Joe Siddall entered his freshman year as a Chippewa in the summer of 1987 with one goal on his mind: He wanted to play as the football team’s starting quarterback.
And while he never finished school or graduated – Siddall left Central Michigan University within his first year – the former Tigers catcher has spent his life forging his own path and chasing his dreams.
Now a sportscaster for Sportsnet, the ESPN of Canada, broadcasting analysis and know-how to audiences around the nation, Siddall said he owes much to CMU for giving him his start.
“It was very exciting to come to Central,” he said. “I came from Windsor that year (1987) and I was probably part of the start of a lot of Canadians coming to the States on football scholarships, so it was very fortunate for me.”
Siddall received his full-ride scholarship to play football at CMU, he was quickly red-shirted. Going into camp prior to his freshman year, Siddall was steadfast in his quest to nab the starting QB job.
Then something unexpected happened. A lifelong fan of both football and baseball, the 19-year-old Siddall decided to try out for the Montreal Expos by attending a handful of open scouting camps.
Siddall made an impressive showing, and was promptly offered a professional contract.
Perplexed, Siddall said he was admittedly naive to sign at first, but was happy with the prospect of leaving Mount Pleasant in his first year to play in the big leagues.
“I just played football because I loved it, so I was kind of shocked when (the scholarship) finally came to be,” Siddall said.
In only a few months, the college kid from Windsor went from an aspiring freshman starting quarterback, to an aspiring catcher in Major League Baseball.
The move made Siddall one of 14 former CMU students who have appeared in an MLB game despite never having taken the field at Theunissen Stadium for the Chippewas.
Stepping behind the plate, coming back home
On July 28, 1993 and only 25-years-old, Siddall made his major league debut with the Expos. From there he began a 13-year big league career that included a handful of stops in Montréal.
Although he was drafted by the Expos, Siddall wasn’t able to establish himself as a regular on the team’s 25-man roster, and eventually became a free agent.
Instead, he signed on as a member of the Florida Marlins in 1996, making 18 appearances with the team. The following year, however, Siddall spent the entirety of the 1997 season in the minor leagues.
In the late 90s, Siddall made it back to Michigan to close out his career. Playing for the Detroit Tigers in 1998, he totaled 65 at-bats – the most he had in a single season.
Taking a chance on a dream, Siddall said he landed the Tigers gig in the same way that piqued the Expos’ interest.
“I had my agent call the Tigers to see if they needed some catcher depth in the minor leagues. He called me back the next morning and asked if I wanted to be a Tiger and they signed me just like that,” he said.
The gig made Siddall feel like a boy again, when he sat in front of a TV and admired the sheer grit of his childhood baseball heroes.
“To play in the major leagues for the team that you have loved since you were a child was really a dream come true,” he said. “(Playing with the Tigers) was something special.”
Unfortunately, Siddall’s life took an unexpected downturn with the death of his 14-year-old son, Kevin, to a rare form of blood cancer in early February.
Through the hardship, Siddall was offered a chance to be at the ballpark once again surrounded by the game he loves.
Just before Spring Training in 2014, Siddall was offered a job in Toronto calling MLB games alongside mainstay Toronto Blue Jays radio broadcaster and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jerry Howarth.
Surprised and grateful, Siddall accepted the position in his home country working for his local Toronto sports network, Sportsnet 590, The Fan.
Siddall’s time as a member of the Chippewa’s football team may have been cut short, but he did eventually return to CMU in order to finish what he started.
He earned an undergraduate degree in human kinetics.
Out of all of his experiences at CMU, Siddall said it was his relationship for his former football coach, Herb Deromedi, that he will cherish the most. Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007, Deromedi coached CMU for 16 seasons and compiled a 110-55 record.
“After I talked to him on the phone while I was being recruited, I knew Central was an absolutely great fit for me,” Siddall said.
When he made plans to leave the team, Deromedi called Siddall and tried to convince him to stay, explaining to the young athlete the poor odds of making a career out of playing baseball.
It was the best advice he didn’t take.
“I do not regret my decision (to play baseball or leaving CMU) at all because what Major League Baseball has brought to my life has been irreplaceable,” he said.