April 18, 2011 – The Twins opening day third-baseman in the Minnesota Twins first ever game back on April 11, 1961 against the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium I, Reno Peter Bertoia, passed away on April 15th after a brief battle with lymphoma cancer. Reno Bertoia is the fifth member of that opening day line-up to pass on.
Bertoia was born in St. Vito Udine, Italy on January 8, 1935 but his family moved to Windsor, Canada when he was just an infant. He grew up next door to another famous Windsor athlete, Hank Biasatti who made it to the majors and Reno is reported to be the last Italian-born player to reach the major leagues.
Bertoia graduated from Assumption College high school and in August of 1953, Reno was voted Most Outstanding Prospect in the City of Detroit, and sent to play in the Hearst All-Star game in New York City. He’d also been given a baseball scholarship to the University of Michigan. After New York, John McHale, general manager for the Tigers pursued him, and offered Reno his first major-league contract. Without playing a minor league game, Reno Bertoia was in the majors. Bertoia’s first major league at bat came at the tender age of 18 at the Tigers Briggs Stadium against the St. Louis Browns on September 22, 1953. His first at bat is a well known bit of local Windsor lore because it came against Hall of Famer Satchel Paige. “He told us he swung once, he swung twice, he swung three times and he sat down” recalled Beth Daly, his stepdaughter. That one appearance was Bertoia’s only big league plate appearance that first big league season because shortly after his first at bat, Bertoia was spiked while playing 2B and he was forced to leave the game. That was some welcome to the “big leagues”. Bertoia played for the Tigers through the 1958 season before being traded to the Washington Senators where he had his most productive season in 1960. When the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, Bertoia became a Minnesota Twin and was the starting third-baseman, but on June 1, 1961 the Twins traded Bertoia and pitcher Paul Giel to the Kansas City Athletics for Bill Tuttle. In his brief 35 game career as a Minnesota Twin, Reno had 104 at bats, 1 home run, 8 RBI’s and finished with a .212 batting average. Bertoia’s stay in Kansas City was also short-lived and he was again traded back to the Detroit Tigers where he finished his big league career in 1962. Bertoia played in the minors in 1963 and then went to Japan in 1964 where he played for one season with the Hanshin Tigers.
Bertoia was a Canadian baseball pioneer and blazed the way for Canadian players of today like Justin Morneau and Joey Votto. Reno Bertoia was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988. Retired Windsor Star columnist Marty Gervais wrote a book about Bertoia’s baseball career, simply called “Reno”.
Reno then went on to his second career of teaching and he taught for 30 years for the Windsor Catholic school board. “He was in many ways prouder of his teaching career,” Daly said because he felt he impacted a lot of people’s lives. Bertoia also spent some time scouting for the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays after his retirement from baseball.
Bertoia is survived by his wife Joan Daly, three children and three step-children. The funeral mass will be held on Tuesday, April 19 in Windsor.
Check out a nice piece called “Reno Bertoia: Tiger by Day, Student by Night” written by Shelley Haggert Divinich, you will enjoy it.