Tony Batista, a mainstay at Osoyoos Coyotes hockey games and at the local Home Hardware, died on Wednesday. He was 53.
No cause of death was available, but the Coyotes said he had been ill in recent years.
Batista was the KIJHL team’s unofficial “Boss” — as it said on the back of his jersey — and equipment manager.
He was also the town’s official booster.
“One of the coolest guys I’ve ever had the chance to meet in all the dressing rooms I’ve been apart of,” Coyotes coach Carter Rigby wrote on Twitter. “You’ll be missed in Osoyoos, big guy.”
Batista was probably as well known for his job at Home Hardware, where he had worked for 27 years before retiring at age 50.
Home Hardware owner Frances Sologuk told the Osoyoos Times when Batista retired that customers were always on the lookout for him.
That was also because Sologuk and her husband, Larry, managed to have Batista appear in a Home Hardware commercial that was often played during Hockey Night in Canada.
“He always used to say he wanted to get on TV,” Sologuk told the Times. “That was big. We worked really hard at arranging to have that commercial in our store with Tony. It was his dream.”
Batista had Down syndrome, but that didn’t prevent him from doing what he loved.
He was also a multiple medal winner at the Special Olympics, and had the honour of lighting a cauldron in downtown Osoyoos during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic torch relay.
“Three people were chosen to do the final legs, and when they were deciding on who to include, Tony’s name was top of the list,” Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said.
“There was a party at Gyro Park afterward and Tony, as usual, stole the show.
“He was Osoyoos’s warmest welcome, a ray of sunshine,” she added. “He talked with everyone, whether he knew them or not. ... People were very fond of him and he is certainly going to be missed.”
Jen Jensen, the Coyotes’ official blogger and photographer, called him “the ultimate fan, an inspiration in the dressing room and on the sidelines.
“Tony’s spot was right beneath my perch on the stairs, and more times than I can count, I’d glance down and he’d be trying desperately to catch my eye to pose for the camera with a big old grin,” Jensen wrote online.
Batista’s sister, Mary Joe Goncalves, told the Times in 2017 that her brother was “a happy man” when he was busy. You could often find him dancing to Gangnam Style at Coyotes games or downtown.
But she also said he began to tire more easily in his later years.
“He had enough,” Goncalves told the Times. “I thought it was time for him to retire. He was getting really tired and he likes to help with the Coyotes, so he’s always busy.”
It seemed everyone who knew him enjoyed taking care of him, also.
It was common for former hockey players to bring him gear whenever they passed through town.
“He’s been supported by an entire community,” Sologuk told the Times. “Everybody kind of embraced him. People that have lived here years ago still come in and take Tony out for lunch.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.