As a child, Boston Bruins president and Hockey Hall of Famer Cam Neely played baseball. He was a left-handed pitcher and played until he was 16.
He jokes that he was never involved in any hockey-style fights on the diamond, but he did smash a few batting helmets in his day.
During his hockey career with the Bruins, Neely always followed baseball. He was a fan of pitching and paid attention to a local kid pitching in the major leagues named Tom Glavine. The Billerica, Massachusetts, native was a starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and had just won his first Cy Young Award in 1991.
The southpaw posted a 20-11 record, along with a 2.55 ERA in 246 2/3 innings of work to help the Braves win the National League pennant.
Not only did Glavine excel at baseball, he also was a standout hockey player. He received a scholarship to play hockey and baseball at UMass-Lowell and was also drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the fourth round (No. 69 overall) in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.
He decided to focus on his baseball career, and this weekend he will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
After winning his first of two Cy Young Awards in 1991, Glavine was invited to practice with Neely and the Bruins at the old Boston Garden.
Glavine was 25. Neely was 26.
“Even back then he certainly was well on his way to a great career,” Neely said. “Being a local kid and actually being drafted by another sport was something, I think, a lot of athletes would have made a mental note of, so to have him come out was kind of cool, because he’s a guy playing a different sport, and not many baseball players played hockey -- Larry Walker being another one -- but not many played hockey. So, it was kind of cool to have him out there. It’s a cross interaction with a different athlete from another sport.”
During one drill, Glavine scored a goal that was assisted by Neely.
“It was more of 'Let’s just have some fun with him out here,'” Neely recalls. “Obviously, if you get drafted you have some abilities, right? Someone saw something in you and thought you could play, so I think it was kind of cool to have a baseball player out on the ice with you, knowing he was drafted in the NHL.”
The two remained in contact once in a while.
When Atlanta still had an NHL team, the Thrashers before they relocated to Winnipeg and became the Jets, Glavine would attend games when the Bruins were in town. During baseball’s offseason, he would attend Bruins games at the Garden, too. He wouldn’t ask for tickets, and most times the Bruins didn’t even know he was in the building.
“He’s a guy, obviously, like most athletes, whether you’re a pro or not, you follow the hometown, unless you play against that team, right?" Neely said.
Neely was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005. As Glavine heads to Cooperstown, Neely understands what the days and hours are like leading up to a player’s induction.
“You start to reflect on all the people that helped you become the athlete and person to be able to have that great honor,” Neely said. “For me, a lot of the guys I spoke to, when you start preparing your speech you start thinking way back, like your parents getting up early to take you to practice. You think about all the coaches, volunteers and parents that helped along the way, and then you get into your teammates at the pro level and everything that they helped you accomplish.”