My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· I’ve been fortunate to interview a large number of players and ex-players during my writing career, but few have had a greater impact on me than Derek Aucoin. He’s a 6-foot-7 gentle giant whose heart is even bigger than his physical stature. Derek has the kind of energy and charisma that lights up a room and fortunately for those of us in the Canadian baseball community, he has gracefully transformed from being a Montreal Expos pitcher into a selfless ambassador for baseball in this country. Most importantly, Derek is passionate about sharing the game with children and few in Canada have given more to the sport in recent years. So now it’s our turn to give something back to Derek, his lovely wife Isabelle and their beautiful son, Dawson. Derek is battling brain cancer. Let’s give him and his family our thoughts, our prayers and our good vibes — whatever positive energy or strength that we can. This is the least we can do for a man who has given so much.
· The Houston Astros called up Canadian Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.) from the triple-A Round Rock Express on Thursday. With the promotion, the 22-year-old infielder becomes the 12th Canadian to play in the big leagues this season. The Academie Baseball Canada grad has gone 2-for-12 and played third base in his first three games with the Astros. Prior to his call-up, Toro owned a combined .324/.411/.527 slash line in 114 games between double-A and triple-A this season. A graduate of Vanier Secondary School in St. Laurent, Que, Toro is a switch-hitter who had 28 hits in 16 triple-A games before being promoted.
· Montreal native and former Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi that he might retire after this season. The Canuck backstop is in the final year of his lucrative, five-year contract that he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 2015 season. Martin has served as the backup catcher for the World Series favourite Los Angeles Dodgers this season. In 69 games, he is batting .207 with four home runs and has a .330 on-base percentage. “I know I can do it physically. It’s going to be, do I have the desire? Am I going to enjoy myself doing it? I don’t know,” Martin told Davidi when asked if he planned to play next season. “I’m going to have to see how this one plays out. I really enjoy the game – but I enjoy playing the game. I really like competing. Being on a team like this is fun, but if I wasn’t on a winning team, I’d have to be really selective on where I would go. I’d have to have that perfect fit and who knows if that’s going to be available. There are a lot of things that are going to come into play in the decision. This could possibly be my last year. I don’t know. It could be. We’ll see.”
· Congratulations to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins who was inducted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame last Sunday. The Canuck pitching legend was attending the event as the guest speaker when CEO Jane Shury surprised him with the announcement that he, too, was being inducted. For information about the rest of the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2019 induction class, you can read this article in The Battlefords News-Optimist.
· Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) was recalled by the Blue Jays on Thursday when closer Ken Giles was placed on the paternity list. This marks the Canadian right-hander’s second stint with the Blue Jays in 2019. He tossed a scoreless seventh inning in the Blue Jays’ 7-5 win over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. Romano had only recently returned to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons after suffering an oblique injury. The 26-year-old hurler has fanned 53 batters in 37 2/3 innings for the Bisons. Also, in four big league appearances in June, he struck out 11 batters in just 5 1/3 innings.
· Ontario baseball legend Ed Heather emailed me on Wednesday with this great trivia question: Who is the only major league player to compete in both games in which American League and National League records were established for the most home runs in a single game by a team? The answer is his step-son and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.). Ducey belted his first major league home run on September 14, 1987 for the Blue Jays in a game in which his club socked a record 10 home runs. Ducey was also a member of the Philadelphia Phillies when the Cincinnati Reds clubbed nine home runs off his team’s pitching staff on September 4, 1999.
· Rest in peace to former catcher Bill Mills, who died on August 9 at the age of 99. He had been the oldest living former member of the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. The Boston native suited up for eight games with the Leafs in 1944 after he was signed by Connie Mack and the Philadelphia A’s. In all, Mills played parts of five professional seasons, including five big league games with the A’s in 1944. The former Leafs backstop passed away while in hospice care in Gainesville, Fla. Thank you to Sam Gazdziak of the RIP Baseball blog for drawing our attention to this. You can read Sam’s extensive obituary of Mills here.
· Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Montreal Expos legend Tim Wallach believes Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown. “I’ve played with a lot of Hall of Famers. I think all-around, every part of the game, he’s the best I ever played with,” Wallach told MLB.com reporter Manny Randhawa last Saturday. This is saying something considering that Wallach also played with Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Mike Piazza.
· Twenty-one years ago today, Roger Clemens struck out 18 batters in tossing a complete-game shutout for the Blue Jays against the Kansas City Royals at SkyDome to set a franchise record for strikeouts in a game. With that performance, Clemens also became the first pitcher in major league history to have three, 18-strikeout games in their career.
· This week’s trivia question: Roger Clemens holds the Blue Jays record for most strikeouts in a game. What Blue Jays pitcher has the second-most strikeouts in a game for the club? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction program.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Aside from Tom Henke, three other pitchers have recorded 100 or more saves for the Blue Jays. Can you name two of them?) was any two of Duane Ward, Billy Koch or Roberto Osuna.
That’d be Brandon Morrow, with 17. I remember quite well watching that game on TV.
You are correct, Sean. Thanks for your support. I’ll get the program in the mail to you shortly. Thanks again.
Thanks for your answer and your support, Cath. Sean got the answer earlier. It was Brandon Morrow.
Thanks for another Sunday Canadian baseball blog. Keep up the good blogging.
Thanks for your support.
Derek Aucoin is a five-star guy and prayers go out to him to fight and win this battle! He uncovered one of the great secrets of baseball early in life, and like a drink when it falls out of the fridge, the secret just spread beyond what could be expected, and the more it did, the more Derek loved it. All people, including major leaguers like Derek, and countless other non-major leaguers, had such a fabulous experience in baseball, that they want to continue to give back to the game, the way it gave to them. Coaching is a very common way to reciprocate. And the beauty of all that, the secret that only unveils itself to you if you follow suit, is that by coaching, the game continues to give back to you, in spades. I can tell you hand-on-Bible that nobody every enjoyed playing the game of baseball more than I did, and if you had ever told me that I would enjoy baseball more as a coach than as a player, I’d have told you to go fry an egg. But it is so true, and lucky for Derek, and even more fortunate for the hundreds and hundreds of boy and girls that he has coached, that he figured this out as early as he did, and all he has done is give and give ever since. So, Derek, I give to you all of my solemn prayers that you will be fueled by the passion you have instilled in the kids you’ve coached, to swing mightily at this pitch and knock it out of the park!
Kevin, thank you for continously being our conduit for news among the Canadian baseball family!
Thanks for your comment and your kind words, Tom. I hope Derek and his family read this.
Heather’s excellent trivia question reminds me of another. Who was the only player to bat behind the two home run kings of all-time? Now, this question has been made more cloudy if you consider Barry Bonds to be one of them. Most people scratch their heads, because who could have possibly played in the era of Hank Aaron as well as Babe Ruth? Well, nobody of course. But Davey Johnson did bat behind behind both the Hammer (755) and Sadaharu Oh (868), the world homerun king from Japan. Bonds hit 762, but since Word Press won’t let me use a Font of 10,000 for the asterisk, I’m not including him!
I never saw anybody wear the Canada jersey more proudly than Rob Ducey. About 20 years ago, post-professional career, he had yet another knee surgery (I believe his 6th or 7th) for one purpose, to help Canada beat Puerto Rico in an 11th hour best-of-three qualifier. It was played in Windsor, and I was given the honour of serving as an assistant coach. I don’t remember his stats, but we took them in two straight, and in the 3-4 days of prep as well as the event itself, I don’t know if his feet ever touched the ground. He played great, and was such a natural leader. The players call him “River” (as in, “old Man River”). My one bad memory that I can’t shake is plunking him in BP, and of course it was on the knee he had operated on. It was the ultimate case of the: “Don’t think about elephants!”, scenario. I still remember, every pitch, thinking, “Don’t hit Duce in the knee!”
However, there is another anecdote that I will also never forget. Rob was a part of our national team a handful of times in future years, but as a coach. He never played for Canada again. Yet, despite this fantasy experience for arguably the most classy Canadian player I ever came across, only lasting two games, Paul Spoljaric was cruising and unstoppable in Game 2, and as River’s very likely final at bat approached, he quietly cornered skipper Jim Baba and asked him to let a reserve, who had busted his hump all week long, bat in Rob’s place. What an exit! What a pro! What an All-Star perspective!
Great story, Tom, Thanks for sharing this.
OUr thoughts and prayers are with the Aucoin family for sure.
Another young Canadian in the show. Great to see.
I sure hope Russell keeps playing, but parttime roles can be hard once you are used to playing all the time.
Thanks for your comment and support, Scott.