Home Team apparel La Coruña roots for Phillies’ Thomson in World Series

La Coruña roots for Phillies’ Thomson in World Series

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Sporting loyalties on the Ontario side of the St. Clair River have been split between Toronto and Detroit for decades.

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CORUNNA — Sporting loyalties on the Ontario side of the St. Clair River have been split between Toronto and Detroit for decades.

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The Blue Jays and Tigers hats have been put away for another season, and the hockey rivalry between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings won’t be renewed for a few weeks.

There is a new rooting interest in the border town of La Coruña and its surroundings. The Philadelphia Phillies are getting the love now that local skipper Rob Thomson has guided the team to the World Series.

“Anyone who thought a boy from La Coruña who went to the same high school as us was going to do something like that,” said local resident Becky Gilliland. “It’s incredible.”

Thomson took over as Phillies manager on June 3 and helped a 22-29 team turn the tide, ultimately claiming the final postseason berth in the National League.

Philadelphia has won three playoff rounds but now trails the Houston Astros 3-2 in the Fall Classic. Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

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Thomson, 59, was born in Sarnia and raised in nearby La Coruña, a small town of about 5,500 that overlooks the river and Marysville, Michigan, on the US side.

He played for the Stratford Hillers of the Intercounty Baseball League in the early 1980s and rose to Class A level as a player before becoming a coach in 1988.

Thomson joined the New York Yankees organization in 1990 and rose through the coaching ranks. Inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019, he spent the last few seasons as Philadelphia’s bench coach before being promoted to coach.

“He’s really been a lifer in baseball,” Hall’s chief operating officer Scott Crawford said.

Some Phillies flags flutter on porches in the warm and friendly community of La Coruña, about a 90-minute drive from Detroit and four hours from Toronto.

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Antonio’s Pizza, located a stone’s throw from the fields where Thomson learned the game, posted a congratulatory note to him on its signage along the city’s main street at the three traffic lights.

Inside the restaurant and sports bar, a few dozen people – almost all of them pro-Phillies – watched the action of Game 4 on the big screen.

Gilliland and his friends bought the “Rob Thomson Special”, a jug of beer and a medium Philly pizza with green peppers, onions, strips of beef and aioli sauce.

“He’s a small-town kid who made it big,” she said, staring at the screen. “There he is doing great things.”

Thomson is the first Canadian to serve as World Series manager since 1887, when Brantford’s Bill Watkins guided the Detroit Wolverines to victory over the St. Louis Browns.

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Longtime Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said baseball loyalties are divided in the region, but when Detroit failed to qualify for the playoffs and Toronto made an early exit, ” the whole mood has changed.”

“It’s all Phillies now and (there’s) great love from Rob and the team,” he said. “And it’s genuine because they’ve seen this workaholic who’s very calm continue to do what he’s been doing.

“Now look at the success he achieved.”

Crawford said Thomson, who played for Canada in the 1984 Olympics when baseball was a demonstration sport, is just an average guy with a long career.

“She’s just the friendliest, nicest person,” he said. “You hear a lot about people, but it’s a World Series game day and he (takes the time to) text me thanking me for wishing him luck.”

Lindsay Reid, a server at Antonio’s, said there was a significant increase in the number of customers – many dressed in Philadelphia jerseys – watching the series opener last Friday.

If a decisive game is needed, it will be played Sunday in Houston.

“There’s definitely a huge vibe now,” Reid said. “The unfortunate thing is that you can’t find too many American (team) clothes here, so a lot of people are going to have to order it.

“I actually saw that a little girl had a Phillies hat on and someone gave her (offered) $20 to have that hat. So I think people are pretty excited.

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