OAKLAND — It was simple advice, but coming from a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, maybe it carried more weight. Standing in front of approximately 70 young baseball players at the Harold Alfond Fenway Park at Camp Tracy, Ferguson Jenkins urged them to simply have fun. When he first started playing baseball, Jenkins was a first baseman. Pitching, the skill that earned Jenkins a spot in Cooperstown, didn’t come until later.

“I had a lot of fun playing. I didn’t start to pitch until I was 16. So don’t think the position you’re playing right now is what you’re going to try to maybe get a scholarship with or whatever,” Jenkins said. “Because things change. Your body changes and you grow, you get smarter. I tell kids, try and be a sponge. Listen to what the instructors or coaches are telling you. Take it all in and use your ability to try to be a winning athlete.”

Jenkins was one of a handful of former Major League players on hand for the New England Baseball Camp on Monday morning. Keith Foulke, the closer on the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox was there, along with former Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez, Minnesota Twins shortstop Greg Gagne, and Bangor native Matt Kinney.

Known most for his time with the Chicago Cubs, Jenkins was a standout athlete. He excelled at hockey as a youth. In the late 1960s, Jenkins played with the Harlem Globetrotters in the offseason. Although he pitched two seasons — 1976-77 — for the Red Sox. Jenkins said this was his first visit to Maine. The only Canadian in the Hall of Fame, Maine reminded Jenkins of home.

“It reminds me of Ontario, with all the trees, the pines and the large forest you have here,” Jenkins said.

A few weeks ago, Jenkins was back in Cooperstown, N.Y., on the stage with the other returning Hall of Famers, for this year’s induction ceremony.

“It’s nice to sit on the dais with, Whitey Ford still comes, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays a lot of times. My ex-roommate, Ernie Banks, he used to show up all the time. Unfortunately, he passed away. The nice thing about it, it’s a ceremony that honors you as a player and what your ability was all about. I think that’s really significant,” Jenkins said.

Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962, Jenkins was traded to the Cubs in 1966. When the Cubs made Jenkins a starter in 1967, his career took off. Jenkins won at least 20 games for six consecutive seasons, and won the National League Cy Young Award in 1971. Jenkins won 25 games for the Texas Rangers in 1975. He retired in 1983, after winning 284 games and pitching 4,500 innings.

The call from the Hall of Fame came in 1991. Jack Lang, the Executive Secretary of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America at the time, told Jenkins he’d call at 5 o’clock. Jenkins’ phone rang at 5:10, ending the longest 10 minutes of his life.

“He phoned me on a Friday night, and he said ‘Gaylord (Perry), Rod Carew and yourself are leading in the ballots.’ This is my third opportunity on the ballot. I was really proud to know that I made it,” Jenkins said. “The first person I phoned was my dad, who was still alive at the time. On the other end of the phone, you could tell he was pretty proud.”

Jenkins can relate to the pride Pedro Martinez showed for his Dominican heritage during his induction last month.

“There were a lot of Canadian flags. I was a band major at the boys school I went to. My band showed up with every instrument you can name. They came with two bus loads, and they played “O Canada” before I got a chance to go up to the podium. I was pretty proud,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins won 22 games in his two season in Boston. The 1977 Red Sox won 97 games, but finished 2.5 games behind the New York Yankees.

“Freddy Lynn was the center fielder for me. Jimmy Rice, Yaz and Fisk, and we had a great pitching staff. We should’ve won it in ’77. Bill Lee, Rick Wise, (Jim) Willoughby, myself, Dick Drago, so many good players. Unfortunately, we got caught by the Yankees,” Jenkins said.

Next year will be the 25th anniversary of Jenkins’ induction into the Hall of Fame. He’ll continue going back to Cooperstown for the induction ceremony. Just as he had advice for the young ballplayers at camp, Jenkins has advice for his new brothers in the Hall of Fame.

“I tell a lot of guys, ‘Hey, there’s no reason to be nervous.’ I mean, this is an honor you worked at, to go up there and talk in front of a lot of your fans you generally don’t see after you retire,” Jenkins said. “You get a chance to express exactly how you feel, and people take that into heart. You played for a certain ballclub for a length of time and that’s why they’re there to celebrate with you.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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