My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Congratulations to all of Baseball Canada’s 2019 National Team Award winners. The following awards were handed out on Saturday night:
Stubby Clapp Award – Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C.)
Special Recognition Award – Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.)
Junior National Team MVP – Dasan Brown (Oakville, Ont.)
Canadian Futures Award – Noah Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.)
Special Achievement Award – Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.)
Larry J. Pearson Alumni Award – Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, B.C.)
- Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, B.C.) who announced his retirement from his professional playing career with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League in October, is going to keep pitching for the Canadian National Team to try to help them qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The Canadian right-hander, who posted a 2.46 ERA in eight seasons with the Giants, is hugely popular in Japan. And he would love to return to Japan to pitch a last time for Canada in the Olympics. “It would just be icing on the cake to finish my career in Japan, where the bulk of my success was,” said Mathieson at the press conference prior to the Baseball Canada National Teams Awards Banquet on Saturday. “It would just be a lot of fun to be able to finish over there. I’m fortunate that I have a lot of Japanese fans that I would love to pitch in front of again.”
- For parts of three seasons, Mathieson was also a Giants teammate of Japanese right-hander Shun Yamaguchi, whom the Toronto Blue Jays recently signed to a two-year, contract. I asked Mathieson to provide a scouting report on Yamaguchi. “He’s a huge competitor,” said Mathieson. “He was a closer for many years in Japan. He had over 100 saves in Japan and then he transitioned to being a starter. I think he has close to 100 wins as a starter. He’s a guy who can throw 140-plus pitches in a game. He always wants the ball. He is very aggressive. He has a good fastball, but he also has a really good sinker – a power sinker. He’ll get a lot of ground balls and he’ll have a lot of quick innings. He’s someone that always wants the ball. And he’s a good person. He really got along with his teammates and everybody loved him . . . He was a good presence in the clubhouse and just an all-around good guy.”
- North Battleford, Sask., native Andrew Albers is recovering from back surgery and is hoping to be ready to pitch for the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League when they begin their season on March 20. After an outstanding season with Buffaloes in 2018 that saw him go 9-2 with a 3.08 ERA in 19 starts in 2018, his 2019 season was cut short by his back woes. The 34-year-old left-hander underwent back surgery in Cleveland in the fall to correct the issue. “I had a nerve decompression. It was very mild back surgery, but at the same time, it’s back surgery,” he explained on Saturday. “So at the moment I’m rehabbing from that and trying to get ready for spring training. It’s going OK. I’m having some minor nerve issues right now that are affecting some things and I’m hoping that will be all and I will be good to go for the season [which begins on March 20].” Albers has been rehabbing his back in his home province of Saskatchewan this off-season. This season is the last in the two-year deal he signed with the Buffaloes prior to the 2019 campaign.
- On January 21, Derek Jeter will be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball Canada president and former American League all-star Jason Dickson (Miramichi, N.B.) was introduced to Jeter’s Cooperstown-worthy hitting very early in his career. Jeter, a 22-year-old rookie at the time, was the first batter Dickson faced in his major league debut with the California Angels on August 21, 1996 at Yankee Stadium. The then-23-year-old Dickson was barely warmed up when Jeter deposited his first pitch over the left field wall for a home run. “In that environment at Yankee Stadium, with that lineup of guys they had that I had grown up watching [Writer’s note: The Yankees lineup also included veterans Darryl Strawberry, Cecil Fielder, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez and Wade Boggs], Derek Jeter, at that time, was probably the least of my concerns,” recalled Dickson of how he felt after surrendering the homer to Jeter. “But after you give up the home run, you just keep going, you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to keep battling. That’s what’s ingrained in you . . . But the more that time has gone on and Derek Jeter has done what he did in his career, it doesn’t sound so bad when you give up your first home run to a Hall of Famer.” To Dickson’s immense credit, he settled down to hold the eventual World Series champion Yankees scoreless over the next 6 1/3 innings to record his first major league win.
- By my count, there were five individual Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees at the Baseball Canada banquet: Ernie Whitt, Bob Elliott (Kingston, Ont.), Gord Ash (Toronto, Ont.), Bernie Soulliere (Windsor, Ont.) and Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.). Also present were seven players on 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.), Chris Leroux (Montreal, Que.), Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.), Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.), Pete Orr (Newmarket, Ont.) and Jamie Romak (London, Ont.). Dickson was on the National Youth Team that won gold at the World Youth Baseball Championship in Brandon, Man., in 1991. That team was inducted in 1992.
- Happy 50th Birthday to Ajax, Ont., native Nigel Wilson! Signed as an amateur free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1988, he spent five years in the Blue Jays organization before the Florida Marlins selected him with their first pick in the 1992 expansion draft. The left-handed hitting outfielder suited up for seven games for the Marlins in 1993 and then returned to the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds for five contests in 1995 and for seven more with the Cleveland Indians the following year. He enjoyed his greatest professional success, however, with the Japan Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters where he clubbed at least 33 home runs in three different seasons between 1997 and 2000. In recent years, he has served as the director of baseball operations for the Ontario Yankees elite squads.
- This week’s trivia question: I mentioned the Nigel Wilson had three seasons in which he clubbed at least 30 home runs while playing professionally in Japan. There are two other Canadians who have belted 25 or more home runs in a season while playing professionally in Japan. Name one of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1980 Topps Andre Dawson card, a 1982 Fleer George Brett card and a 1983 Fleer Ozzie Smith card.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (Jeff Fassero pitched 231 2/3 innings for the Montreal Expos in 1996. This is the second-most in a season by an Expos left-hander. What left-hander pitched the most innings (by a left-hander) in a season for the Expos?) was Ross Grimsley who threw 263 innings for the club in 1978.