There will be a larger audience paying attention on June 24, when James Douglas “Doug” Hudlin is officially inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
But on Sunday in his old neighbourhood at Cook Street and Hillside Avenue, an enthusiastic crowd of family, friends and National Little League families and alumni gathered to pay tribute to a born-and-raised Victorian whose knowledge and passion for the game, and his love of teaching young players made him a legendary and larger-than-life figure on diamonds around Victoria.
The City of Victoria, asked by Hudlin’s niece, Barbara Hudlin to participate somehow in Sunday’s special tribute at the park where he got his umpiring start in 1953, did one better and declared June 11 Doug Hudlin Day in Victoria.
“This is his home turf, so it is special, it couldn’t be anywhere else. It had to be here at National Little League,” said Barbara, one of many family members at the park wearing a shirt with a photo of Doug wearing his umpire’s cap. “It’s an honour I think, for the park and for the Hudlin family.”
Barbara and her cousin, Joe Slye, and his wife will be in attendance at the induction ceremony in St. Mary’s, Ont. Hudlin is being posthumously honoured, having passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.
Slye, who lives in Kelowna, said of his uncle, “He had a great legacy here in Victoria and lots of people loved him. He gave back to his community and instructed kids on how to play baseball … he taught me a lot about how to make it through life and how to be a man.”
“Mr. Hudlin,” as most players and many coaches respectfully referred to him in more than 40 years behind the plate, was well-known for his confident consistency on the field and his habit of offering in-game pointers to the developing players under his watch.
Charlie Strandlund, a former Victoria Seals player who started out in the game as Hudlin was winding down his umpiring career, experienced that directly in 1991 when he was catching a game in front of the white-haired ump. Not only did Hudlin help the fledgling player with his positioning, he gave others on the field valuable tips, Strandlund recalled.
“He was just a great ambassador for the game,” said Strandlund, who used his connections down south to get Hudlin’s accomplishments considered for inclusion in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. “Mr. Hudlin was truly there for the kids.”
Longtime National Little League volunteer Don Moore said he was quite surprised, upon visiting the Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s, Ont. in 2011, to find Hudlin’s name absent from the list of inductees.
After collecting scrapbook material from the humble Hudlin, Moores assembled and submitted a nomination package in 2013 detailing the umpire’s major accomplishments.
Among them, in 1967 he became the first non-American to work the Little League World Series, and he went back in 1974. He also umpired in five Canadian Little League championships, two Senior Little League World Series and numerous provincial championships between 1953 and 1992. Not only that, he was president of the Victoria District Umpires Association from 1963 to 1974, when he founded and became the first president of the B.C. Baseball Umpires Association.
“It took a few years to get him there, but it was worth the wait,” Moore said of finally hearing of Hudlin’s election to the Hall in February.
Barbara Hudlin, who spoke of her uncle in the present tense, couldn’t be happier for this honour.
“Doug is that man, he’s there for you, he’s present, he’s beloved, he’s all of that,” she said. “That’s just who he is, he’s a very kind, calm-hearted person.”
HarbourCats honouring Doug Hudlin at RAP this Tuesday night
The honours continue this week for the beloved Victoria umpire. Before Tuesday’s (June 13) West Coast League game between the Victoria HarbourCats and Port Angeles Lefties, a pregame ceremony will honour his election to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Speeches from Barbara Hudlin and HarbourCats manager Brian McRae will be made, as Little League players from National and Beacon Hill line the field at Royal Athletic Park. Game time is 6:35 p.m. with the ceremony to start beforehand.