During the 1960s and ’70s Fred Cardwell was one of Canada’s premier baseball players, and in August he will be recognized as such by the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Regina native and longtime Red Deer resident will be inducted into the hall on Aug. 16.
Cardwell was the prototypical power pitcher of his day, leading his teams in Saskatchewan to multiple championships, earning a scholarship to the University of Oregon, a tryout with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was a mainstay on the Canadian national team.
“It’s an honour and a recognition,” said Cardwell, 66.
The right-hander moved to Red Deer in 1973 after graduating from the University of Saskatchewan’s law school. He practiced in litigation and family law until 1989 and then began teaching it at Red Deer College until retiring at the end of this school year. While there, he also became an assistant coach to Scott Bergdahl for the RDC golf program.
He and his wife Ruth and their eight-year-old son Max have since moved to Kelowna.
But it was on the baseball diamond where he earned most of his glory.
He pitched his teams to six-straight Regina titles from 1959-64 and then led Regina’s midget team to an Alberta-Saskatchewan championship in 1964 with wins over Edmonton and North Battleford. The next year he won a junior provincial title and then helped his team to an opening game win by pitching seven innings of relief to beat Winnipeg in 11 innings in the national junior final.
At six-foot-one, 195 pounds, he featured a fastball in the low 90s and a devastating slider and curve ball.
His exploits earned him both a four-year scholarship to Oregon and a tryout offer with the Dodgers. But, due to amateur status rules, he could only do one or the other — he chose an education.
“At that stage, it wasn’t the kind of career that would make you automatically rich like it does now,” said Cardwell. “A major league pro contract back in 1967-68 was around $22,000. It was kind of like lots of people in the Canadian Football League, they’d play football and they’d have another job so they could make ends meet.”
He was the Ducks’ staff ace for four years in the Pac-8 and started getting picked up for the national team, including the Pan-Am Games in 1971.
In all, he played for Team Canada eight times at international tournaments registering wins over Italy, South Korea and Puerto Rico.
In 1973, he settled in Red Deer, attracted to Central Alberta by the annual Lacombe baseball tournament.
“We’d come up her several times, we’d leave Saskatchewan in mid-July where it would be parched and we’d come up here where it would be green and we never got rained out either,” he said. “I thought ‘This is marvelous, it rains and it’s green.’”
That year he also started playing with the Red Deer Generals in the Alberta Major Baseball League.
Over the next seven years he also played with the Edmonton Tigers and the Calgary Jimmies, helping the Tigers to a Canadian senior title in 1974.
In 1976 he started to battle through shoulder tendonitis, forcing him to retire in 1979 at the conclusion of the Lacombe tournament, though he did play fastpitch and old timers ball later on.
Cardwell also spent time as a pitching coach with the national team and coached his daughter’s fastpitch team.
He was a natural athlete growing up in Regina, playing multiple sports, but football and baseball captured his heart, earning scholarship offers in both. Simon Fraser University offered him a scholarship to play middle linebacker for the school, but he liked his chances of getting through baseball unscathed better.
“Football’s a great game and I really enjoy it, but it’s way too easy to get injured in that sport, so I chose baseball instead,” he said.
Impressively, he made it as far as he did with little coaching on the pitching end. When he was coming up, there was little available for instruction — even when he hit the university level.
“I learned everything on my own,” he said. “Even down in Oregon, no one knew anything about pitching. It was between you and the other pitchers you played around, tried different pitches and looked at books. That was the way you learned stuff.”
What has sustained him athletically, however, is golf.
He has played since he was 10 years old and has played ever since, including helping Bergdahl coach the RDC team the last three years.
Now retired and with a surgically repaired hip, he plans to spend a lot more time out on the course.
“I just really enjoy the game, trying to make the ball do what you want it to do,” said Cardwell. “Golf, for me, is the hardest game I’ve ever played.”