My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· If there’s a better guy in professional baseball than Scott Richmond, I haven’t met him. The Vancouver native is kind, thoughtful and inspiring and he recently told me that after 15 years in the pro ranks, he is retiring. However, like fellow B.C. native, Scott Mathieson, Richmond plans to pitch for Canada in the Americas Olympic Qualifier in Arizona in March. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who toed the rubber for parts of four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, narrowly missed out on pitching for Canada in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 when he was called up by the Blue Jays just days before the competition. Richmond’s goal is to finish his career pitching for Canada at the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. I’m hoping he gets the opportunity.
· A classy move by Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) on Wednesday when he penned a tribute to Toronto Blue Jays great Tony Fernandez on his hat which read: “RIP Tony. My dad and I loved you.”
· Speaking of Votto, I uncovered this tweet (below) that shows how good he was between 2008 and 2017. For that 10-season span, the Canadian first baseman had the fourth highest WAR (54.8) of any big league player, behind only Adrian Beltre, Mike Trout and Robinson Cano.
· It was Canadian Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) who belted the first home run of the spring for the St. Louis Cardinals. The muscular slugger led off the second inning with a home run off New York Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman on Saturday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. (Click on the link below to watch it.). O’Neill, who finished 1-for-2 on the day, is in a battle for the Cardinals’ starting left field job. He split the 2019 season between the Cardinals and the club’s triple-A and double-A affiliates. In 60 big league contests, he batted .262 and clubbed five home runs.
· Right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.), who’s fighting for a rotation spot with the Philadelphia Phillies this spring, got the start in the team’s spring training opener against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., on Saturday. The hard-throwing 27-year-old was roughed up for three runs on five hits in 1 2/3 innings. Pivetta worked on his mechanics this off-season to improve on his disappointing 2019 campaign that saw him post a 5.38 ERA in 30 appearances, including 13 starts.
· Over in Arizona, Canuck righty Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) was scheduled to start for the San Diego Padres in their Cactus League opener against the Seattle Mariners but the game was rained out. Like Pivetta, the 25-year-old is hoping to pitch his way into the starting rotation this spring. In his rookie campaign with the Padres in 2019, the 2016 first-rounder went 6-8 with a 5.16 ERA in 23 appearances, including 18 starts.
· Back in Grapefruit League action in Florida, Canuck right-handers Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) and Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) each pitched a scoreless inning in relief for the Blue Jays in their 2-1 win over the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field in their spring opener on Saturday. Soon to be 27, Romano struck out 21 batters in 15 1/3 innings in 17 appearances in his first taste of big league action last season. Meanwhile, Aumont, 30, who pitched parts of four major league seasons with the Phillies between 2012 and 2015, posted an 8-4 record with a 2.65 ERA in 18 starts for the independent Can Am League’s Ottawa Champions in 2019. The 6-foot-7 right-hander also picked up wins in both of his starts for the silver medal-winning Canadian national team at the Pan Am Games in July.
· Here’s a Facebook page that Canadian baseball fans should like and follow: the Andrew Albers Fan Club page. It provides some excellent updates about what the Canadian lefty is doing as he prepares for his third season with the Japan Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes.
· It’s great to see John Gibbons back in baseball. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun reported last Monday that Gibbons has accepted a scouting position with the Atlanta Braves under former Blue Jays general manager and Montreal native Alex Anthopoulos.
· Happy 75th Birthday to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Howie Starkman! Born in Toronto in 1945, Starkman has spent more than four decades as an executive with the Blue Jays. He was initially hired as director of public relations on July 4, 1976 and he served in that capacity until 1998. In that role, he was in charge of media relations, broadcasting, travel and team publications. He was also responsible for the club’s “Name the team” contest prior to the inaugural season that resulted in the Blue Jays name. He also doubled as a public relations official for Major League Baseball for 15 World Series and 10 All-Star games. In 1999, Starkman was elevated to vice-president of media relations with the Blue Jays, before transitioning to vice-president, special projects from 2002 to 2014. In 2014, the Blue Jays established the Howard Starkman Award and named Starkman the first recipient. This award is handed out annually to the Blue Jays Employee of the Year “who best exemplifies the values of integrity, innovation, accountability, team work and a passion for winning.”
· Please take a moment to remember former New York Yankees catching great Elston Howard who would’ve turned 91 today. Before becoming the first black player to suit up for the New York Yankees, he honed his skills with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1954. That season, he won the International League’s MVP Award when he batted .330 with 22 home runs and 109 RBIs in 138 games. Sadly, he passed away in 1980 when he was just 51.
· This week’s trivia question: Aside from Scott Richmond, there has been one other Canadian with the first name, Scott, that has pitched in a regular season major league game for the Blue Jays. Who is he? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person with the correct answer will win a 1981 Donruss Rod Carew card, a 1983 Topps Johnny Bench card and a 1984 Fleer Ozzie Smith card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (What two Montreal Expos players have won National League batting titles?) are Al Oliver (1982) and Tim Raines (1986).