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Ray Ferraro watched Bay grow into perfect fit for Mets

RAY FERRARO, Center Islanders (1990-1995): 316 games, 116

Islanders (1990-1995): 316 games, 116 G, 122 A, 238 PTS Rangers (1995-1996): 65 games, 25 G, 29 A, 54 PTS Credit: AP

Jason Bay will be a perfect fit for New York. That is the belief of Ray Ferraro, who knows a fair amount about the area and a lot about the player. Long before Ferraro was an all-star with the Islanders and a free-agent signee with the Rangers, he grew up in tiny Trail, British Columbia, and watched the Mets' new slugger grow up.

"His mom's sister is one of my oldest friends. She used to baby-sit Jason and Jason's sister when I was 16, so I knew him when I was 16," said Ferraro, now a hockey TV analyst. "Lots of guys end up with chunks of change and they become different people. Not him."

The caveat about Bay being perfect for New York - the city that formally will welcome him Tuesday with a news conference at Citi Field - is that, in Ferraro's estimation, he would be a perfect fit anywhere. "You know what? He could live in New York or Kansas City and he would be equally as satisfied," the former National Hockey League center said.

"He is as professional as they come. He is a fantastic guy. Zero maintenance in the clubhouse. He came from a blue-collar town, from blue-collar parents. He's a simple, hard working guy who comes to the park, does his job and goes home."

Ferraro remembers watching Bay play youth hockey, at which he was good. He recalls seeing him play with current Edmonton Oilers center Shawn Horcoff, Bay's lifelong friend. Like everyone else in Trail, Ferraro knows the story about the time the Babe Ruth World Series was held in their town, only to have Bay miss the great chance because he had a broken wrist.

"I think the greatest testament to him is that he was never considered the best player [on any team] he ever played on," Ferraro said, hinting that Bay's best quality is that he never gives up - a trait that will come in handy with the Mets.

All the people in Trail, with a population about 8,000, know how Bay bounced around the minor leagues (including a stint in the Mets system) without seeing much daylight. He was tempted to quit but just never could get himself to do it. "Put it this way. When he instantly became the richest export from British Columbia, I don't think there was one jealous person," Ferraro said.

Folks in Trail realize the value of earning your way. It is an earnest hardscrabble village less than 10 miles north of the U.S. border. People think nothing of working seven days a week in a family owned cement plant, as Ferraro's father did. Or working at Teck Cominco, a zinc smelting firm that also handled gold mining. That is where Bay's father Dave worked.

Hockeyville is what natives call the town, mindful of the legendary 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters, the last Canadian amateur team to win the world championship. Back then, Canada didn't send an all-star team of pros. It sent its best grassroots team to play against the other nations.

The Smoke Eaters' 5-1 win over the Soviet Union in Switzerland is, to some degree, western Canada's version of the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice. Those guys remain big names in their little town. The player/coach was Bobby Kromm, whose son Rich played for the Islanders. One of the stars was Cominco employee Addie Tambellini, whose son Steve played for the Islanders and grandson Jeff plays for them now.

In Trail, hockey always has been as thick as the smelter's exhaust. Adam Deadmarsh, Dallas Drake, Cesare Maniago and Barret Jackman were others who reached the NHL from there. But Dave Bay loved baseball, particularly the Red Sox. He would take Jason and his sister (who would become an Olympic softball player) to Mariners games in Seattle.

Jason was influenced by an accomplished, no-nonsense Little League coach, Andy Bileski, who won four national titles. "He coached Jason's dad in that era and Jason in that era, and everybody in between," said Ferraro, who remembers getting an earful from Bileski, who claimed that playing golf messed up the 12-year-old Ferraro's baseball swing.

Bay decided to stick with baseball even though his high school didn't have a team and even though that required him to regularly drive to Idaho for American Legion games. The Mets' new greatest hope is a sign that you can get here from there.

Ferraro ran into Bay in Anaheim last year, when the former was doing a telecast and the latter was in town with the Red Sox. To the former hockey player, the baseball player wasn't a bit different from the kid for whom his friend used to baby-sit. Bay autographed a jersey for Ferraro's son Landon, an NHL draft pick last June.

Not that Ferraro is thrilled with the latest turn of events. The former Islander and Ranger is a Red Sox die-hard and he loved having an old neighbor on the team. Three-year-old Riley Ferraro's favorite item of clothing was a "Bay" Red Sox jersey.

The Ferraros are just going to have to find room in their hearts for the Mets. "It's not a problem," Ray said, "to root against the Yankees."

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