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2022 Tony Gwynn Award: Greg Hamilton (Baseball Canada)

Greg Hamilton (1)

It would be hard to overstate the impact that Greg Hamilton has had on baseball in Canada, and the ripple effect he has created beyond his country’s borders.

Hamilton has worked with Baseball Canada for three decades, and since taking over the men’s national team programs 23 years ago, he has transformed the junior program, helped lead the senior team to two Pan Am gold medals, created a community across a country and built a family among multiple generations of players.

“Because of his connection with those players, his passion and knowledge of the game—and his driving desire to grow the game and impact baseball at the highest levels through Canada—I can’t think of an individual who has done more,” Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro said.

“The cool part of that accomplishment is that it is driven so authentically by his passion for the players in the game and not for any other reason . . .

“It does not take long to spend any time in any area of Canadian baseball to quickly realize how much players believe in him, care about him, and how much his undying commitment to the games and the players up here impacts the landscape. He’s a force.”

For those reasons, Hamilton is the recipient of this year’s Tony Gwynn Award for his lifetime of contributions to the game.

Hamilton’s day-to-day duties for Baseball Canada include scouting the country’s amateur talent and developing and managing the junior national team for its annual schedule against professional competition and also world qualifiers and championships. He’s also always keeping an eye on Canadians playing professionally and putting together a depth chart to construct his senior men’s squad for international tournaments.

He is consistently creating opportunities for his players, as well as building a family among them.

“As long as I’ve known Baseball Canada, Greg Hamilton has been synonymous with it at every level,” said Alex Anthopoulos, the Canadian-born president of baseball operations and general manager of the Braves. “Everyone can speak to how intelligent he is, and how thoughtful, and the work ethic—but the biggest thing from afar that I see . . . is that once you touch Baseball Canada, my view is that Greg views that as you’re a part of the Baseball Canada family for life.

“He’s out there looking to help players at all times, not just the next top prospect or the next big player or the guy who’s established at the big league level. Many times I’ve seen it where someone got released, or someone has a need, and he’s out there, he’s making calls, he’s going to do what he can for them. There’s a loyalty and a commitment there that you don’t find in life.

“He’s constantly working to make the program better, to have an impact, and we’ll look back, whether it’s 50 or 100 years from now, and I don’t think there will be anyone who will have made a greater impact on baseball in Canada than Greg.”

While Hamilton has made his mark on the field, his impact outside the white lines has been monumental. He’s helped players overcome a boundless array of obstacles, even assisting one player and his family through an overseas adoption process, and he’s become a pivotal figure in countless families and households. 

“He’s done tremendous things for me and my brothers and our careers,” Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor said. “He gave us an opportunity to travel the world to face competition from a young age, and take on the best of the best in the world. He made us really hard workers, and gave us the desire to win for your country and the passion to play for your country . . .

“He’s a world class man. He’s done so much for the game in Canada, the players, their families. And he’s made us all better people as well as better baseball players.”

Besides his own, there is unlikely to be a family with more extensive experience with Hamilton than the Naylors, who hail from the Toronto area. Josh has played for Hamilton and Team Canada at both the junior and senior levels. His younger brother Bo, a catcher who is the Guardians’ No. 3 prospect and who made his MLB debut this season, has worn the red and white for the junior team. Both Josh and Bo were first-round picks out of high school.

Their 17-year-old brother Myles was named the junior national team’s MVP in November. He is a member of the class of 2023.

“Greg deserves a lot of credit for helping me get to where I am today,” Bo Naylor said. “Every time I get a chance to talk to him, I really try to make it known how grateful I am for everything that he’s done for me, and the tremendous impact he’s had on my baseball, my mentality, how I treat the game, how I see the game, and how I approach it . . .

“The dedication he displays to make sure that the players he’s coaching are not only the best on the field, but the best off the field is something that is really rare. He’s second to none, and that’s something I will always be grateful to Greg for.”

While there are doubtless many coaches who have had immense influence on their players, Hamilton’s commitment, loyalty and care for people set his passion for the game apart.

“He’s had a tremendous impact in Canada, on so many players there,” Former Blue Jays catcher and current senior team head coach Ernie Whitt said. “Starting from the grass roots, all the way up. His dedication, his commitment—it has been unbelievable. And the respect that he has from all the players who have dealt with him in the past is amazing.

“Out of all the people I’ve dealt with in baseball, he’s one of the guys who has the most passion and love for the game, and the love and the passion for the players that he’s associated with.”

Added Shapiro: “There is a clear marker of pride for the guys who persevere to play at the highest levels up here, and Greg is their advocate, Greg is their platform, and he is their champion . . .

“I have such an appreciation for him because he is that leader where it’s not about him. It is so authentically rooted in his passion for the game and his passion for players and his pride in Canada. It’s so authentic and so genuine. I’ve got endless appreciation and time for him.”

Equivalent to the level of gratitude held by so many for Hamilton is his own appreciation for the game, his position within it and the opportunity he has to make an impact in his home country.

Playing both hockey and baseball at Princeton, Hamilton learned that he had a like for hockey and a love for America’s pastime. His postgraduate dream became trying to land a collegiate coaching job in the U.S., because he thought it would be his only chance to stay in baseball.

Hamilton accomplished that goal, and also spent a short time in the investment banking world on Canada’s Wall Street counterpart, before Baseball Canada’s opening gave him an opportunity he never imagined.

“I thought it would be too good to be true to get an opportunity to coach in Canada, and to hopefully have an impact on the game with Canadian players,” he said. “I couldn’t have been happier to have that opportunity, and all of the things that have come with it over the years. It’s been tremendous.”

The creation of the community among past, present and future players is something Hamilton takes immeasurable pride in, as well as just seeing how players use their national team experiences as they move forward in their lives. 

“It’s both sides of seeing people excel and succeed in baseball and get as far as their talents are meant to take them—and hopefully have a little bit of impact on helping them get there—and seeing others pivot and utilize the lessons and experiences they’ve gathered representing their country,” Hamilton said.

“It is really different when you have your country’s name across your jersey, and it’s special and emotional, and you can do great things when you as a group believe in what’s across your jersey.

“It’s also being able to link the generations through our alumni program, which has been and continues to be a passion. It allows us to help connect the generations and inspire younger players, and continues to inspire those who have come before them as they move along.”

Those Baseball Canada alumni take as much pride in Hamilton’s Gwynn Award win as the recipient himself.

“Greg isn’t someone who chases awards, but he’s definitely someone who deserves it,” Bo Naylor said. “It’s really awesome to see him recognized for all the stuff he does, and all the things he shares for this game with young baseball players who are trying to make it on the big stage, and ultimately become great people as well.

“That’s crucial to the game. Not just creating great ballplayers, but great humans who want to do more and be their best selves for their communities, the people they’re representing, the country they’re representing, and that’s the exact image of Greg in my mind.”

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