My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• The first spring training game I ever went to was in Dunedin, Fla., on March 20, 1987. The Cincinnati Reds were playing the Toronto Blue Jays and I was an eager 13-year-old with an autograph book. I was shy, but I stood above the Reds dugout waving my autograph book at Buddy Bell. He snubbed me, but two other guys didn’t. In hindsight, (see above photo) I think I did pretty well.
• Al Rosen, a four-time all-star with the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s, passed away on Friday at the age of 91. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound third baseman played 10 seasons with the Tribe from 1947 to 1956. His finest campaign came in 1953, when he topped the American League with 43 home runs and 145 RBI. He also batted .336 to finish .01 behind Washington’s Mickey Vernon for the batting crown. For his efforts, he was named the American League MVP. Back and leg injuries forced him to retire when he was just 32 and he was a stockbroker for more than two decades, before George Steinbrenner hired him to be the president and CEO of the New York Yankees in 1978. He later served as general manager of the Houston Astros from 1980 to 1985 and in the same capacity with the San Francisco Giants from 1985 to 1992. In 1987, he was named Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year.
• In case you missed it, Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) was sent to minor league camp by the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday. The Canadian lefty had hurled 2-1/3 scoreless innings for the Jays this spring. He is expected to serve as a starter in Triple-A Buffalo this season. The 29-year-old pitched in Korea in 2014 and posted a 4.05 ERA in 10 starts in his first big league season with the Minnesota Twins in 2013. The move leaves Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) as the only Canadian remaining in competition for a spot on the Jays’ staff. The 34-year-old Francis hasn’t allowed a run in three innings this spring.
• Twenty-years ago, with the 1994 players’ strike dragging on, the Blue Jays were forced to contemplate beginning the season with replacement players. But Ontario labour laws forbid the club from fielding replacement players in Toronto, so the team would’ve had to start their regular season in Dunedin. This scenario, of course, never played itself out, but Tom Verducci relates a great story from that Jays camp in the February 23 edition of Sports Illustrated. He writes of Blue Jays replacement player Dennis “Speedboat” Jones, a 27-year-old left-hander who had spent parts of seven seasons in the Jays and Seattle Mariners’ organizations from 1985 to 1991, having the opportunity to pitch against his brother, outfielder, “Motorboat” Jones, who had been working as a custodian following seven seasons in the Cincinnati Reds organization. “When the two brothers squared off for one historic plate appearance: Speedboat vs. Motorboat. Motorboat walked,” writes Verducci.
• Former Blue Jays reliever Shawn Camp announced his retirement on Monday. The 39-year-old right-hander made 541 appearances and posted a 4.41 ERA in parts of 11 big league seasons. Four of his best seasons came with the Blue Jays from 2008 to 2011. In 2010, he registered a career-best 2.99 ERA in 70 appearances. The well-travelled reliever also pitched for the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. He told MLB Trade Rumors that he would like to stay in baseball in a coaching capacity.
• Looking for a feel-good story out of Blue Jays camp this spring? How about outfielder Caleb Gindl? The stocky 26-year-old, who reminds me of a left-handed hitting Reed Johnson, is batting .450 and has nine hits this spring – seven of which have been for extra bases (six doubles and a triple). The Pensacola, Fla., native is looking to rebound from a subpar 2013 season with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A Nashville Sounds in which he hit .227 in 110 games. In 2013, he posted a promising .340 on-base percentage and belted five home runs in 57 games with the big league Brewers. The Blue Jays signed Gindl to a minor league deal on December 12 and he’s making a strong bid to be the club’s fourth outfielder.
• This week’s trivia question: Fifteen years ago today, Boston Red Sox superstar Pedro Martinez and five other pitchers combined to toss a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla. Two Canadians contributed to the Red Sox 5-0 victory that day. Can you name the Canadian pitcher who tossed a one-two-three seventh inning for the Red Sox and the Canadian catcher who was behind the plate for the final out? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win 1984 Donruss cards of George Brett and Paul Molitor.