My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Veteran right-hander Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.) has signed with the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos of the Mexican Professional League for the 2020 season. This will be the right-hander’s 18th professional campaign. The 35-year-old Molleken informed me, however, that he will pitch for Canada at the Americas Olympic Qualifier in Arizona in March. Selected in the 15th round of the 2003 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Lethbridge Community College, Molleken toed for the rubber for parts of eight seasons in Bucs’ system before enjoying tenures in the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers organizations. The likable righty made his big league debut with the Tigers in 2016. Molleken spent 2019 with the independent Can Am League’s Quebec Capitales, posting a 2.51 ERA and registering seven saves in 28 games. During his pro career, Molleken has consistently answered the call for the national team and he was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning squad at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
· Former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. D-Backs manager of player and media relations, Patrick Kurish, confirmed that Pompey is in their organization via email on Friday. Kurish noted that Pompey is not in major league camp. After parts of 10 seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization, the speedy Pompey became a minor league free agent in November. Selected by the Blue Jays in the 16th round of the 2010 MLB draft, Pompey got his first taste of big league action in 2014 when he batted .231 with two triples in 17 games and he began the following season as the Blue Jays’ starting centre fielder and served as a valuable pinch runner for the club in their 2015 playoff run. Unfortunately, in the six seasons since, he has been hampered by a variety of injuries – including three concussions. But the fleet-footed outfielder proved he was healthy when he played alongside his brother, Tristan, for the Canadian national team at the WSBC Premier12 tournament in early November. In all, the 27-year-old Canadian competed in parts of four big league seasons with the Blue Jays. In 590 minor league games, he has batted .278 and posted a .364 on-base percentage, while swiping 167 bases.
· Right-hander Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) struck out two and tossed a scoreless eighth inning to pick up the win in the Blue Jays’ 6-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at TD Stadium in Dunedin, Fla., on Saturday. The 6-foot-4 Canadian has not allowed a run and has struck out five in three innings this spring. Soon to be 27, Romano, who’s vying for a spot in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, fanned 21 batters in 15 1/3 innings in 17 appearances in his first taste of big league action last season.
· Jon Heyman, of the MLB Network, tweeted out on Thursday that the New York Mets and Oakland A’s are two of the teams that have checked in on free agent catcher Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.). On February 14, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that Martin still plans to play this season. According to Sherman, Martin, who has not signed with a major league team, has turned down a few opportunities because he’s tending to a “family matter.”
· Happy 37th Birthday to former big league pitcher and North Vancouver, B.C., native Blake Hawksworth! Selected in the 28th round of the 2001 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, the 6-foot-3 right-hander posted a 10-13 record and a 4.07 ERA in parts of three big league seasons with the Cardinals (2009-10) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2011). He is now the pitching coach for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.
· On Tuesday, Gatineau, Que., native Phillippe Aumont made his second appearance of the spring for the Blue Jays. He pitched the seventh and eighth innings against the New York Yankees at TD Stadium in Dunedin, Fla. The good news about his outing was that he struck out five batters. The bad news was that he also allowed three runs and was saddled with the loss in the Bombers’ 4-1 win.
· Whenever Blue Jays’ spring training begins, I think of this photo (above) of the Blue Jays’ manager Roy Hartsfield teaching his players how to slide in the club’s first spring training in Dunedin, Fla, in 1977. I think it’s safe to say that not many managers are doing this today.
· When a professional athlete passes away, the value of their autograph tends to increase, and unfortunately there are those out there who try to capitalize on this by selling forgeries. Sadly, this has been the case with Tony Fernandez autographs. A recent review of eBay auctions turns up several forgeries. The first autograph below is a real Fernandez autograph, the second is a fake. Both are being sold on eBay right now.
· Happy 41st Birthday to Chris Barnwell! If you think back to the second World Baseball Classic in 2009, Barnwell batted leadoff and played shortstop for Canada in that tournament. The versatile infielder was actually born in Jacksonville, Fla., but his dad was born in Shelburne, Nova Scotia which made him eligible to suit up for Canada. Selected in 25th round of the 2001 MLB draft by the Brewers, Barnwell played parts of nine professional seasons, including 13 big league contests with the Brewers in 2006.
· Fifty-one years ago today was a sad day for my dad. His baseball idol, Mickey Mantle, announced his retirement at the age of 37. For years I’ve marveled at Mantle’s career numbers and, in particular, his 1957 season. In that campaign, the Yankees superstar belted 34 home runs and topped the American League in runs (121), walks (146) and finished with a .512 on-base percentage. His WAR for that season was 11.3. For his efforts, he was rightfully voted the American League MVP.
· This week’s trivia question: Name the four major league teams that Russell Martin has played for. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person with the correct answer will win a 1980 Topps Andre Dawson card, a 1983 Fleer Ozzie Smith card and a 1986 Fleer (Super Star Special) Rod Carew card.
· The answer to last 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?) was Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) who toed the rubber for the Blue Jays on June 13, 2016.