ST. GEORGE — With the wind blowing in and the skies threatening, José Canseco stepped up to the plate. He adjusted his stance, tapped home plate with his bat and settled in.
Then he swung. The clang of the aluminum bat meeting the neon softball sent the chins of fans gathered at Bruce Hurst Field upward, oohing and aahing as if they were watching a fireworks display.
Several times, the ball sailed over the left-field fence, one shot traveling 462 feet. And he did it again and again and again, much to the delight of the hundreds who Monday evening watched the former Major League Baseball All-Star and other local sluggers swing their bats to support the Washington County Children’s Justice Center.
Several days earlier, during a March 24 radio broadcast on Fox Sports Southern Utah, 99.5-FM, Canseco said he hoped “the wind would be blowing out” so he could challenge the 500-foot barrier, which would produce a $5,000 gift from those who had earmarked donations in advance. And while he didn’t surpass his personal best of 595 feet – “I was a lot younger then, and the wind was blowing out” – the 57-year-old who jokes about having “a bad knee and a bad shoulder” put on a show.
He joined several dozen St. George-area police officers, Dixie State University students and staff and local softball players to raise nearly $15,000 for the Children’s Justice Center.
The event was sponsored by Vacation Resort Solutions owners Brandy and Kelly Perry along with Jordan Perry, general manager of Best Western Plus Settlers Point. Brandy Perry said during the radio broadcast that this service for troubled youth plays an important role in the community.
“It’s a safe place for kids to come so they can heal,” she said. “Back in the day, they went to the police stations. They always felt like, ‘I’m in trouble. Something’s wrong.’ This is a place they feel safe. They can get the counseling. They can deal with the trauma and move on and help heal.
Brandy Perry also noted the generosity of Southern Utah businesses that play a vital role in supporting the Children’s Justice Center.
“We’re a non-profit organization, so we rely on donations,” she said. “So it’s a phenomenal opportunity that Jose was willing in his spare time to come out here and be the face and do something great. We couldn’t be more grateful.”
Canseco, however, wasn’t the only former big-leaguer on hand Monday night. Bruce Hurst delivered one pitch to Canseco, who had joked during the radio broadcast of facing the retired southpaw: “Only one time I’ll swing and miss.”
Monday night, Hurst delivered an overhand fastball right down the heart of the plate, and Canseco grounded it straight up the middle.
According to mlb.com, Hurst won 145 games and struck out 1,689 batters during his 15-year career (1980-1994). Meanwhile, Canseco hit 462 home runs between 1985 and 2001 – and struck out 1,924 times.
“In the major leagues, he was my nemesis,” said Hurst, occasionally glancing at Canseco, who continued to hit laser shots over the fence. “We have a little bit of a history. My last year in Texas, we were teammates.”
However, between 1986 and 1988, Hurst faced Canseco 23 times while they were playing for the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s, respectively. Canseco struck out in nine of those at-bats but also jacked three home runs.
Hurst, who is a native of St. George and clearly was humbled to be part of the charity event in the stadium named after him, signed baseballs and posed for photos with youth, as did Canseco before taking the batter’s box.
“It’s obviously immensely flattering,” said the crafty southpaw, now 66 years old, of the facility. “I haven’t been here in a long long time, to the field, and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s beautiful. They’ve done a wonderful job and spent a lot of hours caring for this like a real big leaguer. It’s a beautiful field. I’m immensely proud.”
Standing along the first base line away from the crowded dugout, Hurst reflected on his career, which included stints with Boston, San Diego, Colorado and Texas. He said his greatest memory is pitching in the 1986 World Series.
“It’s my dream come true,” Hurst said. “Anytime I was in the backyard throwing the ball against the wall, it wasn’t some game in May. It was the seventh game of the World Series. I got my chance, and that was fun.”
The Red Sox lost to the New York Mets in seven games, but not before Hurst won games 1 and 5 and pitched six innings in the decisive Game 7, which the Mets won 8-5. Hurst forever will be associated with the dubious distinction of having been voted the World Series MVP near the completion of Game 6. But a miracle comeback by the Mets in the 10th inning forced Game 7, and the award eventually went to Mets third-baseman Ray Knight.
Looking back on it, Hurst simply smiled and said: “I was the shortest MVP in World Series history, that’s for sure.”
From the fans in attendance to the retired pitcher and batter and everyone in between, Hurst expressed what many seemed to be feeling about the Children’s Justice Center on Monday and beyond.
“It’s great to see the turnout here. There’s huge support from the community,” he said. “This is something we wish we didn’t have to fund, but it’s important that we do it and it’s necessary.”
St. George News reporter Eric Goold contributed to this report.
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