From the Maccabi Canada website, cap tip Dave Blackburn:
BY DAN BERLIN – DECEMBER 31, 2011
Ben and Phil Gigan
One is a grizzled vet, having participated in Maccabi Canada Softball for 22 years, spanning seven Maccabi Games. The other turns 22 in the New Year, a rookie ballplayer participating in his first ever Maccabi Games. Together they wear the number 44.
For father and son combo Phil and Ben Gigan, playing together and representing Canada in Men’s Softball at the 2011 Pan-Am Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil is proving to be an experience of a lifetime. Phil, a member of Canada 2?s Masters roster, and Ben, a member of Canada 1?s Open roster, are fulfilling a lifelong dream of competing together at the same Maccabi Games.
It’s a goal for son Ben that’s been 15 years in the making. “I remember being six or seven years old and saying I wanted to do it,” said Ben, looking back on the early days of watching his dad compete for Canada. “That’ll be me one day,” he recalls saying.
With his game making great strides over the past two years with his club team, the Newmarket Jrs., thanks to the coaching and tutelage of former Canadian National softball member Glenn Ford, Ben’s dream to play for Maccabi became a reality this summer, after being named to the Open squad in August. Despite being the team’s youngest player, Ben’s versatililty has allowed him to quickly emerge in Brazil as a starter for Canada 1 with a knack for providing clutch hits.
It’s a case of, like father, like son.
Phil has made a career on delivering clutch hits for Canada
Phil, who first started competing in Maccabiah in 1989, has built his career on being one of the clutchest hitters to ever dawn a Canadian jersey. Always a key contributor to any team he’s played on, Phil recalls winning the gold against the United States in 1993 as his most memorable Maccabi moment. After tough losses to the U.S. in the ’85 and ’89 finals, Canada finally broke through four years later by hanging on to defeat Dave Blackburn and the American squad 4-3 in a dramatic gold medal game. The elder Gigan fondly remembers singling and later scoring what turned out to be the eventual game-winning run when he slid under the tag at homeplate to give Canada a 4-0 first inning lead. The cherry on top was seeing teammate Bobby Green, who hit a 3-run shot to score the other Canadian runs, and the rest of the team featured a day later on a front page sidebar story in USA Today. According to Phil, if you were to ask Blackburn himself, he’d tell you that he remembers Gigan and Bobby as two of the toughest he ever faced in Maccabi competition.
After winning gold again in 1997 in Israel, Phil wouldn’t return onto the Maccabi softball scene until ten years later, when he joined his longtime mates in the newly formed Masters division at the Pan-Am Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2007. Gigan and the boys picked up right where they left off, with Phil driving in the go-ahead run off Blackburn in a nail-biting semifinal win before capturing the gold over the U.S. in the augural 35+ tournament. Truly a quality result for Phil and for Canada.
Ben is following in his father’s footsteps, proving early on to be a big hitter vs. his country’s biggest rival, the U.S. In his first career Maccabi game, facing top American pitcher Jason Gluckman, the younger Gigan hit a homerun, a majestic shot that cleared high over the centrefield wall. Father Phil was standing on the sidelines cheering his son on when it happened, and Ben, with a smile on his face from ear-to-ear, pointed at his proud papa while rounding second base. “To see him hit that homerun was a very moving moment in my life,” said Gigan. “My goal was to guide him into the program, but see him succeed on his own merit and abilities. To now see him do well on his own, that’s what makes me happy and proud.”
Ben’s first career Maccabi Homerun made Phil one proud dad
Ben remembers the at-bat vividly. “(Gluckman) floated a curveball … I leaned back and swung really hard,” said the fresh-faced Gigan. “All I saw was the ball go up and I never saw it come back down.” Ben pumped his arms when he realized it was gone, before finding his father in the crowd. There were a lot of hugs afterward. “That was a shot,” said dad, recalling the impressive poke that cleared the giant 20-foot fence for his son’s first career dinger. Much like a fisherman making the big catch, Ben undoubtedly expects that, whenever retelling the story, “the fence will only get higher and higher as the years go by.”
Ben’s sense of humour comes to him honestly, his dad equally known as much for his clutch one-liners as he is for his clutch hits. As a member of the Masters team at the 2009 Games in Israel, Phil made the rash decision on his own to stretch a single into a double in a round-robin game against the U.S. while trailing by three runs. After getting thrown out easily by 10 feet at second base to kill a potential rally, he was greeted by the big boss Jack Fireman upon his return to the dugout. “What the hell are you doing out there?” asked Fireman. “Morrie (Frydberg, the first base coach) told me to go,” deadpanned Gigan.
Humour aside, at this stage of his career, It’s clear to Phil why he stays involved with Maccabiah. “It isn’t even so much for the ball,” said Phil, in talking about his return to Maccabi after a decade long hiatus. “It’s about the camaraderie that’s been built over 20-plus years. That’s what keeps me coming back.”
Well, now there’s even greater incentive for Phil, as he looks to the future and the possibility of participating in his astounding 8th Maccabi Games in 2013 with son Ben.
“It’s my goal to see him play in Israel,” said Phil. “That, for me, would be the greatest experience. The ultimate.”