one of Windsor's best athletes, dies at age 55
The 55-year-old Dalton had been a star in both hockey and baseball, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies in the mid-70s as a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher.
He was also the captain of the only Windsor Minor Hockey Association team to win a AAA All-Ontario title when he led the Club 240 Juveniles to the championship in 1975.
“Last night we were in shock, but today it’s hard to cope,” said Evan Wright, Dalton’s brother-in-law. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in.
“The last couple of weeks he hadn’t felt well. He had flu-like symptoms and he had a bit of heart condition, a fluttering valve.
“He went to the doctor (Wednesday) morning and got his prescriptions adjusted and he came home and it happened.”
Wright said an autopsy would be done Thursday with tentative plans for visitation Sunday and a funeral service Monday at Families First on Dougall Avenue.
Dalton is survived by his wife Cia, daughter Jordan and son Brendan and stepsons Liam and Kelly.
“I lost a great brother-in-law and a great friend,” said Wright, who played against Dalton in the Essex County Senior Baseball League while courting his wife Susan.
“He was an easy going, happy-go-lucky guy. He was a great storyteller who always had you laughing.
“Jim was a generous person like the rest of his family. A kind-hearted soul we’ll miss.”
Indeed as friends and former teammates tried to paint a picture of Dalton, it wasn’t his many personal athletic achievements that first came to mind.
Dalton’s legacy is a living one in the many kids and people he touched through his coaching and involvement in local sports on many levels.
“He gave to sports in this area in more ways than anyone can realize,” said Walker Homesites president Rick Prior, who met with his dear friend virtually every day for coffee.
“He always took care of the kids he coached. He was so gracious and generous.”
Prior said Dalton’s real gift was the positive way he built up youngsters to believe in themselves. Prior’s own son Adam immediately pulled such a story from his memory when his father asked him what he’d remember most about Dalton.
“He remembered he was only 10 and there were two strikes on him and the winning run was on third base when Jim called time,” Prior said.
“He came out and told Adam ‘Everyone in the park knows you’re going to bunt. You’re the maestro at this, so you just get it down and let’s win this game.’
“After that Adam knew he could do it because Jim believed he could do it. He got the bunt down and they won.
“He just built confidence and self esteem in kids.”
Described as a big warm, teddy bear of a man with a fierce competitor’s fire in his belly, Dalton could talk the talk because he’d done the walk in his playing days.
In addition to the historic hockey title, Dalton pitched two years in the minors with the Pulaski Phillies (Appalachian League rookie ball) and the Batavia Tigers of the New York-Penn League (A League) after signing with Philadelphia.
He went 5-8 with a 4.17 ERA and 71 strikeouts in his 41 appearances over the two seasons (1974-75).
Back home, he was a member of those powerhouse Windsor Chiefs senior men’s teams that made the Canadian championship their personal plaything during the 1980s.
It’s always seemed that teams with Dalton on the roster just seemed to do a lot more winning than anyone else. Invariably he was clutch in the big moments and that earned him the nickname Ace.
As a fireballer in his late teens, Dalton was picked to be part of an Essex County Senior League All-Star team that played against the touring Japanese national team in the mid-70s. The youngster was given the start over older, more experienced pitches.
“He’s the only guy I ever caught during the 60s and 70s that could make my hand swell,” said Tecumseh Thunder president Don Fields, who was a teammate of Dalton’s on the Maidstone squad. “The Japanese had to bring in their closer in to hang on to beat us 5-3.
“He’s the pitcher you wanted to start a tournament and the one you wanted on the mound in the championship game.
“He got signed by the Phillies and not many kids from this area got signed in those days. He had to be one of the top four of five guys of his era in baseball.
“As a coach, he wasn’t a yeller of screamer. I remember him sitting on a bucket just watching his players and quietly having a word with them when they came off the field.
“He had such a wealth of knowledge as a coach.”
Dalton was scheduled to coach the Thunder 16s this season, but he also had done tours as a coach with Walker Homesites, the Windsor Selects and Windsor Titans.
Better known for his prowess on the ball diamond, Dalton had the same winner’s touch on the ice.
“Jim was always one of the best players in Windsor minor and every year I wanted to be just like him,” recalls Club 240 teammate Dave Moore, who now coaches the Southwest Wildcats of the PWHL. “Everyone looked up to Jim.
“He was really competitive, but in a fun way. He made it like a friendly competition while he was pushing you to get better.”
Moore said Dalton always seemed to find a way to win so that even when it looked like blatant luck, it made you wonder if there was something mystical going on.
“In triple overtime of the deciding game of the OMHA final against Wexford, Jim shot the puck down the ice,” Moore recalled.
“The goalie went to play it, but just inside the Wexford line was a broken stick lying there. It hit the stick and went in the empty net for the series-winning goal.
“I remember that play like it was yesterday. He was such a great athlete and special person.”