My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Congratulations to all of Baseball Canada’s 2018 National Team Award winners. The following awards were handed out on Saturday night:
Stubby Clapp Award – Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.)
Special Recognition Award – Jamie Romak (London, Ont.)
Junior National Team MVP – Bo Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.)
Canadian Futures Award – Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.)
Special Achievement Award – Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.)
Larry J. Pearson Alumni Award – Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.)
Baseball Canada Wall of Excellence – John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.)
· North Battleford, Sask., native Andrew Albers had an outstanding 2018 season in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), posting a 9-2 record with a 3.08 ERA in 19 starts. For his efforts, he was selected to the league’s all-star game. The 33-year-old southpaw’s performance would’ve been impressive enough to garner interest from major league teams, but Albers, who has pitched 10 professional seasons, including parts of four in the majors, elected to sign a two-year extension with his Japanese club in August worth a reported $3.8 million. “It’s hard to say (if there would’ve been major league opportunities). It’s one of those things where you just don’t know,” said Albers at the press conference prior to Saturday’s banquet. “We had an opportunity to talk about a contract extension in mid-season and they made a great offer. They treated me extremely well and I was comfortable there and I was really enjoying my time there. And I thought, ‘What more can I look for?’ . . . It felt like it was too good to pass up.” With spring training scheduled to start on February 1, Albers will be heading back to Japan at end of the end of the month. The veteran lefty hasn’t ruled out returning to the majors in the future, and with baseball being reinstated in the 2020 Olympics, he’d love to compete for his country. “I’d love to play for Canada in the Olympics,” said Albers. “It’s actually something I have written into my contract. Any time there’s a tournament that doesn’t interfere with our [NPB] season, I want to make sure that I’m able to play for my country. Being that the Olympics are in Tokyo in 2020. I would imagine our season will get put on hold for that because the Japanese team will want to take their best guys. So there will be guys from the NPB there. So if we qualify this year, I hope to be able to play.”
· Receiving Baseball Canada’s Stubby Clapp Award was extra special for North Vancouver, B.C., native Rowan Wick. The 26-year-old right-hander appeared in 14 games for the triple-A Memphis Redbirds, managed by Clapp (Windsor, Ont.), in 2017. “It’s awesome,” said Wick when asked about receiving an award in Clapp’s name. “He’s (Stubby Clapp) a great dude and a great manager. He’s kind of like the 26th player on the team. He definitely knew how to get the troops riled up. And I definitely consider him a friend.” After suiting up for the Junior National Team, Wick was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth round of the 2012 MLB draft. While in the Cards’ system, Wick was converted from a catcher and outfielder into a pitcher in 2015. After helping Clapp’s triple-A Redbirds to a Pacific Coast League championship in 2017, Wick was released by the Cardinals on February 16, 2018 and picked up by the San Diego Padres. Following a strong showing with the Padres’ double-A and triple-A affiliates that saw him register 14 saves, post a 2.67 ERA and strike out 64 batters in 54 innings, the hard-throwing right-hander was called up to make his big league debut on August 31. “It was actually a crazy day,” Wick recalled of his August 31 call-up. “I woke up at four in the morning in Fresno, California and we flew through Phoenix back to El Paso and I was waiting for my bag at the airport and they said, ‘Hey, you’re going to the big leagues.’ Then I flew back to the Phoenix airport for the second time in one day and then flew to San Diego and then pitched within two hours of being in San Diego. So the adrenaline was flowing for sure.” Fortunately, he was able to channel his adrenaline into an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth inning in a 7-0 Padres’ win over the Colorado Rockies. In all, in 10 appearances with the Padres, Wick tossed 8 1/3 innings and struck out seven. On November 20, he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for minor league infielder Jason Vosler.
· If baseball pitchers were looking for advice on how to get likely 2019 Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez out, Baseball Canada president and Miramichi, N.B., native Jason Dickson, who pitched for parts of four major league campaigns with the California Angels, might have been a good person to ask. Martinez was just 1-for-13 (.077 batting average) off Dickson. But Dickson doesn’t recall many easy at bats versus the legendary DH. “Somebody asked me one time about who was the toughest hitter I ever faced and for me the hardest guy I ever faced was Edgar Martinez,” said Dickson at the press conference prior to Saturday’s banquet. “So then they brought up the fact that he was 1-for-13 against me and I said, ‘Well, the problem is you can’t really see what that 1-for-13 looked like.’ In my mind I can remember some balls that were scorched, obviously they got caught, but I don’t think I ever tricked him with anything. I may have been successful getting him out, but it seemed like he hit everything hard. He hit hard stuff. He hit soft stuff — in, out, up, down . . . That guy could hit.”
· Dickson also roomed with late Toronto Blue Jays legend and likely 2019 Cooperstown inductee Roy Halladay when the two were with the Blue Jays’ double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies in 2001. At the time Dickson was attempting a comeback from shoulder surgery and Halladay was revamping his mechanics under pitching coach Mel Queen. “Roy was a great guy. I think a lot of people knew him, but a lot of people didn’t really know him,” said Dickson. “I enjoyed rooming with him. He was funny. And that’s a part of him that I don’t think a lot of people really know. I have a lot of good things to say about him.” The two also shared a vehicle during their tenure together. “We needed a vehicle and we had a couple of different options, so we ended up with this old grey beat-up, half-ton truck that got us back and forth to the field,” recalled Dickson “The price was really good and it just seemed appropriate for what we were doing. I think we just gave it back to the guy at the end of the year when we were done, so it worked out well.” The two pitchers formed a strong friendship, so Halladay’s death in a plane crash on November 7, 2017 hit Dickson particularly hard. “I still envision myself as young,” said Dickson. “As you get older, you start to realize that more people will pass away due to illness and some other things, but there’s no adjustment to someone that’s perfectly healthy and perfectly fine to have that happen. So it made me sit and think about it. My first thought immediately went to his family because his kids are my kids’ ages . . . You worry for his family because I saw him that summer when he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. I had a good chat with him. It had been a while since we had seen each other and his wife was there and his kids were there. So to see it end the way it did was tough.”
· By my count, there were six individual Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees at the Baseball Canada banquet: Ernie Whitt, Pat Hentgen, Bob Elliott (Kingston, Ont.), Bernie Soulliere (Windsor, Ont.), Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) and Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.). Also present were nine members of one of or both of the 2011 and 2015 Pan Am gold medal winning teams that have been inducted: Albers, Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.), Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.), Chris Leroux (Montreal, Que.), Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.), Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.), Pete Orr (Newmarket, Ont.), Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) and Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.). Two coaches from those teams Greg Hamilton and Tim Leiper were also on hand, as well as Adam Morissette who worked as the media relations director for both squads.
· Condolences go out to Blue Jays analyst and Windsor, Ont., native Joe Siddall and his family on the passing of his mother, Nellie. You can read her obituary here to learn about what a strong, caring and influential woman she was. Rest in peace, Mrs. Siddall.
· This week’s trivia question: Montreal native Russell Martin was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday. Outside of Martin, who is the only other Canadian to suit up at catcher for the Blue Jays in a regular season major league game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1988 Donruss Roberto Alomar rookie card and a 1990 O-Pee-Chee Larry Walker rookie.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (There are three National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees that have managed Canadian major league teams. Who are they?) was Dick Williams (Montreal Expos, 1977 to 1981), Bobby Cox (Toronto Blue Jays, 1982 to 1985) and Frank Robinson (Montreal Expos 2002 to 2004).