Baseball player, teacher
Reno Bertoia was born January 8, 1935, in St. Vito Udine, Italy. He moved with his family to Windsor when he was one year old; his next-door neighbour happened to be Hank Biasatti, another Windsorite who would excel in professional athletics. Bertoia played third base for the Detroit Tigers (1953-58, 1961-62), Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1959-61), and Kansas City Athletics (1961); his career batting average was .244, he hit 27 home runs, and had 171 runs batted in over 612 games.
Reno attended Gordon McGregor Public School where he not only shone on the diamond, but also in basketball and soccer. He didn’t play organized ball until he was 13, but his natural abilities were so obvious that he was fielding offers from teams throughout Windsor and Detroit. Besides the inspiration he got from neighbour Biasatti, Bertoia also benefitted from his coach and mentor at Assumption High, Father Ronald Cullen. As an 18-year old, he was voted the Best Baseball Prospect in Detroit. His first contract with the Tigers paid $10,000 for himself, $1000 for his mother to travel to Italy, and a promise by the Tigers to pay his future college tuition.
Reno played his first game on September 22nd, 1953. It was not an auspicious outing. He was up against the St Louis Browns and its great pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Earlier, in the field, Reno had been spiked at second base by Jim Dyck. Still hurting from the injury, Bertoia quickly struck out against Paige. Bertoia barely remembered the at-bat: manager Fred Hutchinson removed him from the game, and he was put on the disabled list for the rest of the season.
For the next few years, Bertoia played for the Tigers while also working towards his B.A. which he got in 1958. A Topps baseball card published in 1959 summed up his play as follows: “Reno has a fine arm and can fire bullets across the diamond. Digging out hot smashes is second nature to this fine infielder.” In the off-season, he started serving as a substitute teacher. In January 1964, Bertoia signed to play in the Japanese Central League with Hanshin Tigers. Owing to his son’s illness, Reno asked for his release just a few weeks into the season.
After his retirement, Bertoia moved into what would become a three-decade career in the Windsor Catholic school system. Said his daughter Ruth: “He only played baseball for 10 years; he was a teacher for 30. He always said baseball was just a small part of who he was.”
Reno was inducted into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, and the University of Windsor Alumni Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.
Reno Bertoia died on April 15, 2011, aged 76, in Windsor. His first major-league roommate, Tiger great Al Kaline, said in a statement after Bertoia’s death: “Reno was a very special person, and one of the nicest people to be around.”