Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Failed dream a new beginning

Bay won't make bigs, but he can help kids make it

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THOSE who can, do. And those who cannot? Well, those are the teachers.

And the hardest part? That comes on the day the realization sets in that you're destined to belong to the latter group.

Which is roughly where we found Ronald Perry (Bear) Bay on Thursday.

"It was really hard at first, that realization," said Bay, one of the most popular members of the Winnipeg Goldeyes the last two seasons before an off-season trade shipped him to Joliet.

So hard, in fact, that Bay says it became a matter of faith, this idea that a lifetime of work aimed at one goal -- playing major league baseball -- had maybe been misdirected.

"I had a hard time for awhile -- I just had to put my trust in Him," says the 26-year-old Chicago Cubs draft pick, who made it as high as Triple-A in 2006 before his promising career headed south, plummeting all the way to the independent leagues.

"I didn't even put myself out there this off-season. I did the winter before and I was in mid-season form, throwing 88-89 m.p.h., hitting my spots and throwing hard. And I wasn't even on a mound, I was throwing in a cage. And all I got (from major league scouts) was, 'OK, we'll keep you in mind.' One scout told me, 'Keep playing, if you have a good year that says a lot.' "

So Bay went out last season and did just that, posting an 8-3 record with the Fish, leading the league in starts and finishing third in ERA and wins.

Bay's reward? He got traded at season's end in the conclusion of the deal with Joliet that brought third baseman Vince Harrison to town for a late playoff run. And those scouts? "I didn't even get a sniff."

It was the kind of experience that would embitter many ballplayers. But Bay is both practical and philosophical.

His practical side tells him that his failure to advance his big league dream comes down to numbers -- while he comes agonizingly close, he just doesn't have them.

"I really think a big part of it is that I throw close to 90 (m.p.h.), I throw around 90, but I just can't get up to that 90-92 the scouts look at. And that plays a big part in it. If I could just get up there and stay there, I think things would be different."

And then there is the philosophy of a man who has noticed that even while he has struggled to get noticed between the lines, his work helping younger players has flourished.

Even when he was with the Goldeyes, Bay offered baseball lessons as a way to moonlight in the off-season. But his services have become increasingly in demand recently in his off-season home in Houston and he's no longer just moonlighting.

He's been coaching a high school team, has an offer to be a pitching coach for another team and a Houston bank executive has even offered to hire him to be the full-time coach for his son's 12-year-old baseball team -- that's right, a full-time paid coach for a team of 12-year-olds.

"A salaried position, yeah," says Bay. "It's actually not that uncommon back home."

Bay says the work pays well -- "You can say I'm making enough that I don't have to worry about doing this (playing independent baseball for peanuts) the rest of the year" -- but what's even more satisfying is the intangible rewards. "I'll have a kid come and see me and in two or three lessons their parents are going, 'Wow!'

"I had a kid come to me two years ago and I started throwing soft-toss to him. And he was hitting maybe one out of 20. By the end of the off-season, I was firing at him. And he was turning on every single one.

"He found some confidence, he started believing in himself... And so to make a difference in a kid's life like that, it's an unbelievable feeling.

"It makes me think maybe the reason I've gotten as far as I have in this game, why I was given all these opportunities, was so I would have the knowledge to pass on to these kids."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2010 C3

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