt, and it’s a really cool period piece, a story about the underdog, and I think this one is just like that, beautiful stuff in it all over the place, and it’s my family.”
Michael Saunders takes helm of MiLB Augusta GreenJackets
Victoria, BC native and nine-year MLB veteran (Mariners, Blue Jays, Phillies) to manage inaugural season of Atlanta Braves Single-A affiliate
March 30, 2021
NORTH AUGUSTA, SC. – The Augusta GreenJackets, Single-A Affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, in conjunction with their parent club, are excited to announce the Inaugural Field Staff for the 2021 Championship Season at SRP Park. Michael Saunders will take the helm as Manager in his first season with the GreenJackets.
Joining Saunders in North Augusta are Mike Bard as Hitting Coach, Elvin Nina as Pitching Coach, Myles Schroder as a Coach, Austin Smith as the Athletic Trainer, and Kyle Lindsey as the Strength Coach.
“We’re thrilled to welcome the GreenJackets to the Braves minor league system, stated Ben Sestanovich Assistant General Manager, Atlanta Braves. “Their state of the art facility will be a tremendous addition to our development program. We are looking forward to a great 2021 season.”
Michael Saunders brings nine years of experience in Major League Baseball, having spent time with the Seattle Mariners (2009-2014), Toronto Blue Jays (2015-2016), and Philadelphia Phillies (2017). Saunders’ career batting average was .232 in 2,400 plate appearances. He was a 2016 All-Star during his time in Toronto. In 2020, Saunders was slated to be Manager of the Danville Braves.
“I know I can speak on behalf of everybody when I say how excited we all are to have baseball back in 2021.” stated Michael Saunders GreenJackets Manager. “We couldn’t be happier to have it be with the City of North Augusta and at SRP Park. The journey to Atlanta goes through here.”
Mike Bard leads the offense as Hitting Coach. In 2020, he was selected as the Rome Braves Hitting Coach but now brings his years of experience to North Augusta. Bard has over a decade of NCAA Division I Coaching Experience at top schools, including the University of Kansas and Texas Tech University. He was the Assistant Hitting Coach for the Colorado Rockies in 2007.
Pitching Coach Elvin Nina was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He spent seven years at the AAA level. Nina began his coaching career in 2009 with the Helena Brewers (2009-2013), Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (2014), and the GCL Pirates (2015-2017). In 2019, he became the pitching coach for the GCL Pirates.
“We are excited to welcome Michael and the staff to North Augusta to kick start the new era of GreenJackets Baseball,” stated Tom Denlinger Augusta GreenJackets Vice President. “The energy that Michael and his staff have for the return of GreenJackets Baseball to SRP Park is contagious and we cannot wait for Opening Night!”
About SRP Park/Augusta GreenJackets
The GreenJackets 2021 Game Schedule is out and available online at www.GreenJacketsBaseball.com. The full promotional schedule; including post-game fireworks shows, giveaways and theme programs will be released by the GreenJackets in the future. 2021 Augusta GreenJackets season seat memberships are on sale now. To learn more about the benefits and to get in on the 2021 action, visit www.gjmembers.comor call (803) 349-WINS (9467).
The Low-A East schedule is subject to change. It is the Low-A East and Major League Baseball’s commitment to protecting the health and safety of players, club employees, and fans.
SRP Park is the anchor piece of Riverside Village, a live, work, “playball” development which includes apartment living, retail, restaurants, class “A” office space, and a Crowne Plaza Hotel and Conference Center. To learn more about SRP Park and hosting events and availability, visit www.thesrppark.com.
Saskatchewan’s Logan Hofmann preparing for spring training with Pittsburgh Pirates
March 3, 2021
MUENSTER — Like most Saskatchewan residents after a long winter, Muenster’s Logan Hofmann is excited for spring.
The son of Tara and Chad Hofmann has spent the past many months preparing for his first professional spring training in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. While Hofmann does not know exactly yet when he will head down to Florida, the right-handed pitching prospect said:
“Honestly the thing I am looking most forward to right now is throwing a baseball outside. I have been home since mid-November, so I have been throwing inside for just over three months now. It will feel good to actually be able to get outside and throw as well as getting on a dirt mound outside rather than throwing bullpens inside on a portable turf mound.”
The Bucs made Hofmann the highest player drafted out of Saskatchewan when they nabbed him in the fifth round, 138 overall, in the Major League Baseball Draft last June. That was after he went 4-0, en route to Second Team All-American honours, in a COVID-19 shortened season at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
In a late February article on the Rum Bunter website, a Pirates fan site, writer Noah Wright mentioned Hofmann in an article about the wealth of talented pitching prospects the Pirates have accumulated. He noted the hurler had ended his college career with 28 straight innings without allowing a single earned run.
The last time Hofmann threw in a competitive baseball game was March 6, 2020. He has tossed plenty of live at bats and even an intrasquad games since then. Hofmann cannot wait to compete again in a real game.
“I am most excited about just getting out there and feeling the adrenaline and nerves of being on the mound in pressure situations,” he said. “I love that feeling so it will be good to get back out there and throw in competitive games this summer.”
Last summer – instead of starting his pro journey like he would have in non-COVID-19 pandemic times – Hofmann was at home. Almost every day, he threw at his community’s field – including bullpen sessions and live at-bats with local young players.
“It was fun to just be around the field all summer and to be able to do the thing I love even though my pro career had to be put on hold for another year,” he said.
In the fall, Hofmann spent some time back in Louisiana taking classes and training. He was at a Pirates’ mini instructional camp in Florida in October.
This winter, Hofmann has been laser focused on improving various aspects of his game. He studies video, works out in Humboldt, throws in his basement, and does indoor bullpen sessions at Saskatoon’s Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
“I watched a lot of video on my mechanics, other guys mechanics, and at bats from past major league seasons of guys and how they sequence their pitches,” Hofmann said. “During my bullpens, I just wanted to learn as much as I could about my pitches and how they move and come of out my hand so I can apply it when facing hitters. I want to show up to spring training and do the same thing, continue to learn about my pitches and take in knowledge from other pitchers and coaches there so it can help me during the season.”
In Saskatoon, Hofmann has trained at times with Andrew Albers. The 35-year-old pitcher has played professionally for more than a decade during a career that included time with the Toronto Blue Jays. In February he signed with the Minnesota Twins after a trio of seasons in Japan.
“I have learned a lot from him – whether it’s from mechanics on the mound to life in the minor leagues,” Hofmann said. “We have talked a lot about both of those things, and I think it has already benefited me and he will continue to be a great resource to learn from him in the future. He has played at every level and been in pro baseball for a long time so obviously he knows what he is doing and that is great for me to have someone that has experienced what I am about to get to experience.”
A couple years ago, Hofmann also got a chance to talk to Marysburg product Cole Bauml. He was an outfielder in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system.
“It was neat to hear about his time in pro baseball and some of the things that go on in the minor leagues,” Hofmann said.
While he is headed to his first pro spring training, Hofmann’s baseball journey has already had several stops. They include playing for his hometown 18U Red Sox (where he was coached by his father), the Colby (Kansas) Community College Trojans, the Moose Jaw Miller Express of the Western Canadian Baseball League, the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League, and the Northwestern State University Demons. No matter where the game has taken him, Hofmann has been backed by his extended family.
“The support from my family has been great ever since I was a young kid,” he said. “They have all come to watch and support me at some point over the years and continued to follow along throughout college and now into pro baseball. I’m sure they are looking forward to coming down to the states to watch me when they can as well.”
Published here with permission from the Humbolt Journal
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