My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Baseball lifer Don Zimmer passed away last Wednesday at the age of 83 in Dunedin, Fla. “Popeye” spent 66 seasons in professional baseball as a player, coach, manager and adviser. Best known for his managerial stints with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs and more recently for serving as the New York Yankees bench coach, Zimmer also spent a season as the Montreal Expos third base coach under manager Gene Mauch in 1971. Zimmer had served as a senior adviser for the Tampa Bay Rays since 2004. The beloved baseball man had been on a ventilator since undergoing an operation on a heart valve on April 16.
– The Philadelphia Phillies outrighted Vancouver, B.C., native Tyson Gillies off of their 40-man roster on Friday. Acquired by the Phillies from the Seattle Mariners as part of a package for Cliff Lee in December 2009, the 25-year-old outfielder has hit just .217 in 37 games this season. He remains with the Phillies’ Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
– If you’re in the London, Ont., area on June 20, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame will be holding a fundraising breakfast called “London Salutes Canadian Baseball.” 2014 Canadian ball hall inductees and Montreal Expos legends Tim Wallach and Dave Van Horne will be in attendance, along with pitching legend Fergie Jenkins. The Hall also announced on Thursday that Toronto Blue Jays greats George Bell, Devon White and Duane Ward will also be at the breakfast. The event will include a hot breakfast buffet, a presentation on London baseball history, a live auction and a Q&A session with the aforementioned baseball greats. Tickets are $50 each. For more information, visit the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s website.
– Happy belated birthday to Pete Orr, one of baseball’s truly good guys, who turned 35 on Sunday. The versatile Newmarket, Ont., native was signed as an amateur free agent by the Atlanta Braves in 1999. After five seasons in the Braves’ minor league system, Orr, who has played for Canada in all three World Baseball Classics, made his big league debut on April 5, 2005. He has since served in a utility role for parts of eight major league seasons with the Braves, Nationals and Phillies. He’s currently playing for the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A Nashville Sounds.
– From the “I can’t believe he’s still playing!” file: ex-Blue Jay Randy Ruiz is now suiting up for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound first baseman/DH started the season with Tijuana of the Mexican League. Now 36, Ruiz was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the 36th round of the 1996 MLB amateur draft. After parts of 10 minor league seasons in eight different organizations, Ruiz made his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins on August 1, 2008. Blue Jays fans best remember for Ruiz for his 10 home runs in 33 games with the club in 2009. The Blue Jays released him on May 19, 2010, so he could sign with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japan Pacific League. He played parts of three seasons in Japan, before splitting 2013 between the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Veracruz of the Mexican League.
– Right-handers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are the best pitching prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, but it appears as though 2010 first-rounder Deck McGuire is also finally figuring it out. After being hit hard in his previous two seasons, the 6-foot-6 right-hander posted a 2.98 ERA in 10 starts with the Jays’ Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season to earn himself a promotion to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. In three starts with the Bisons, he is 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA. Set to turn 25 on June 23, McGuire has put himself back on the big league club’s radar.
– Melissa Couto’s weekly ThrowinSmoke column on the Canadian Baseball Network has become a must-read for me. This past week she shared draft-day memories from some Blue Jays and Canadian minor leaguers. Here’s her most recent column.