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SERIES: Nels Dunlop, who put players first, off to Hall of Fame

'He was a key part of baseball in Orillia for well over five decades,' says son of longtime volunteer coach, manager and umpire; Gala set for May 28
nels dunlop james pauk photo
Nelson Dunlop, centre, and one of the players from the 1966 Ontario champion bantam team accepts the provincial championship trophy. Dunlop, who coached, volunteered and umpired in Orillia for more than five decades, will be inducted into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame on May 28.

Editor's Note: OrilliaMatters is profiling the quartet to be inducted into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame on May 28. This is the final of four profiles. We started the series with a profile of Bill Smith, followed by a profile of inductee Mark Shivers and then, last week, a profile of lacrosse pioneer Joanne Stanga.

Nelson Dunlop went to bed thinking about baseball. When he woke, he began thinking about baseball. He likely even dreamed about the sport.

“He loved baseball so much,” said his son, Mick. “His whole life centred around baseball.”

Known as Nels, he arrived in Orillia as a young man after moving from Holbein, Sask. He chose Orillia because his brother, Gil, lived here.

As a boy, he loved playing baseball on any field he could find, and he never lost his love for the game.

When he discovered there was no organized minor baseball program in Orillia, he and Jack Middleton, Cliff Yeo and others enlisted help from the Legion and created a house league baseball program for local kids in the mid-1950s.

Nels was one of the first to volunteer to coach. And from the 1950s through to about 2005, he was involved as either a coach, manager, volunteer or umpire, explains Mick.

“He was a key part of baseball in Orillia for well over five decades,” said Mick with pride. “He invested a lot of time in the sport and the players over the years.”

The highlight came in 1966, when Nels Dunlop coached his talented bantam team to a provincial championship. That stellar team included two future pro hockey players: Rick Ley and John French.

“He always said that team winning the all-Ontarios was the pinnacle,” says Mick, who described his dedicated dad as a players’ coach, who loved to teach the fundamentals. “His philosophy was you play as a team and you win as a team. He made everyone believe in himself.”

But it wasn’t a win-at-all-costs mentality.

“I never heard him say a cross word,” Mick said of his dad. “He never chastised them, he never dwelled on mistakes. He was a really good teacher who focused on the positives.”

Nels became an umpire in 1963 “because you can’t play baseball without an umpire,” says Mick, with a laugh. In his later years, while umpiring, he was nicknamed the ‘Silver Fox’ in homage to his hair.

Nelson Dunlop was a blue-collar guy like so many in Orillia who worked in a thriving manufacturing sector during those years.

He was a shipper-receiver for Thermax, a West Street company that made Moffatt stoves. When that company moved to Owen Sound, Nels moved down the block to work at Hunter Enterprises.

When he wasn’t coaching or umpiring baseball, you could likely find him at the local Legion, says Mick, noting it was a big part of his “social life.”

Later in life, he also became a “full-fledged” Shriner and volunteered countless hours for that organization.

He also realized one of his dreams when he made a pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium to see his beloved Yankees.

He died in 2016 at the age of 88.

Mick said his dad would have been “ecstatic” about being inducted into Orillia’s Sports Hall of Fame — something that many feel is long overdue, he said.

“I had people text me with congratulations, saying it is great to see him finally get his due,” says Mick. “He poured his heart and soul into baseball in Orillia, so this is really fantastic.”

Dunlop will be inducted at a gala at Hawk Ridge on May 28. He will enter the shrine alongside athlete Mark Shivers and two other builders, Bill Smith and Joanne Stanga.

They will be joined by Dave Town, Wayne Dowswell and Bill Watters, who will also be officially inducted that night as last year’s ceremony was cancelled due to COVID.

Tickets for the gala are $100. For more information, visit sportorillia.ca. For information about tickets, email: Michael_ladouceur@hotmail.com