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JUSTIN CARDINAL, DAWGS RHP, #54 FOREVER
No player will ever again wear #54 on a Dawgs' jersey. That number will forever be reserved for our friend and teammate, Justin Cardinal, who tragically passed away after a car accident on September 28, 2003.
Justin was the first Dawgs' player to sign a summer collegiate contract with the Dawgs before our initial season in Calgary. But we had first met Justin as a promising 16-year-old right-handed pitcher from Lake Bonneville, Alberta. He had been playing with an outstanding Edmonton Sharks' travel team coached by Doug Boisvert but was looking for more exposure south of the border. The Dawgs Youth Team, at that time with an extensive 100 game schedule, including numerous showcase tournaments in the United States such as Florida, California, Arizona, Washington and Utah, was the answer for an ambitious professional prospect.
Justin joined a Dawgs Youth Team coached by former PAC 10 standout, Brandon Newell (University of Washington; New York Mets) that compiled a winning percentage of over .860 during Justin's senior year of high school. The pitching staff included numerous players that would ultimately be drafted by Major League Baseball organizations; players like Tanner Osberg (New York Mets); Jeff MacDonald (Colorado Rockies); James Avery (Cincinnati Reds); Aric van Gaelen (Toronto Blue Jays); Matt Ircandia (San Francisco Giants). Behind the dish were Team Alberta stars, Chad Courtreille (University of Alabama, Huntsville), Greg Rice (Midland College, Texas) and Jeff Werhun (St. Albert Cardinals, University of California at Irvine). Legendary NAIA coach, Ed Cheff of Lewis Clark State College, described the infield as “the best high school infield I have ever seen.” It included NCAA, Freshman All American, Vince Ircandia at SS, Team Canada invitee and UBC Thunderbird, Cameron McLeod at 2nd base, Texas Rangers' draft pick Emerson Frostad at 3B and Jim Henderson (Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers) as 1B/RHP. The outfield included John Hurd (College of Southern Idaho, Chicago White Sox), Mick Dickson (Hill College, University of Nebraska (Kearney) with Matt Ircandia (Washington State, Niagara University) doing double duty in RF.
At 6'5" and 220 lbs, featuring a fastball in the high 80s with sharp movement, Justin fit right in with that collection of elite high school players. He was a key member of the pitching staff of not only that Dawgs' high school club but also Team Alberta at the Canada Cup at Trois Rivieres, Quebec. At the Canada Cup, Justin was selected to Canada's Junior National Team. After an outstanding Grade 12 season he along with Dawgs' Jim Henderson, earned a scholarship to Midland College in Texas. Following an injury, Justin returned to Canada and fine-tuned his skills under renowned pitching coach Blair Kubicek at the PBA. That led to a further scholarship to Mesa Jr College in Mesa, Arizona.
Justin enjoyed an outstanding summer collegiate season with the Bellingham Bells of what is now the West Coast League. In Bellingham, Justin was reunited not only with former Dawgs' Head Coach, Brandon Newell, who managed the Bells, but also former Dawgs' standouts, Vince Ircandia, who was coming off a strong college season with Niagara University earning him Freshman All American honours and Emerson Frostad, fresh off winning the Charlie Hustle Award for his outstanding contribution to another NAIA World Series Championship by Lewis Clark State College. That Bells' squad also included future Dawgs' standouts like Grant Richardson (Washington State University; Milwaukee Brewers) and Jesse Newell (University of Southeastern Louisiana). Assisted by an outstanding job by Justin as the Bells' closer, the club went on a tear July of that season which took them all the way to the WCL championship game and featured countless exciting victories before a packed house at Joe Martin Stadium in Bellingham, Washington. It was truly a summer to remember.
Justin was all set to again be re-united with his former Dawgs' team-mates that first summer collegiate season in Calgary. Tragically, we lost him the fall before that season was to commence. It was a blow to Dawgs' players, coaches and executive that we will never forget. Not only did we lose an excellent baseball player, an outstanding teammate and a professional prospect, we lost a great young man, a close friend, an exemplary athlete and individual on the cusp of realizing his dreams of professional baseball.
Not only was Justin a skilled, natural talent but he is remembered as one of the hardest workers ever to don a Dawgs' uniform. As Dawgs' managing director, John Ircandia who delivered a eulogy for Justin, has said:
"Justin was a quiet but unmistakably strong leader on a pitching staff of studs. Despite his ability, there was no prima donna in Justin. His parents, Fred and Jeanette, had done such an excellent job in raising Justin. He led by example. There were no short cuts. If the opposition challenged one of his teammates at the plate or on a tag, Justin was like steel in backing that teammate up. They would only try that once. And when the going got tough at the end of a game, he wanted, he demanded, the ball. He was prepared for every challenge. You could not find a better teammate than Justin Cardinal."
Every spring, when the grass starts to green, Dawgs everywhere remember Justin Cardinal, our #54.