Toronto Blue Jays fans across Canada, including one die-hard fan in Summerside, are mourning the loss of one of the franchise’s greats.
Tony Fernández, a shortstop who played 17 seasons of Major League Baseball, including helping the Toronto Blue Jays win the 1993 World Series, died on Sunday at the age of 57. He died from complications related to a genetic kidney disease.
Gerard Dalton, of Summerside, greeted that news with deep sadness; both as a life-long baseball and Blue Jays fan and because Fernández helped him personally when he was in a dark place in his life.
"I used to kind of wave-off these celebrities coming to people and getting their picture taken and all that. But here was this guy ... nobody knows he's here and I'm here and he was in my room talking to me. So, I was pretty excited," said Dalton, of the pair’s meeting in almost four years ago.
"I was startled. What was he doing here?"
In July of 2016, 80-year-old Dalton was sitting in his room at the Prince County Hospital and his spirits were low. He'd had some health issues and his doctors had told him he would no longer be able to golf, a favourite activity.
One day, Dalton's son John walked in for a visit and, to the senior man's surprise, Fernández walked in right behind him.
"I was startled. What was he doing here?" Dalton recalled thinking.
It turns out that John had been playing in the Summerside Boys and Girls Club Celebrity Golf Tournament that day and the retired ballplayer was on his team.
There was a downpour and play was temporarily suspended, so John asked Fernández if he would mind slipping up to the hospital to visit his father. The celebrity happily agreed.
The men ended up talking about their shared love of baseball and golf, shared a prayer and took some photos.
Dalton said his doctor noticed a change in his mood and ended up letting him go home a few days earlier than expected.
Dalton recalls Fernández's visit as really giving his mood a boost out of the doldrums he had previously been in. To this day he appreciates that Fernández took the time and he could just as easily have not.