Brian Lewis, the first Island-born and developed baseball player to sign a professional contract with a major league team in the modern era, died Thursday morning.
The Alberton native was 80.
Lewis was inducted into the Prince Edward Island Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. He is also a member of the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame in Nova Scotia, where he played with the Trenton Scotias in the former Antigonish Pictou County Hockey League.
Lewis began playing baseball as an 11-year-old when he caught his first line drive in Alberton.
A year later he moved to Charlottetown with his parents and during the coming years the centre-fielder starred with junior and senior teams.
“He was what you call a ball hawk. He was off at the crack of the bat,” Bobby Lund recalled Thursday. “He was just so smooth.”
In 1953, Lewis inked a deal with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
At training camp, Lewis was beset by a leg infection, but didn’t let on. Despite the injury, Lewis had made the club, but the Dodgers had plans to turn him into second baseman.
“It was a down time for me. I didn’t want to be there, and so they did let me go,” Lewis once recalled.
Lewis has worked with a lot of aspiring Island baseball players.
The list includes the likes of Cass Rhynes, Andrew MacNevin, Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean.
“He has been very instrumental coaching kids,” said Lund. “He’d coach anybody who wanted his help.”
He said Lewis has been involved in baseball his whole life.
“He’s probably the most knowledgeable baseball man I met, even Ted Williams said to me at spring training one year, ‘Boy that fella knows his baseball.’”
Williams, the Boston Red Sox legend, had met Lewis while fishing in Miramichi, N.B.
Lewis was also the referee-in-chief of the Island Hockey League.
A funeral will be held Sunday at Belvedere Funeral Home at 1 p.m.
He is survived by his wife Phyllis (McQuaid) and children Blaine, Rhonda, Kathy Sanderson (Greg) and stepson Edward Murnaghan.