Phillies manager Rob Thomson's Ontario hometown gearing up for World Series celebration

Rick Corner poses with a Rob Thomson display at the Moore Museum in Corruna, Ont. (Submitted by Rick Corner - image credit)
Rick Corner poses with a Rob Thomson display at the Moore Museum in Corruna, Ont. (Submitted by Rick Corner - image credit)

In a sport like baseball that has been around for more than hundred years, it is rare for something to happen for the first time. But on Thursday, Rob Thomson, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, will write his own page in the baseball history books when he becomes the first Canadian to lead a team to the World Series.

In typical low-key Thomson fashion, he is downplaying the historic achievement.

"There's been so many firsts this year I really haven't had time to really think about it. I am Canadian. I live there in the offseason," Thomson told CBC. "I love our country and what we're all about, but I really haven't thought about it in that way as the first Canadian to ever manage the World Series.

"I'm just really happy to manage in the World Series."

Thomson's Phillies defeated the San Diego Padres in the National League Championship Series to earn their spot in the Fall Classic. They face the American League champion Houston Astros with Game 1 scheduled for Friday.

WATCH l Canadian-born Phillies manager says team is 'ready to go' ahead of World Series:

Thompson might not be celebrating his achievement but it is significant, says Scott Crawford, the director of operations at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, where Thomson is a member.

"It shows that Canadians can handle the big job. We know just as much about baseball and we're just as good at baseball as every other country," Crawford said. "With Rob on the big screen for the World Series it just shows that if Rob can do it, you know, from a small town in southern Ontario, then anyone can do it in Canada."

Thomson has traveled many places on his decades-long baseball journey, but has always remained close to the small town in which he grew up. He was born in Sarnia, Ont., but home was just down the highway in Corunna, a small town with a population of about 2,000 people.

And as the 59-year-old steps on to baseball's biggest stage, many of the town's residents will be closely watching and celebrating the man they have known since he was a little boy.

At Antonio's Pizza, along the town's main strip, the large sign in front of the restaurant wishes Thompson and his Phillies good luck. Inside, staff is decked out in Phillies gear, proudly promoting the Rob Thomson World Series Special. It includes a pitcher of beer and a Philly pizza that's modelled after the famous Philly cheesesteak.

Simon Dingley/CBC
Simon Dingley/CBC
Simon Dingley/CBC
Simon Dingley/CBC

"I think it's awesome. I think it says a lot for a person to come from a small town and start off on just a small baseball field and work his way up to the World Series. It's amazing," said Ann Maitland, one of the restaurant's wait staff.

Rick Corner is also feeling quite proud.

"He was the bat boy on a lot of the [local] teams," remembers Corner, a long-time family friend of the Thomsons who spent many hours playing baseball with and against the family.

"They were a baseball diehard family, eat, sleep, drink, baseball, their whole lives type of thing," Corner said. "Yeah, I guess the potential was there (to lead a team to the World Series), but Corunna was a small 2,000-person community. I don't think anybody could envision that."

As a player, Thomson was good enough to play college baseball at the University of Kansas and was eventually drafted by the Detroit Tigers. But after a few years in the Tigers minor-league system, he realized his future in baseball was in coaching.

For the past 30 years he has coached in the Detroit, New York Yankees and Philadelphia organizations. He finally got a Major League head-coaching job this year when the Phillies fired his predecessor, Joe Girardi, a few months into the season.

"[Thomson] always wanted to be a manager. He didn't get the opportunity with the Yankees, but it's worked out great for him in Philly and the players just love him," Corner said. "He is a very humble person. Nothing is about Robbie Thomson. He is about the team, he's about supporting the guys."

Associated Press
Associated Press

Corner has stayed in touch with Thomson over the years, most recently visiting him in Philadelphia just after Thomson took over as a manager. He has also been instrumental in putting together an exhibit at the Moore Museum near Corunna that pays tribute to Thomson's baseball career.

"I met with Robbie at his home to ask him his thoughts. He says I support you 100 per cent, whatever you want to do there. So at the museum itself, I tried to build a chronological display," Corner said.

The exhibit features items, pictures and uniforms from when Thomson played as a child in Corunna all the way up until today. It includes jerseys from his time at Kansas University and his days with the Tigers and his jersey from the 1984 Canadian Olympic team, of which Thomson was a member.

"Rob gave me a couple of Yankees jerseys from when he was there and some Phillies jerseys. There are so many pictures and stories on display. I am very proud," Corner said.

Corner said he hopes Thomson's emergence on baseball's biggest stage will lead many to the museum to see where it all began for his lifelong friend. But it's about more than that.

"If I can inspire one little kid that sees that display to see that this man came from a 2,000-person community as a bat boy and he made it right to the major leagues. If that can inspire one little kid, then I've met my goal," Corner said.