My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· When the Toronto Blue Jays called up Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) on Friday, it topped off a great week for Canadians in the majors (Keep reading below for more Canadian highlights). The switch-hitting outfielder became the eighth Canadian to appear in a major league game this season when he entered the game after Curtis Granderson strained his hamstring on Friday. Pompey went 1-for-3 in his first major league contest since October 1, 2016. He added another single and made a diving catch in the eighth inning in the Blue Jays’ 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. The speedy 25-year-old joins Canadians Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) and John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) on the Blue Jays’ big league roster. But as Scott Crawford of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame points out, this is not the most Canadians that the Blue Jays have ever had on their roster. In 2015, the Blue Jays had five Canucks – Martin, Pompey, Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.), Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) and Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) – on their roster at one time. Pompey is the third Canadian to receive a big league call-up in the past 15 days, joining Maple Ridge, B.C., native Tyler O’Neill, who debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals on April 19 and Calgary native Mike Soroka who earned a win in his first big league start on Tuesday.
· Soroka permitted just one run in six innings to out-duel New York Mets fireballer Noah Syndergaard and lead the Atlanta Braves to a 3-2 victory at Citi Field on Tuesday in his major league debut. The young right-hander did so with a proud and boisterous group of family, friends and coaches on hand proudly waving the Canadian flag. Bob Elliott wrote an excellent article about Soroka’s debut that you can read here. One question that popped into my head, was, at just 20 years and 270 days old, is Soroka the youngest Canadian pitcher to earn a win in their major league debut? According to TSN stats, the answer is no. Soroka is the second youngest Canuck pitcher to earn a victory in their debut. Toronto native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Fowler was the youngest when he notched a win in his debut with the Philadelphia Athletics on September 13, 1941 when he was just 20 years and 167 days old.
· Just one night after Soroka dazzled in his big league debut, Ladner, B.C. native James Paxton struck out 16 Oakland A’s batters in seven innings to set a new record for most strikeouts in a game by a Canadian pitcher. Paxton broke Navan, Ont., native Erik Bedard’s record of 15 that he established with the Baltimore Orioles on July 7, 2007. Unfortunately, even with 16 strikeouts and seven scoreless innings, Paxton received a no-decision in the contest that the Mariners eventually won 3-2. With his recordbreaking performance, Paxton has now struck out 60 batters this season, which is the third-most in the American League.
· Happy 87th Birthday to the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays. Arguably the greatest all-around player in major league history, Mays amassed 3,283 hits – including 660 home runs – in his 22-year big league career. One of Mays’s favourite stadiums to hit in was Montreal’s Jarry Park. In 21 games there, Mays batted .403 with four home runs and 16 RBI.
· Congratulations to long-time Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer and baseball historian Andrew North on the launch of his new Centre for Canadian Baseball Research (CCBR) website. You can view it here. North has been the driving force behind the centre that will be an integral part of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame when it re-opens after renovations in St. Marys, Ont. The CCBR is a not-for-profit corporation whose purpose is to encourage and facilitate research into baseball’s historical development, particularly within Canada, and to disseminate the results of this research. The centre will offer a baseball library and research files. Members of the CCBR’s board of directors include esteemed Canadian baseball historians Bob Barney, Bill Humber and Chip Martin. North, who has organized the Canadian Baseball History Conference for its first two years, also announced that the third such gathering will take place on November 3 and 4 in London, Ont. Follow this link for more details.
· Happy 35th Birthday to Regina, Sask., native Stu Scheurwater, who is the only full-time Canadian umpire in the major leagues. Since officiating his first big league contest on April 25, 2014, Scheurwater has become a rising star in the major league umpiring ranks. His arduous road to the big leagues began in the Arizona League in 2007. He then worked in the Northwest, South Atlantic, Carolina and Texas leagues prior to calling games for six triple-A seasons. Scheurwater is the first full-time Canadian big league umpire since Montreal native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jim McKean, who worked games from 1974 to 2001.
· I’m glad to hear that a ball park is being renamed after late Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Wayne Norton in his hometown of Port Moody, B.C. The town’s Westhill Park field will be officially renamed after the legendary scout in a ceremony on May 12. Norton played in 1,206 minor league games – including five seasons in triple-A – before becoming a trailblazing baseball executive and scout in Canada. In the mid-1970s, Norton founded and established Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team and he became a long-time coach and manager for the organization, while doubling as a part-time scout for the Montreal Expos. He also managed Canada’s Pan Am Games team in 1975, prior to helping launch Baseball B.C. two years later. In the late 1970s, he was enlisted to create and write Baseball Canada’s first coaching manuals and many of the guidelines from those are still employed today. In 1986, Norton established the National Baseball Institute (NBI) in Vancouver and hired Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Haar to be the first coach. The NBI evolved into the best baseball academy ever created in Canada and is often cited as the standard for similar facilities. After leaving the NBI in 1994, Norton evolved into one of Canada’s most respected baseball scouts. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Pat Gillick hired Norton to scout for the Baltimore Orioles from 1996 to 1999 and when Gillick accepted the Seattle Mariners’ general manager position in 2000, he brought Norton with him. For his excellence in scouting, Norton was named Canadian Scout of the Year by the Canadian Baseball Network in 1998 and 2013. He passed away on January 7 at the age of 75 after battling ALS.
· On Friday, Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols singled to right field off Seattle Mariners starter Mike Leake to register his 3,000th career hit. This got me wondering how many of those hits came at Olympic Stadium in Montreal? The answer is 18. Pujols was 18-for-49 at the Big O, good for a .367 batting average. Pujols also has 30 hits – including five home runs- in 23 games at Rogers Centre.
· This week’s trivia question: Who is the only major league player to record his 3,000th hit in a Canadian stadium? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1975 Topps 1954 Most Valuable Players card (with Yogi Berra and Willie Mays), a 1978 O-Pee-Chee Lou Brock card, a 1982 O-Pee-Chee Dennis Eckersley card and a 1989 Upper Deck Tom Glavine card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who was the first Blue Jays player to hit three home runs in a regular season game?) was Otto Velez on May 4, 1980.