Unbeknownst to him at the time, Jamie Samson was 12 when he sent an email that would shape the next 20-plus years of his life.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Jamie Samson was 12 when he sent an email that would shape the next 20-plus years of his life.

Without even telling his parents, the youngster from St. Andrews went online one day and looked up how he could become a batboy for the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

In the hunt

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Kyle Martin at bat in Fargo at the end of June.

MITCH HIGHMAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kyle Martin at bat in Fargo at the end of June.

The Winnipeg Goldeyes are starting to crawl back into the playoff race.

The Fish are officially out of the American Association North Division basement after going 8-5 in their last 13 games. Heading into Thursday night's series finale against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, the Goldeyes boast a 20-23 record on the year and find themselves 4.5 games out of a playoff spot.

While the team is starting to play some better baseball, the people of Jackson, Tenn., aren't coming out in droves to support the club. The Goldeyes sit at the bottom of the 11-team league in attendance with an average of 549 fans in the stands when they're playing at their temporary home, The Ballpark.

The lack of cheers isn't slowing down first baseman Kyle Martin, though, as he's leading the team with 12 home runs and 42 RBI. Infielder Raul Navarro has also impressed at the dish, he's batting .340 with one homer and 29 RBI.

But offence hasn't been the issue, it's pitching. Right before the season began, the Fish had their ace Mitchell Lambson retire and several important arms get signed by MLB clubs. They've been scrambling for pitchers since.

The Goldeyes have surrendered the third most earned runs in the league (258). Eduard Reyes leads the team with 10 starts and has a 4-4 record with a 6.45 ERA. Jorge Gonzalez has been their most reliable starter thus far at 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA in nine starts.

It turns out there was an opening, so the Goldeyes called his home phone to deliver the news. His folks, Karen and Cliff, were a little caught off guard at first, but Samson got them up to speed and they gave him the OK — even though Shaw Park is roughly 45 minutes away from St. Andrews.

"I was only getting paid $5 a game so I don't think it was even covering their fuel," Samson said with a laugh.

"And then on top of that, we'd be driving downtown during rush hour and they couldn't make any left turns so I'm sure they weren't too thrilled with it, but they were troopers and did it. I'm pretty appreciative that they did that."

All the money spent on gas ended up being a good investment. After four years of lugging bats back to the dugout, Samson's work ethic was noticed and he became the assistant clubhouse manager. He'd hold that position for two years before he got promoted to clubhouse manager in 2007 — a job he's held ever since.

Well, except for last summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a knuckleball at the American Association and the Goldeyes had to play the entire 2019 season as a travelling team based out of Fargo, N.D. Samson was forced to stay north of the border and have a summer without Goldeyes baseball for the first time in 20 years.

"It was definitely weird having a summer off for sure, but it was nice at the same time... I actually went camping for the first time since I was in Cub Scouts," said the 32-year-old Samson.

Outside of the baseball season, Samson works for Sunwing Airlines as a flight attendant and cabin safety manager. It goes without saying, but the pandemic has prevented him from partaking in that gig as well. The last time Samson was in an airplane was on a rescue flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver at the end of March 2020.

Perhaps it's a good thing Samson had some downtime in the past year because he certainly doesn't have any this summer. He's back with the Fish for his 20th season in 21 years, but this one has been the most challenging yet. Shaw Park remains empty for a second straight summer as the Canada-U.S. border restrictions have led to the Fish playing out of The Ballpark in Jackson, Tenn. With the majority of the team's staff still in Winnipeg, Samson's long list of duties has grown even longer.

With the majority of the team's staff still in Winnipeg, Jamie Samson's long list of duties has grown even longer

MITCH HIGHMAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

With the majority of the team's staff still in Winnipeg, Jamie Samson's long list of duties has grown even longer

He's been doing all the laundry, fitting players for equipment, grabbing groceries, booking hotel rooms, finding host families, making travel arrangements, sending packages, cleaning the clubhouse, and even picking up cakes for players' birthdays. Other than getting on base and throwing strikes, Samson does it all.

"They don't have the help for us that we'd normally have in Winnipeg. It's definitely been pretty challenging down here... One day, (athletic therapist Evan Fehr and I) didn't leave the ballpark until 2 a.m. We got there at like 11:30 a.m. Then, we were in an Uber the next day on the way to the ballpark at nine o'clock in the morning," Samson said.

"Evan and I didn't get out of the ballpark until 1:20 that morning. So, that was a 16-hour day. So that was pretty tough, like I said, dealing with absolutely everything down there."

Luckily, he now gets paid more than $5 a game."I think with the hours that we're putting in, it might be five bucks an hour," Samson laughed. "But nah, it's been alright."

After going all of last year without him, no one is more appreciative of Samson being around this go around than Goldeyes manager Rick Forney.

"Jamie's a godsend," said Forney.

"He's an unbelievable worker. He's very organized, very thorough. Obviously he's been doing this for a long time so he knows exactly what needs to be done on a day to day basis. He's really good at planning and getting stuff done well in advance. He does just about everything for us."

Jamie Samson as the Goldeyes equipment manager in 2013.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES

Jamie Samson as the Goldeyes equipment manager in 2013.

Samson's contributions haven't gone unnoticed by the players, either.

"Jamie is more than a clubby. In my time here, he really is a part of the team," said infielder Wes Darvill, who is in his fifth season with the team.

"He gets along so well with the players and is able to level with them so well and earn respect by how hard he works and how good he is at his job. He's been in the wedding of so many players that have come through Winnipeg and is a huge part in what makes this place so special."

The American Association is nearing the midway point of the season and there's still no indication when the Goldeyes can return home. It would make Samson's job a heck of a lot easier if the border opened up, but in the meantime, he's not complaining. His career has given him the opportunity to make lifelong friends with players from across North America and he doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.

"I think just being able to make these guys' lives a little bit easier is what keeps me going every day," he said.

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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