Andre Dawson did a lot of incredible things on the baseball diamond during his hall-of-fame career. But the man known to fans around the world as "The Hawk" can now check off one more accomplishment — albeit a rather bizarre one — after swooping into Winnipeg this week.
Dawson, 63, was the featured guest speaker Thursday night at Shaw Park, where he mingled with guests of both the human and bovine variety. It was all part of the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ annual "Grazing In The Outfield" fundraiser in support of their Field of Dreams Foundation, in which cows literally noshed alongside the patrons.
"We had days in Montreal where they did farm day. So I’m kind of visualizing it along those lines," the former Montreal Expos great told the Free Press on Thursday in an interview at the Fairmont prior to the event.
Dawson is still an imposing figure who draws a crowd wherever he goes — whether it was the folks paying $150 a ticket to hear him talk or numerous fans who flocked to him in the lobby of the hotel armed with posters, hats, T-shirts and balls they wanted signed.
"That doesn’t get old. But it reminds you that you’re getting old," Dawson said of the reaction. "It just happens everywhere, for whatever particular reason. The fans, they’re why you play the game."
Dawson had a 21-year MLB career, including 10 seasons with the Expos. He was an eight-time all-star, won the National League’s most valuable player award in 1987 and is just one of eight players in history with 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases on his resumé. Dawson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
"I try to be humble about it. When you become a household name, it sort of carries weight. For me it was a blessing, to do it for a very long time. I look back at it all, it really was the only thing I ever wanted to do, to play baseball," said Dawson. "When it all came to fruition, it was like ‘Wow, I really pulled it off.’ I never want to forget the road travelled and what it took to really fulfil what was a vision for me. For me, it was the experience of a lifetime."
Although he was born in Florida and continues to live in Miami, Dawson has a natural fondness for Canada. He didn’t know much about Winnipeg or its ball team prior to arriving in town, but was floored after hearing some details from a Free Press reporter, including about one particular member of the Goldeyes.
It turns out centre-fielder Reggie Abercrombie — the reigning home run and RBI king of the American Association — is one of Dawson’s all-time favourite people.
"I treated him like another son!" Dawson said. Abercrombie spent one of his three years in the majors as part of the Miami Marlins organization, where Dawson has worked for the past 17 years in an ambassador and public relations role. Dawson said he often worked with Abercrombie on his hitting and said his talent and ability were evident.
"He was hitting some monster shots," Dawson said. The two old friends were able to catch up and reminisce on Thursday night at Shaw Park.
Dawson said he remains a big fan of the game and is encouraged by so many young stars now making noise — from Giancarlo Stanton of his Marlins to Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge.
"The game has changed a lot, but talent seems to be becoming a premium again," he said.
Dawson would like to see MLB make a concerted effort to speed up games, which many fans view as a major issue. He said it’s also important teams find ways to make the product more attractive, especially for the younger generation, to ensure baseball continues to thrive.
There’s one other not-so-little change Dawson pines for — a return of professional baseball to Montreal.
"It’s a process that involves a lot of red tape. Obviously there’s a lot of variables that have to come into play. I do feel Montreal, in particular the fans, are starved. They really miss the game," said Dawson, who said relocation rather than expansion would be the likely source of a team. "Keep our fingers crossed and hope the momentum they do have continues to grow."
For those who think it will never happen, Dawson noted many folks didn’t think the Chicago Cubs would ever win another World Series. Dawson spent five years near the end of his career with the Cubs and admits he still has a soft spot for the team that broke its 108-year drought with a championship last fall.
"I think they were destined last year," he said.
Dawson admits a big part of his heart will always remain in Montreal — and Canada.
"They gave me my initial start. It was foreign in a sense in that I’d never left the state of Florida. I had to learn a lot very quick. It was a beautiful environment all along," he said. "I got the opportunity to see a different culture, another country, in the process. That meant a lot to me. I embraced that and tried to make the most of it."