Blazing the trail is often a thankless job. Those that follow after can stroll the steps that were once far more treacherous or previously nonexistent.

But ask Arnold Hallgren, one of the first BC-raised baseball players to make the forty-man roster of a major league ball club, and he will likely tell you he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Before Ted Bowsfield, Larry Walker, and, more recently, Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, and Brett Lawrie, it was Arnie Hallgren’s trail around the bases that BC’s Little Leaguers wished to follow.

In February 1953, Hallgren, age nineteen, was invited to attend the Boston (later Milwaukee and now Atlanta) Braves spring training in Florida. He was extended $6 per day meal money and $25 per week for expenses. Yep, times were a little different then. Ted Williams was in the twilight of his career; Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were on the rise. And the American and National Leagues comprised sixteen teams, not the 32 of today’s watered down, eight-figure annual salary that bears little resemblance to the baseball of yesteryear.

While Hallgren would return yearly to the Braves’ training camp, he was unable to crack the club’s lineup. The Braves teams of the era were always amongst the strongest in baseball and featured future Hall of Famers Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, and Eddie Mathews.

However, his time with the club was far from uneventful. In his first game with Milwaukee, Hallgren hit a double driving in two runs. In a 1953 exhibition game, Hallgren matched the legendary Hank Aaron with three hits. Hallgren’s favourite memory from his time with the Braves was as a rookie, when he hit a double and threw out a St. Louis Cardinals baserunner at third base from right field.

Hallgren proved to be a standout at every level of the minor leagues. In 1951, he starred in the outfield for the Bellingham Belles, the Washington State Amateur Baseball champions and fourth-place finishers at the US championships. Hallgren returned to his hometown in 1954, when the Braves loaned him to Vancouver of the Western International League, where he played outfield for the pennant-winning Capilanos. In 1955, with Boise of the Pioneer League he won the league’s batting championship, hitting .348 with 171 hits and 139 runs batted in. He followed that up with another batting title in 1958 in the Northwest League.

While his baseball career is remembered most, it is often forgotten that Hallgren was one of Vancouver’s most talented all-round athletes in an era that was chock-full of them. In high school, Hallgren starred on King Edward Secondary’s football team as quarterback in the fall, while pitching for the school’s baseball squad in the spring. With King Edward, he put together an unprecedented winning streak of 25 straight wins and won the league championship game four years in a row.

At the same time, Hallgren played quarterback for the Vancouver Blue Bombers junior football team, leading them to the Western Canadian Junior Football championship game in 1950. For his efforts, Hallgren was named to the British Columbia Junior Big-Four Football League Half-Century Dream Team. In 1956, Hallgren joined the BC Lions for half a season, filling in at quarterback.

Born in a later era, Hallgren would have surely found his place amongst the greats in the big leagues. Even still, Hallgren doesn’t begrudge the opportunities that arrived for later Canadian ball players. He wouldn’t trade his treasure trove of big league memories for anything.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.