How Canadian baseball stumbled into the Summer Olympics

The game of baseball is colloquially known as America’s favourite pastime, yet, in 1984, as a demonstration sport in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, baseball provided an unlikely platform for an improbable Canadian to live the Olympic dream.

It was a sequence of chance occurrences that saw Henry Andrulis, a native of Toronto, Ontario, land at Dodgers Stadium in L.A. where he represented Canada at the Olympic Summer Games.

“I’d been playing some senior ball in Toronto while managing a full-time job,” recalls Andrulis. “I could finally afford some time in the summer to tryout for a national team, as I always wondered if I could make a national team. It just happened that I went out for the 1984 national team, [which] initially wasn’t an Olympic team – it was just a national program for the summer.

“What happened was the Soviets boycotted the 84 Olympics, so the Cubans boycotted [as well]. When Cuba boycotted, they needed a team to fill in, and it just happened that Canada had finished ninth the year before. So, all of a sudden, the team I’m trying out for is going to L.A. for the Olympics.”

Andrulis found himself on the final roster for Canada’s national baseball team, and just like that, without ever asking for it, the 28-year-old Torontonian was going to be an Olympian.

“There were probably about 30 of us at camp when they posted the final roster,” he said. “When I had my name on there I was pretty overwhelmed and excited. You knew you were in for an experience now, it was just a matter of going for the ride and enjoying it.”

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As a last-minute entry, the Canadian ball players were unable to partake in the Opening Ceremonies, as they pulled into California while they were taking place. However, being a demonstration sport, baseball was privy to an opening ceremony of its own.

“Because we were such a late entry, we landed in L.A. as the Opening Ceremonies were going on,” said Andrulis. “So, we got there a little bit late, but we [participated in] the opening ceremonies at Dodgers Stadium.

“There were well over 50,000 people there. There were light bulbs and cameras flashing as we all marched in, and they did a nice little introduction of all the teams.”

On August 1, 1984, Team Canada stepped onto the field at Dodgers Stadium against Nicaragua, and, playing as a designated hitter, the 28-year-old Andrulis began his Olympic journey.

“We stepped onto this beautifully manicured field – there had to be at least 30-40,000 people. It was pretty exciting to be out on that field with that many people there. It was a real thrill.”

The game with the Nicaraguans proved to be a nail-biter, as Canada fell 4-3 in 12 innings. Then, on August 3, the Canucks would lose to South Korea 3-1, eliminating them from medal contention. Canada’s final game would be on August 5, where they would beat the eventual gold medal winners, Japan, 6-4.

While finishing fifth out of the eight competing teams, Andrulis was just happy to be part of Canada’s Olympic team, as the Canadian camaraderie shone through-and-through, proving to be just as prominent in ’84 as it is now in 2010.

“We had around 400 athletes there [in 1984], so we had a big team,” said Andrulis. “You got to meet a lot of different Canadians who were all there for the same goal. We supported all the different Canadian athletes in whatever event they were involved in.

“I remember going to the pool numerous times. Everyone knew that so-and-so was going for a medal in this heat and everybody would go to the pool. That was the thing to do – follow around the Canadian athletes in their pursuit of their medal.”

Now residing in Thorold, Ontario, where he is the acting president of Thorold Legion Baseball, Andrulis will forever remember those 15 days in the summer of 1984 where he proudly donned the Maple Leaf, representing his country as an Olympian.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll always remember,” said Andrulis.

“Every time I watch the Olympics now, I see the Canadian pride – especially the Canadians winning these gold medals on our soil. I see it in their faces – the kids that are there competing – whether they win or they lose, they all just seem to be soaking it in and that’s what it’s all about.”

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