The Winnipeg Goldeyes have produced major-league players, like Jeff Sparks and Bryan Myrow. They've even produced major league all-stars, like Jeff Zimmerman. But not until now could the Goldeyes claim that one of their own had gone on to climb baseball's highest pinnacle.
Winnipeg baseball fans meet Trien (Dong) Lien -- former Elmwood Giant, Goldeyes intern, Goldeyes trainer and since that crisp autumn day in Philadelphia last October, a winner of the World Series.
That ring on Lien's finger? Yeah, that's a World Series ring, his tribute for helping make the Phillies players the athletes they were during that remarkable run last fall.
And the tale of how the son of blue-collar immigrants from Vietnam -- Phong and Nancy -- went from playing in puddles on the fields of Elmwood to playing in a puddle of champagne in the Philadelphia Phillies locker-room last October is one of those fairy tales that could only happen on, well, a field of dreams.
"It's a gorgeous ring," Lien said by phone from St. Louis this week, where the Phillies were playing the Cardinals. "And it's unbelievable that I have one."
Unbelievable? No, anything's possible. But highly unlikely? Now you're talking.
Consider: Born in Indonesia to parents who were of Chinese descent but lived in Vietnam, Lien moved with his parents to Winnipeg as a toddler and grew up on the working-class streets of Elmwood.
He quickly found his passion in an American pastime on a Canadian field, playing ball for Chalmers Community Centre and then the Elmwood Giants. An outfielder, he was a speedy leadoff man and could swing the lumber, but it became clear to Lien at age 20 that baseball was done with him. "But I wasn't done with baseball," he says.
So Lien signed up for the athletic therapy program at the University of Manitoba and got the break that would put a World Series ring on his finger a decade later in his very first year. With his classmates all lined up to take on football and hockey internships that summer, Lien had a clear path to a much less coveted internship as an athletic therapist with the Goldeyes in 2001.
Two years later, he had the Goldeyes trainer job full-time. Two years after that, he was working for the Phillies in the Florida State League. Two years after that, he was the conditioning co-ordinator for the entire Phillies minor-league organization. And then last year, in his first year as the assistant trainer and conditioning co-ordinator for the big-league Phillies, well you know what happened next...
Phillies over Rays. Five games. And Dong Lien had himself a World Series ring.
Just to make the odds of this little ditty even longer, Lien was actually one of two former Northern Leaguers on the Phillies squad last year. The other, catcher Chris Coste, used to play for the Fargo RedHawks -- and the symmetry wasn't lost on either man last season.
"Coste and I have our moments, whether it's Opening Day or last year, during the World Series. I remember we were sitting on the bench looking around and someone said, 'We're a long ways from the Northern League.'
"We haven't forgotten our roots. We're glad to be where we are -- and we appreciate where we are. We reminisce about Doug Simunic and the rivalry between Fargo and Winnipeg. We talk about 'back in the day.'"
So, after riding the buses through the Northern League and enduring the lousy hotels, what's it like being in The Show?
"You couldn't be closer to the game and the players," says Lien. "You're in the clubhouse with them, you travel with them, you're talking with them every day... It's everyone's dream... 2008 is an incredible memory."