By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
He’s the answer to a famous Blue Jays trivia question.
Who was the first player to be selected by the team in the June amateur draft?
The answer is Tom Goffena, a promising, high school shortstop out of Sidney, Ohio, whom the Jays nabbed 25th overall in the 1977 draft. And thanks to a surprise 30th anniversary trip to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame with his wife in November 2008, Goffena now enjoys a more prominent profile in Canadian baseball history.
Goffena’s wife, Karen, contacted the baseball shrine in St. Marys, Ont., to arrange the visit. Aware of Goffena’s significance in Blue Jays lore, Scott Crawford, the Hall’s director of operations, agreed to open the museum (which closes for the season after the Thanksgiving weekend in October) and asked Karen if she would send some artifacts from her husband’s career. She agreed and several items – including Goffena’s first contract and a game-used bat – are now part of the Hall’s collection.
Goffena, who didn’t know where his wife was taking him until he arrived in the Hall’s parking lot on this anniversary trip, spoke modestly about his place in Jays history.
“It’s not really something that I ever think about until people mention it to me. I was just tickled to death to get drafted,” he said.
A star shortstop in high school, the upbeat Ohio native began noticing scouts at his games in his sophomore year. The Blue Jays had informed him of their interest, but he was still uncertain who would select him on draft day.
“My dad, myself and a couple of friends were just sitting around waiting to get a phone call from somebody – or hoping to get a phone call from somebody,” he said.
He was elated when that phone call came from the Blue Jays.
“I was more than happy to be drafted by Toronto. At that time, Toronto had just started out. You’re not looking in the long run. You’re thinking, ‘Heck, I can get up to the big leagues a lot quicker,’” he said.
After celebrating with his friends and family, he signed his first contract – which, he believes, included a modest $38,000 signing bonus – and was assigned the Blue Jays’ short-season Class-A club in Utica.
When he reported, Goffena was 6-feet tall and weighed just 155 pounds.
“About two weeks into the season, I was homesick and I was 6-feet, 135 pounds,” he recalled. “They put me on a weight program. Then every single day from there on out the rest of the year, I had to go work out for four hours.”
With a young slugger named Jesse Barfield as one of his road roommates, Goffena hit a respectable .255 in his first season, earning a promotion to Class-A Dunedin the following campaign. But it was in 1978 that he would injure his back.
“We were playing the Yankees (affiliate) and I turned second and was going to third and something went in my back,” he said.
The injury would cut his 1978 season short, but after an extensive rehab program, he returned to Dunedin in 1979 to toil alongside Lloyd Moseby and Dave Stieb.
“Stieb would pitch a game and then he would play outfield a couple of days. He was one of those prospects where it was just a matter of time before he would be in the big leagues,” said Goffena.
Unfortunately, Goffena was still experiencing back pain and had lost significant speed, which was a key part of his game. He would undergo back surgery that year.
“I came back in 1980 bound and determined I was going to stick it out. But I told my wife it didn’t look good because you could just tell it wasn’t there like it was before. I came back in 1980 and I made it about half way through spring training and I got a base hit and I came around first base and I tweaked a hamstring. And I said, ‘That’s it.’ I was just not running right,” he recalled.
Goffena asked the Blue Jays for his unconditional release. He returned to Sidney, where he served as a golf pro for a short stint, before joining the highway department with Shelby County, where he was employed for more than 30 years.
He and his wife, Karen, have a daughter, Elizabeth, and a nine-year-old granddaughter named Emma. Goffena has been teaching his granddaughter baseball skills since she was six months old.
“Ever since she was a little baby, I would take a tissue, I’d roll it up in a ball and I’d look at her and she would raise her hands and I would throw it and I’d hit her right in the nose with it. And I did it until she finally put her hands up and started catching it,” he said.
Goffena’s brother, David, was also drafted by the Blue Jays in 1980. He played two seasons in the Jays system.
And though it has been more than three decades since Goffena played his last game in the Jays organization, he still cheers for them.
“I watch them every chance I get,” he said in November 2008.
Goffena was impressed by what he saw at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I can’t believe all the people that I know that are represented in the museum,” he said.
And thanks to his wife’s surprise anniversary present in November 2008, he, too, is represented in the Canadian baseball shrine. His artifacts will not only remind visitors of his place in Blue Jays history, but it will also help them answer a famous trivia question.
Author’s Note: This article was adjusted from a previous article I wrote in November 2008. The interview with Goffena was conducted in November 2008.