Fergie to be immortalized with sculpture in Chatham

Baseball legend Fergie Jenkins is about to take his place in Chatham's history for all time.

A nine-foot-high bronze sculpture of the all-star delivering a pitch will be displayed in the Chatham Civic Centre atrium as early as next spring.

It will be identical to the sculpture unveiled at Wrigley Field in Chicago in May, immortalizing the success the Chatham native had playing 19 seasons of Major League Baseball.

The ever-humble Hall of Famer and Cy Young Award winner flashed a wide smile as Mayor Darrin Canniff made the announcement at the Civic Centre to a round of applause.

Jenkins was quick to credit his success to having "great teammates.

"As a pitcher you can't win games alone," Jenkins told the gathering.

He also gave a nod to the great coaches he had coming up in Chatham's minor ball system.

Jenkins also had many outstanding mentors in his life, including his father, Ferguson Jenkins Sr., who played for the Chatham Coloured All-Stars.

Originally, Jenkins Jr. thought he would become a first baseman. However, a Philadelphia Phillies scout named Gene Dziadura, helped Jenkins hone his pitching skills as a teenager in the basement of the former Chatham Collegiate Institute.

Jenkins signed with the Phillies when he was 18 and was traded to the Cubs two-and-a-half years later. He later pitched for the Texas Rangers, the Boston Red Sox and again with the Cubs.

Jenkins took home the Cy Young Award in 1971. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated on Aug. 30, 1971 and it's that image Chicago sculptor Lou Cello has recreated in painstaking detail.

Cello took part in the announcement virtually from the U.S, calling it a "real honour" to create a likeness of Jenkins for his hometown.

The sculptor said the original work took about nine months to make, but this one should be quicker as the moulds are already made.

Ultimately, Cello said he utilized "hundreds of photos" of Jenkins to make the sculpture, and the real-life Jenkins modelled the uniform for him as well.

Jenkins said having a sculpture of himself in his hometown is "something that surprises me each time I think about it," adding he hopes the community and family in Chatham will draw inspiration from it.

"When I go down and see my grandkids and relatives, they can understand that I played one of the best games in the world," Jenkins said.

He said he appreciates his Canadian roots, adding that whenever he crosses the Ambassador Bridge from the United States, he feels he is "home."

Canniff said attending the unveiling ceremony in Chicago was "a surreal experience" and "the privilege of my life," adding he met sculpture Cello and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts in the windy city.

He said the experience made him ask why the same thing couldn't be done in Chatham-Kent.

"This is an absolute thrilling moment for me," Canniff said, noting Jenkins "is by far the best baseball player to come from Canada and he's right here from Chatham-Kent.

"This is part of how we need to start honouring not just Fergie, but recognizing legends of different types," Canniff said. "This is a start."

There will be no cost to taxpayers for the new sculpture as an anonymous donor has stepped forward to fund the community initiative.

Chatham will also help celebrate Jenkins 80th birthday in December. Canniff said details will be released closer to the date.

Canniff said that if the Chatham Civic Centre relocates to the Downtown Chatham Centre, the sculpture will be relocated and possibly installed there outside.

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice