Signed by the Chicago Black Hawks one year. Locked up by the Major League Baseball Seattle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) with a $10,000 signing bonus at just 16.
If you have only moved to the Vernon area in the last decade, you may not have heard of Wayne Dye. The Morning Star named Dye the city’s Athlete of the Century in 1999.
He left us in 1988 at just 35, but the standards he set in hockey, baseball, track and field and snooker will never be forgotten. Wayne and his late, great father, Vern Dye, will be inducted into the Okanagan Hall of Fame with a Wednesday luncheon Nov. 23 at the Schubert Centre.
It’s been almost 20 years since the shrine has honoured an athlete or builder so putting the father and son team in together is well overdue and well deserved.
Making the moment even more special will be the induction of Major League Baseball slugger Kevin Reimer, the pride of Enderby. It was Reimer’s father, Gerry, a former 11-year minor pro player whose connections in the game helped get Wayne scouted in baseball.
“Gerry’s influence helped,” Vern told me in a ‘99 interview. “He talked Wayne into going to Newark (New Jersey Class A). He could have signed with the Expos and he would have started in Billings (Montana) where we could have drove to his games, but the offer was only half what Seattle had offered.”
Gerry is already in the Hall of Fame so having Kevin join his dad, along with the posthumous induction of Wayne and Vern, is rather touching.
At age six, Wayne joined 10-year-old Clark Inglis as bat boys with the Okanagan Senior Baseball League Vernon Luckies. They used to fill the bleachers at Polson Park for Sunday matinee games.
Dye and Inglis later played baseball and fastball together.
“Wayne was a talented kid,” Inglis, a catcher, told me. “He was so smooth and baseball was so effortless for him. He had such high expectations for himself so his frustrations and his temper went against him. He was a great kid. He could hit for power, he could run and never went into any long slumps because he had a real compact swing.”
Dye was a 16-year-old rookie third baseman with the Luckies when he won the league MVP playing against grown men. He played the hot corner and shortstop in one season with Newark and quit his second year, partly he said, due to being homesick.
Wayne played a few games with the Junior A hockey Vernon Essos as a 13-year-old and was a regular at 14. He wore No. 8 and was fiery, unpredictable, fearless and ultra-talented. He didn’t need a composite stick to unleash his cannon shot.
He won the BCJHL scoring title in 1969-70, a year when the Essos used a Jack Marsh overtime goal on Victoria Cougars’ goalie Ed Forslund to win the playoff crown before 5,219 fans at Memorial Arena.
Dye finished his Junior hockey career as a 20-year-old with Punch McLean’s New Westminster Bruins, scoring 35 goals and getting picked 109th overall by Chicago in the 1974 amateur lottery.
He spent one year of minor pro with the International League Flint Generals and then after being sent to Flint after his second training camp with the Hawks, chose to play semi-pro with the Spokane Jets, leading them to three WIHL titles.
Vern spent most of his life involved in baseball and hockey in Vernon. He was a voluntary scout with the St. Louis Cardinals in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Vern and his brother-in-law Ernie Kowal worked with city engineer Dave McKay in 1971 to have Lakeview Park built for ball diamonds and was instrumental in establishing the diamond and stadium facilities at Polson Park.
He helped found the B.C. Junior Hockey League and Vernon’s franchise, and is a lifetime honoured member of the circuit. Vern, who was like a father-figure to hundreds of young hockey players, was named Vernon’s Good Citizen in 1998.
“One day I counted and I cooked either lunch or dinner for 27 kids in the same day, “ said Vern, whose wife Joyce was like a den mother. “We had sandwich bags all over the place.”
I grew up in the East Hill and Wayne Dye was my idol. I was scared of him, but I admired him. And when younger kids like Bob Mann and I were allowed to play in the rousing street hockey games, it was a great day.
I watched him crush the ball and fling it a zillion miles an hour at Lakeview Park. Saw his temper at its worst when he flung his bat against the fence after a rare strikeout.
I also got to see Kevin Reimer crush the ball and throw fireball pitches, at Creekside Park. I was coaching a Junior Babe Ruth team with the likes of Greg Kowal and Richard Belec. If Reimer was pitching the three limited innings, we didn’t expect to get a runner on base.
I told the kids I’d take them to Dairy Queen if we got a run off him. I believe Kowal may have fouled off a few pitches. We never made it to DQ.
Also saw a teenage Reimer smack a ball out of gorgeous Serauxmen Stadium in Nanaimo when he was playing alongside his dad with the senior Enderby Legionnaires.
Kevin went on to play 488 MLB games, drilling 52 dingers and knocking in 204 runs. He hit a career-high 20 bombs in 1991 with Texas. He also represented Canada in the ‘84 Olympics when baseball was a demo sport.
Reimer, an avid outdoorsmen at 47 these days, finished his career with two years in Japan.