My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- It was 40 years ago yesterday that the Toronto Blue Jays played their first-ever spring training game. They beat the New York Mets 3-1 in front of a capacity crowd of 1,988 in Dunedin, Fla. Veteran right-hander Bill Singer, who also started the regular season opener, tossed the first pitch in the Blue Jays’ inaugural spring contest. Shortstop Bob Bailor was the first player to walk to the plate for the Blue Jays. With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Blue Jays DH Sam Ewing, a six-foot-three Tennessee native, socked a two-run double to left-centre field off of Mets rookie Dwight Bernard to score Jim Mason and Ron Fairly for the Jays’ second and third runs.
- Former Toronto Blue Jay Chris Colabello was batting .353 with a .500 on-base percentage (OBP) in nine games with the Cleveland Indians this spring before leaving the club to suit up for Italy in the World Baseball Classic. The 6-foot-4 slugger also homered and doubled for the Italian squad in the club’s 10-9 come-from-behind victory over Mexico on Thursday. Colabello, who hit .321 with 15 home runs in 101 games for the Blue Jays in 2015, was suspended for 80 games last April after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. After returning in late July, he was assigned to the Blue Jays’ triple-A Buffalo Bisons and batted .180 with five home runs in 40 contests. Colabello is hoping to land a spot on the Indians roster as a back-up first baseman/DH, but that could prove to be difficult, given that those are the primary positions of newly signed Edwin Encarnacion and veteran Carlos Santana.
- Los Angeles Times baseball writer Bill Shaikin reported last Sunday that the Washington Nationals – formerly the Montreal Expos – are one of the teams monitoring the progress of 41-year-old Masouche, Que., native Eric Gagne this spring. The former closer, who hasn’t thrown a major league pitch in almost nine years, is planning a comeback. While training with the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring, Gagne’s fastball has been clocked at 91 mph. The 6-foot-2 righty also pitched 2-1/3 scoreless innings in Canada’s 4-1 loss to Colombia on Saturday. Gagne pitched parts of 10 major league seasons from 1999 to 2008 and recorded a Canadian record 187 saves. He was a three-time all-star and in 2003, he became the second Canadian to win the National League Cy Young Award.
- Happy 46th Birthday to former Blue Jays outfielder Raul Mondesi. The rifle-armed right fielder was acquired by the Blue Jays from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Shawn Green on November 8, 1999. The stocky Dominican outfielder was a 20/20 man in two of his three seasons in Toronto, including in 2001, when he socked 27 home runs and swiped 30 bases. He was dealt to the New York Yankees for Scott Wiggins on July 1, 2002.
- Surrey, B.C., native Adam Loewen, who decided not to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic on March 1, was reassigned to the Texas Rangers minor league camp on Monday. The 6-foot-6 left-hander signed a minor league deal with the Rangers on February 13. The deal included an invitation to major league spring training. Loewen made eight appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season and posted a 3.91 ERA in 46 innings with the triple-A Reno Aces. The 2002 first-rounder had previous pitching stints with the Baltimore Orioles (2006 to 2008) and Philadelphia Phillies (2015) and played for the Blue Jays as an outfielder in 2011.
- Mark Teahen, a Canadian citizen with roots in St. Marys, Ont., (home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame) will play in the Italian Baseball League in 2017. The witty Teahen, who last played professionally in 2013, has been joking on his Instagram account about how he is “preparing” (and I use that term loosely) for his upcoming tenure in Italy. Part of his preparation has included drinking wine to help him understand the culture (“Little known fact Italy produces wine,” he posted). Among the challenges he has faced in getting ready for his season in Italy has been overcoming the blisters he got while taking batting practice at Scottsdale’s CrackerJax Family Fun Park batting cages. MLB.com writer Joe Posnanski shares more about Teahen’s upcoming gig in Italy in this article.
- It was three years ago today that the Blue Jays had reportedly signed right-hander Ervin Santana to a one-year deal, before the right-hander backed out at the last second in favor of a one-year, $14.1-million contract with the Atlanta Braves. Then Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was not the type to vent his frustrations to the media, but the way Santana’s camp handled the negotiations was about as miffed as I recall seeing Anthopoulos. To his credit, Santana proceeded to win 14 games and post a 3.95 ERA in 31 starts for the Braves, before landing a four-year, $54-million deal with the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2015 campaign.
- I recently discovered this spectacular colour footage of the Montreal Expos first-ever game at Jarry Park on April 14, 1969 in CBC’s archives. The Expos beat the reigning National League champion St. Louis Cardinals 8-7 in this contest.
- This week’s trivia question: Two players recorded three hits for the Toronto Blue Jays in their first-ever regular season game that was played on April 7, 1977 against the Chicago White Sox at Exhibition Stadium. Doug Ault was one of them. Who is the other? The first person to provide the correct answer will win 1984 Donruss Wade Boggs and Mike Schmidt cards.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (What living Canadian pitcher has the second-most career complete games by a Canadian to Fergie Jenkins?) was Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland (57 complete games).