Remembering ‘a proud New Brunswicker’: How former MLB pitcher Rhéal Cormier made his mark

Ralph Chambers, a friend and teammate of Rhéal Cormier during his time with the Moncton Mets, shares a photo and memories of Cormier, who died at the age of 53. Callum Smith / Global News

New Brunswickers are mourning the loss of one of their own after news came out Monday that former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher Rhéal Cormier had died.

The Philidelphia Phillies released a statement announcing the former lefty who made two Olympic appearances died after a “courageous battle” with cancer at the age of 53.

“Rhéal was just a quiet, unassuming left-handed pitcher who worked hard,” Ralph Chambers, a former senior league teammate of Cormier’s in Moncton in the 80s, tells Global News. “Somebody you knew who was going to get there through hard work.”

And he did “get there,” to MLB, playing 16 seasons for five teams.

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But it’s Cormier’s dedication to his home province that sets his legacy apart.

“A lot of people from the Moncton area, when he played with the (Montreal) Expos or (Boston) Red Sox, if they had a chance to go and they let him know they were coming, he always made time to talk to the boys from back home,” Chambers says.

“He never lost his touch of knowing who he was and where he was from. He’s just a good old New Brunswick boy who did well in the major leagues.”

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The president of Baseball New Brunswick echoes those thoughts, sharing appreciation for Cormier’s influence on and off the field and his love of growing the game through volunteering.

“Rheal was truly a nepotist for young francophones to be able to want to play,” Michael Keating says. “He was always available for fundraisers and the like, and always portrayed himself as a true professional.”

The proud Acadian born in Saint-Andre-LeBlanc, about 40 minutes from Moncton, made his MLB debut on National Acadian Day in 1991.

Cormier was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012 and the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

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“We’re very proud of his contribution to what he’s done in sport, but I think many generations of individuals have had an opportunity to see what he contributed and the fact that he went away to the majors and then came back, and was always a very proud New Brunswicker,” Jamie Wolverton, the executive director for the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, says.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs expressed condolences to Cormier’s family and friends in a written statement Tuesday.

“Marcia and I were saddened to learn of the passing of former major league pitcher Rhéal Cormier,” Higgs said. “He was a kind and generous man, proud of his Acadian origin.”

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Cormier is survived by his wife, Lucienne, son Justin and daughter Morgan, the statement said.

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“On behalf of all New Brunswickers, I offer my sincerest condolences to Rhéal’s family and friends,” Higgs said.

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