By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Former Montreal Expos pitcher and Quebec Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Derek Aucoin passed away on Saturday night at the age of 50 after a courageous battle with brain cancer.
The news of Aucoin’s passing was shared by multiple Quebec news outlets on Sunday morning.
Aucoin, who became the only Quebecer signed and developed by the Expos to have pitched with them at the big league level, announced in July 2019 that he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive and rare form of brain cancer.
“There are very few words to express the deep pain and sorrow that lives in us as our handsome Derek left us peacefully surrounded by love,” Aucoin’s family said in a statement on Sunday. “For 18 months, he has been resiliently fighting a hard fight against glioblastoma. Despite this merciless cancer, he lived in the gratitude of the present moment as only he could.”
Born in Lachine, Que., on March 27, 1970, Aucoin honed his skills on local diamonds and fell in love with his hometown Expos at a young age.
“When my dad took me to Olympic Stadium when I was six or seven years old, there was just something that happened when I walked into The Big O,” Aucoin told me in a 2010 interview. “It was like walking into heaven. I was profoundly touched by the experience. From there, I just had a love of the Montreal Expos and a love of baseball.”
A standout hitter and pitcher as a youngster, Aucoin was soon throwing the ball much faster than kids his age, and by the time he was 16, scouts starting showing up at his games. The Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos were among the teams evaluating him.
The young right-hander dreamed of pitching in the big leagues but he also wanted a college degree. So in 1988, he moved to Vancouver where he attended the National Baseball Institute, as well as Douglas College. That year, he also pitched for Canada at the World Junior Baseball Championships in Australia, where the team finished fifth. By that time, Aucoin was a bona fide prospect and the Expos signed him on July 17, 1989.
Pitching in the Expos’ organization was a dream come true for the 6-foot-7 right-hander, who grew up idolizing players like Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Gary Carter and Steve Rogers. And after parts of eight seasons in the minors, Aucoin made his big league debut with the Expos on May 21, 1996 at 3Com Park in San Francisco.
But Aucoin’s greatest big league thrill came four days later when he hurled two scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
After making those two appearances, he was sent back to the minors. In all, Aucoin pitched in 305 games in parts of 10 professional seasons, including making 60 appearances for the triple-A Ottawa Lynx in 1996 and 1997. He also joined the Lynx team in the postseason that won the International League championship in 1995.
In July 2000, following his playing career, Aucoin opened The Baseball Center in New York City, an indoor baseball facility that hosted programs for thousands of kids. He would become a world-renowned coordinator of grassroots clinics. At one point, he teamed up with Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation for a series of clinics.
Shortly thereafter, Aucoin would meet his future wife, Isabelle, and return to his home province where he served as a coach, teacher and volunteer at the grassroots level. In this role, he was a positive influence on thousands of children across Quebec.
He also distinguished himself as a highly respected member of the media, as a radio host and analyst.
Aucoin was also an important ambassador for the return of Major League Baseball to Montreal. He was a regular at the Blue Jays spring exhibition games at Olympic Stadium and befriended some of his childhood heroes like Steve Rogers and Andre Dawson.
In 2010, he trekked to Cooperstown to be there for Dawson’s induction ceremony and he and Isabelle would later name their son after the Expos’ superstar. In that same year, Aucoin told me that a meeting he had with Dawson 30 years earlier had a profound influence on his life.
“I got to meet Andre Dawson in a park north of Montreal that’s now actually called Derek Aucoin Park,” recalled Aucoin in 2010. “I got to shake his hand and that set in motion the next 30 years of my life.”
In 2019, Aucoin became the first Quebec native to sit on the board of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and in the same year, he was inducted into the Quebec Baseball Hall of Fame. On December 16, he was awarded the Quebec Medallion of the National Assembly, which is presented by the government to individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the province.
“We mourn the passing of Derek Aucoin, former Montreal Expos pitcher and member of our Board of Directors since 2018,” said the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in a statement on Sunday. “A gentle giant, Derek was a dedicated and passionate supporter of baseball on all levels and we will miss his infectious smile and enthusiasm for the game. Our heartfelt condolences to Isabelle and their son Dawson. Derek, you will live on in our hearts and we look forward to honouring your legacy in the coming year.”
Aucoin was known for being relentlessly positive and his enthusiasm was contagious.
“The baseball world is great,” Aucoin told me in 2010. “It has given me so much and it has taught me a lot, but for many different reasons Derek Aucoin didn’t get more than five days in the big leagues, but he’s got 30 years of amazing experiences.”
Our condolences to his wife, Isabelle, and son, Dawson.
Details on a celebration of life for Aucoin will be announced shortly.