Harold Northcott still has it.
Nearly 30 years after first stepping onto the rubber at Eastern Oregon University, the Clive, Alberta native found himself pitching in relief at the Mountaineers Alumni Game.
And just like he did all those years ago, Northcott left opposing batters shaking their heads as he worked a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout, fly out and ground out.
The lefthander was back at his alma mater as he was being inducted into the EOU Athletics Hall of Fame, where he compiled an 18-9 record while earning the nickname “The Giant Killer” for big wins over PAC-10 schools like Washington State University and Eastern Washington University.
After a storied career as a player and then as a coach in Alberta and Canada, Northcott was still humble about the recognition.
“For me, baseball has been a passion since I was a kid and I just kept on with it through today,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
“I really like giving back to the game and that’s where all this took me.”
As it turns out, the Hall of Fame induction was a long time coming, but the ceremony also came with a bittersweet feeling for the Alberta pitching legend.
LONG TIME COMING
Northcott first became aware that he was going to be inducted into the EOU Hall of Fame near the end of 2019.
Planning began for what would have been a 2020 ceremony, but was quickly put on hold because of the pandemic.
One induction happened in 2021, but it wasn’t until this year that the school was able to hold a full event with numerous people being recognized.
Northcott credits his former Mountaineers coach, Howard Fetz, with getting his name into the conversation.
“He did a phenomenal job on putting this all together and keeping it in their face,” he said of Fetz, who spent 20 years as EOC’s coach, compiling a record of 458-329 while winning multiple NAIA conference titles.
However, at the age of 83, Fetz passed away just days before the ceremony.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
While it was a tragic turn just days before Northcott was set to be inducted, the Alberta product wanted to keep the atmosphere light.
“He didn’t actually get to see it, but I’m sure he was looking down on the ceremony having a good giggle because I told a couple of Howard Fetz stories,” he laughed.
Among the many stories he says he could tell, Northcott says Fetz was a Rhodes Scholar and English professor.
“When you were in his English class, just because you were a baseball player, you didn’t get any extra credit there,” he said. “He was actually probably harder on you than anyone else.”
On the field, Northcott describes Fetz as being very dedicated with a love of coaching.
Not known for being overly critical of umpires, he recalls his dugout boss getting mad about a call that went against his team in a game versus Lewis-Clark State College.
Having once coached the Dutch National Team, Northcott says Fetz knew some Dutch.
“So he spoke to the umpire in Dutch, and what he said, I wasn’t sure but it wasn’t nice and didn’t sound nice,” he recalled.
“Well, the umpire responded back to him Dutch, so he just put a big smile on his face and went back to his coaching box and that was it.”
It was the influence of people like Fetz, as well as Alberta coaches like Ray Brown, Orv Franchuk and Keith Van De Keere, that Northcott used as inspiration when he returned home to begin his coaching career just a few years later.
DONNING THE MAPLE LEAF
Before his playing career was over, Northcott was able to represent Alberta and Canada on a variety of stages, including the Intercontinental Cup in 1985, where he was named the Most Valuable Player.
He also played with the Canadian teams at the Pacific Rim Cup, 1987 Pan-American Games in Indiana, and helped Canada qualify for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Northcott then turned his attention to coaching, where he was once again able to find success at the provincial and national level, including as the pitching coach of the National Youth Team in 1993-1993 with future Major League Baseball (MLB) players like Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Dempster and Eric Gagne.
He later joined the senior national program, coaching alongside Ernie Whitt at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg where Canada captured bronze.
The pitching coach recalls a team that was young, energetic, and truly enjoyed its time together.
“One of the guys said, ‘You know, this has been such a great experience, why don’t we just keep this team together and play in the independent leagues?’” Northcott said.
“That was like, ‘Wow,’ and was one of those things that really gives you tingles down the spine.”
Looking back on it, he says those opportunities to represent his province and country means a great deal to him.
“I was very fortunate in that I did it for four years as a player and seven years as a coach,” said Northcott, whose name has been added to the Rocky Mountain House Wall of Fame.
“You’re just so proud when you’ve got Canada across your chest – it makes you feel so special.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Northcott clearly has a lot to be proud of as he thinks about his own baseball career, but it’s the special connection the game has with his family that he holds closest to his heart.
His wife, Barb, has been involved in the game for years, most recently as the Alberta Girls/Women’s Baseball Director, while their children – Dustin, Chad and Heidi – have all blazed their own trails in the sport.
Northcott, who has a baseball field in Rocky Mountain House named after him, credits Barb for keeping them all organized as they all went in different directions to play with different programs at different times while he was busy coaching.
Eventually, both of their boys played for Indian Hills Community College before heading to the Division 1 Northwestern State University to finish out their collegiate careers, while Heidi made her mark by spending seven years with the Women’s National Team.
“When you have someone excel in a sport as a parent, you feel pretty good about it,” Northcott said.
“But when you have three excel at it … I’m super-proud of what they’ve done and what they’re doing now in their careers.”
While no parent will say they have a favourite child, he does get a good laugh at his sons’ expense.
“If you look at my phone, the background picture is Heidi pitching for Team Canada,” their proud papa beamed.
“I always keep the boys humbled and let them know that, one day, they’ll make my phone.”
With their first grand-child on the way, Northcott hints the family legacy will continue as he’s already bought a ball glove for the bundle of joy.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Having had the opportunity to work with the best young talent in Alberta and across Canada, Northcott says the future is bright for Alberta athletes looking to make a name for themselves in baseball.
He admits there weren’t many like him when he went to EOU, but within a few years, there were nine or ten Albertans playing in the division.
Northcott says athletes now have way more resources available to them through facilities, coaching and even strength and conditioning regimens that simply weren’t accessible a decade or two ago.
While a lot has changed, the director of baseball at The Dome Red Deer believes there is a fundamental piece of the puzzle that athletes still need to have: work ethic.
“You don’t get anywhere in baseball unless you work hard,” Northcott said. “That doesn’t mean just working hard at practice, that means working hard on your own as well – it’s a full-time job.”
He believes in the power of sport, in that the lessons learned will translate into life beyond the scoreboard.
Northcott’s baseball journey is evidence of this and a major reason why he is now in the Eastern Oregon University Athletics Hall of Fame.
Photo credits: Eastern Oregon University Digital Archives