Bertoia: Tiger by Day, Student by Night
Shelley Haggert Divinich
from May, 2001, Issue# 15
Little League player in Windsor hasnt dreamt of playing Tiger
ball? The vision of stepping up to the plate at the corner of Michigan
and Trumball has been replaced by the dream of Comerica Park, but
its still the same dream Windsor boy makes the big
Bertoia did just that.
in Italy in 1935, Renos family took up residence in Canada
when he was 22 months old. Like all immigrants, the Bertoias came
in search of a better life. Renos father worked at Ford Motor
Company, and the family settled on Hickory Road.
first started playing ball in the neighbourhood the schoolyards,
vacant lots and parks of East Windsor. His role model was next-door
neighbour Hank Biasotti, who had played major league ball for the
followed a similar path Gordon McGregor School, Assumption
College, and then the major leagues. He started following the Tigers
when he was a young newsboy, and the Tigers won the 1945 World Series.
the diamonds at Stodgell Park to Class D ball at Northwestern
Field in Detroit, under the supervision of Father Ronald Cullen
(who still coaches past the age of 80), Reno moved toward the ultimate
his 1953 signing with the Detroit Tigers
eighteen year-old bonus baby, Reno was luckier than
most. His initial contract included not only his signing bonus and
salary, but also a trip to Italy for his mother and a commitment
from the Tigers to pay for his university education. His 1954 Topps
card lists him as the only Italian-born player in the major leagues.
August of 1953, Reno was voted Most Outstanding Prospect in the
City of Detroit, and sent to play in the Hearst All-Star game in
New York City. Hed also been given a baseball scholarship
to the University of Michigan. After New York, John McHale, general
manager for the Tigers pursued him, and offered Reno his first major-league
the kid from a small Canadian town, the major leagues were a culture
shock. Most of the Canadian players at the time were pitchers
there were few fielders. In fact, in 1958, Reno was the only Canadian
in an opening day lineup. The pressure was the worst of it
but Reno was hardest on himself. "I worried too much."
to forfeit his scholarship to U of M, Reno continued his education
at Assumption University in between ball games. Friends would forward
class notes for him during spring training, and hed play second
base by day, and write exams at night.
parents were proud of his accomplishments his dad would often
be found in the stands at Tiger Stadium. Renos mother watched
while he faced the illustrious Satchel Paige in his first game at
Tiger Stadium. He got spiked at second base and she never attended
major league career didnt end with the Tigers. Over the next
ten years, he would play for the Washington Senators (later the
Minnesota Twins) and Kansas City (now the Oakland As) and
back to Detroit. It was easier, he says, to play for the distant
teams. "There was less pressure. At home, everyone wanted to know
what you were doing, how you were playing. I was always afraid of
fondest memories of the game involve the people and players he met.
He shared the game with some of baseballs greats Ted
Williams, Paige. For five years he roomed with Al Kaline, and recently
reconnected with Kaline at spring training in Florida.
leaving the major leagues, Reno settled in Windsor to raise his
family. "Windsor was home it never really occurred to me
to go anywhere else." The teaching career that had started as a
winter job in 1958 continued for 30 years at Corpus Christi, Assumption
and Holy Names. Reno also spent time scouting for the Tigers and
Blue Jays after his retirement from professional play.
agrees that baseball has changed not just the economics,
but the caliber of play. "If you look at the stats now, these are
big players most of them over six feet. But there are some
darn good players."
likes Comerica Park, and enjoys going to games. The Tigers have
been good to him, he says, but he has no airs about his major league
career. "I had my fifteen minutes of fame."
Bertoia was inducted into the Canadian Baseball hall of Fame in