Crosby looks back on his baseball days ahead of Winter Classic

BOSTON — Sidney Crosby said Sunday that the first time he attended a professional sporting event, it was at Fenway Park. His dad, Troy, said he’s pretty sure that’s right.

Crosby might be off on some of the details, so we’ll leave out his account of the game. Hey, it was a long time ago.

But what matters is this: Crosby remembers being maybe 9 or 10 and going to a summer hockey tournament. His parents were driving him home to Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

“We said we should stop and try to catch a baseball game,” Crosby said.

They went to see the Boston Red Sox. Crosby remembers hanging around by the dugout at batting practice, wanting a souvenir from Fenway Park, asking for a ball and receiving one. His dad said he’s pretty sure that’s right, too.

“It was a pretty cool experience coming here at a young age,” Crosby said.

It’s pretty cool looking back now that Crosby will emerge from the dugout and lead the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Boston Bruins in the 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on Monday (2 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, TVAS).

[RELATED: More coverage of 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic]

The Penguins captain has done almost everything in his hockey career, but one of the few things he hasn’t done is play in a baseball stadium. Each of his previous five NHL outdoor games came in a football venue.

As a kid, he was a fan of the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays in an area where a lot of people followed the Red Sox, and he played baseball as well as hockey.

“Growing up, it was a big deal,” Crosby said. “A lot of the guys played both sports. We had the same coach for both. It was just a totally different feel, so laidback. I had a lot of fun playing it. It was just a completely different feel than hockey.”

The Penguins website spoke to that coach, Paul Mason, for a story on Crosby that posted July 19, 2017. Crosby was an all-star third baseman and pitcher, and he helped his team win two championships in two seasons with Mason.

“The ball team won every game in provincials by the 10-run rule and went undefeated in all tournament play,” Mason told the website. “It was almost unfair. We lost four games throughout the whole year. That year, we had six no-hitters from different pitchers. [Crosby] was one of them.”

Crosby wasn’t sure about that Sunday.

“I don’t know if I threw a no-hitter or not,” he said, smiling. “Maybe.”

Again, it was a long time ago.

Crosby stopped played baseball at some point because of spring hockey tournaments. But he picked up the sport again while attending Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota, in 2002-03.

“Just spring term,” Crosby said. “We had to pick a sport, because hockey would be over, so we played baseball.”

Crosby told the story of his last baseball game on the “Spittin Chiclets” podcast Aug. 7, 2019.

Video: Players share excitement about the Winter Classic

One of his teammates was Jack Johnson, who went on to become an NHL defenseman and now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks. Johnson got tired of brushback pitches and charged the mound. A brawl broke out. Crosby, who was on deck, grabbed the catcher to keep him from blindsiding Johnson.

The athletic director made them sit out the rest of the season.

“Yeah,” Crosby said Sunday, laughing. “That was my last game.”

It wasn’t his last baseball memory, though. Crosby got the chance to take batting practice at PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, on Sept. 8, 2010.

Beforehand, he asked teammate Mike Rupp if he wanted to go to a local batting cage to prepare.

“I’m glad we did,” Crosby said, “because it was an awesome day.”

Crosby didn’t just take a few swings at PNC Park. A lefty, he crushed a ball high into the rightfield seats. It bounced out of the ballpark, and we don’t need to worry about mistaken memories this time. The video confirms it.

Watch on YouTube

“I was close a couple times, and then I finally got one,” Crosby said. “I was pretty excited. I mean, I always led off growing up. I was getting on base, but I wasn’t hitting it long. So, to get one there, that was really, really cool.”

Rupp was amazed.

“His lefthanded swing was smooth,” said Rupp, now an NHL Network analyst. “This sounds foolish to say, but I mean this. It was almost like Ken Griffey Jr.”

You’d have to think Crosby could homer at Fenway Park, famous for the Pesky Pole, the foul pole just 302 feet down the rightfield line.

“If I put one out there [at PNC Park], I would hope,” Crosby said. “But that’d be wishful thinking now. I mean, how long ago was that?”

Crosby was 23 then. He’s 35 now.

“I’d like to think I still have that power,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know.”

Who knows, though?

Crosby is still an elite athlete. He leads the Penguins in goals (19), assists (24) and points (43) this season, and he entered the New Year tied for 13th in the NHL in scoring with Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor.

“That guy can do anything that he decides he wants to do,” Rupp said. “I’ve got buddies who’ve played in the big leagues. I’m not saying Sid could hang in the big leagues, but you could tell this guy’s played baseball before. It’s awesome.”

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