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Mike Kilkenny, major-league pitcher from Bradford, an 'old soul' storyteller (7 photos)

Bradford West Gwillimbury native honoured to have Mike Kilkenny Field named after him, says wife

Michael Kilkenny may have been known as “Killer” on the baseball diamond, but he was a man who dearly loved his family and friends.

The former Major League Baseball pitcher, originally from Bradford West Gwillimbury, is being remembered as a man who was always quick with a story and was proud of his hometown roots.

He died June 28 from colorectal cancer. He was 73.

His family plans to bury his ashes in a BWG cemetery in August.

“He made you feel like you were the only one in the room. That’s a remarkable thing,” said Edie Kilkenny, his wife of 33 years. “He affected a lot of people that way. He made a lasting impression on everyone he met. He made a lasting impression on me.”

The pair met in 1972 shortly after Mike had been traded to the San Diego Padres.

He was married, and Edie was engaged.

Between innings during one of his games, Edie asked Mike for an autographed baseball for her son, and he offered to take her to dinner.

Instead of a romance, they became fast friends.

“The more I talked to Mike, the more I respected him. He reminded me of an old soul,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘My gosh, he doesn’t fit the model of a jock.’ He was very smart. He knew a lot about a lot of things. He was avidly interested in what went on in the world.”

That baseball season, however, Mike was famously traded between four teams — playing for the Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, and then the Cleveland Indians all within about a month’s time.

This meant, just three weeks after meeting Edie, he was traded to Cleveland, where he ended his major league career in 1973.

The left-hander's curveball was once even compared to Sandy Koufax.

In total, he went 23-18 with a 4.43 ERA, and he had 301 strikeouts in 410 innings during his five-year major league career.

Eleven years went by before Edie said she started wondering about that old friend of hers, and they reconnected through an acquaintance.

“Six weeks later, Mike was in California, and six weeks after that I came to Canada, and we’ve been together ever since,” she said.

“We fell in love with each other, and we were best friends. We both had a sixth sense that we had known each other forever.”

The pair moved to Belmont, Ont., and Mike played for the London Majors, for which he was once named the Intercounty Baseball League’s most valuable player.

He was instrumental in helping the Majors win the championship in 1975, and the team more recently retired his No. 17.

Mike often talked about his days playing baseball, Edie said.

“He was quite a storyteller. He always had a sense of humour,” she said.

One story he liked to tell was, before a game in Detroit, a golfer came out on the baseball diamond to do a demonstration. The golfer challenged Mike to hit a tall light at one end of the stadium with a golf ball.

“Mike was quite a good golfer. He stepped up to the ball. He said he couldn’t do it in a million years, but he actually hit the light and blew the light out,” Edie said, with a laugh. “When the guy said, ‘Can you do that again?’ he said, ‘Well, I got to get ready for a baseball game’ (and walked away).”

Years later, BWG named one of its baseball diamonds Mike Kilkenny Field.

“That really touched him. He couldn’t stop talking about it. We’ve been there a few times to see it,” Edie said. “You wonder as an athlete, especially as an aging athlete, if anyone will remember you. Having that field named after him really meant a lot.”

Early in Mike’s career, few professional baseball players were Canadian.

“He was always amazed: ‘Wow, how did I get here? I’m just some kid from Bradford.’”

Steve Simurda of BWG played with Mike on their Bradford Lions’ Club baseball team when they were teenagers who attended Bradford District High School.

“Because Mike was a good pitcher, they made up a team,” he said. “He was a really good pitcher compared to anyone else in Canada and around here.”

Even decades later, Simurda said he still remembers Mike was an exceptional athlete.

“He could throw a football, like, a mile in a spiral. He could dunk a basketball. He had a terrific curveball — somebody his age didn’t have one.”

The pair even went to Toronto to check out tryouts for the Cleveland Indians’ minor-league team.

“The scouts already knew who Mike Kilkenny was. He was good.”

Mike began his professional baseball career at age 24 with the Detroit Tigers in 1969. After retiring from baseball, he focused on teaching and playing golf.

Mike met Ted Potter Jr., a two-time Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) Tour winner, when he was just a teenager and they became friends.

“He said, ‘If he listens to me, I can get him on the tour,’” said Edie.

Mike also taught amateur golf champion Bill Zylstra, she said.

While Mike achieved many accomplishments throughout his professional sports career, “being a wonderful husband, father and grandfather was his greatest statistic,” read his obituary.

He is survived by Edie, his son, Rory, daughter, Dawn, stepson, Danny, eight grandchildren, and his brother, Peter.

“He cared quite a bit about family,” said Edie.

Mike grew up in BWG, where his family has deep roots.

The Kilkennys came to the area around 1800 and became furniture makers and later ran a funeral parlour, she said.

Mike had relatives who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and another who was a lighthouse keeper in New Brunswick. The ones who arrived in BWG came by wagon, she said.

After Mike retired, he and Edie liked to travel together.

They spent half the year in Florida and the other half in Canada, and they visited Ireland in 2001.

“He had never driven a car (on the opposite side of the road). It was hysterical. I’m sitting there with my eyes closed,” said Edie, with a laugh.

“Mike used to say, ‘We’re like Frick and Frack.’ He loved me unconditionally. I never in my life mistrusted him; I always respected him. I always knew he loved me… That’s a nice feeling.”

Jenni Dunning

About the Author: Jenni Dunning

Jenni Dunning is a community editor and reporter who covers news in the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury.
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