Over 13 seasons catching mostly in the minor leagues, Joe Siddall had major-league smarts and toughness, just not the matching bat. But behind the microphone, the Blue Jays’ rookie broadcaster has been a hit. Come Father’s Day, he’ll have called nearly as many big-league games (71) as he played (73), and when he’s laughing around the cage or going over scouting reports, he still can’t believe it.
“This is like being a player,” he says. “You’re doing everything they do, but there’s not the same pressure to perform . . . you do your homework and enjoy the game.”
It’s a dream job, but it came on the heels of a nightmare. In the first week of August last year, Siddall was coaching his 14-year-old son Kevin’s triple-A Windsor Stars when he noticed him gasping after a triple. He was spent after running the bases the next night, too. Joe and his wife, Tamara—a doctor—got him checked out, and suddenly everything changed: A tumour was found in Kevin’s chest.
The youngest of their four children was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma on Aug. 12. In a matter of days, Kevin’s tweets shifted from jokes with friends to inspirational quotes about being brave in the toughest fight of all. The hashtag #FFK—Fight For Kevin—rocketed around the Siddalls’ close-knit sports and school circles in Windsor. Kevin was brave, but overmatched. The Feb. 8 funeral, attended by more than 1,000, came a week before his 15th birthday.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m the one who passed away,” says Siddall. “That this isn’t real and this is the next life.”
— christie palazzolo ☆ (@clpalazzolo) April 30, 2014
Siddall had been a stay-at-home dad since retiring in 2000, when Kevin was just a baby. The plan was to get back into pro baseball eventually, but not before coaching Kevin—gifted in class and on the diamond—through high school. In the space of six months, though, the plan evaporated.
It was early in the grieving process that baseball came knocking. Longtime Blue Jays radio voice Jerry Howarth sent an email with condolences and Siddall replied saying, “Talk soon, maybe in the booth one day”—a throwaway line, really. Except there happened to be an opening—would Siddall consider it?
With Kevin’s passing came choices, and the Siddalls chose to keep moving.
“My wife and I are trying to be the lead for our kids,” Siddall says. “We’re trying to move on, as hard as it is.”
The #FFK hash tag became #LFK—Live For Kevin; cherish each moment. Shortly after the funeral, the kids returned to school: Brett plays baseball at Canisius; Brooke plays hockey at Guelph; Mackenzie is heading to UBC in the fall to study kinesiology. The nest suddenly empty, Siddall pursued a job he’d never have taken if Kevin still needed a coach.
“I was torn: Is this the wrong thing to do because of what’s gone on in our lives?” he says. “But at the same time, maybe this was some positive news that we needed.”
The Siddalls have embraced the big-league call-up. Brett joined his dad at field level at Rogers Centre a few times before leaving for summer-league baseball. His daughters visited him on the road in Pittsburgh and Texas, and Tamara comes into Toronto on weekends.
“It’s been a great distraction,” Siddall says.
It’s the off-days that can be tough. The Blue Jays had one in April, and Siddall dropped in on Kevin’s old team for the first time since the funeral.
“I just tried to be happy, to smile and laugh,” he says. “I didn’t want to lose it in front of the kids.”
It was an act, but he pulled it off.
Father’s Day was never a big event around the busy Siddall house. Had their lives not been turned inside out less than a year ago it would have featured a funny card, some breakfast and then off to Kevin’s baseball. This one will be different—Joe’s never spent one in the majors before—but from now on they will all be the same: #LFK.