By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Happy 55th Birthday to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rob Ducey! Born in Toronto, Ducey was raised in Cambridge, Ont. The left-handed hitting outfielder was signed as a free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1984. After being named MVP of the Rookie Ball Medicine Hat Blue Jays that year, he rose through the organization’s ranks to make his big league debut on May 1, 1987. His first major league home run came on September 14, 1987 in a contest in which the Blue Jays clubbed a big league record 10 round-trippers to defeat the Orioles 18-3. The talented Canadian suited up for parts of five more seasons with the Blue Jays, prior to being dealt to the Angels in 1992. Tenures with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies would follow, as well as a two-year stint in the Japanese Pacific League with the Nippon Ham Fighters in 1995 and 1996 that saw him belt 51 home runs. He returned to Toronto for five games in 2000 and saw his final big league action with the Montreal Expos in 2001, making him the second Canadian (along with Denis Boucher (Montreal, Que.)) to start his major league career with the Blue Jays and end it with the Expos. Ducey is also one of only four Canadians (Boucher, Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont.) and Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) are the others) to suit up for both the Blue Jays and Expos. Following his professional career, Ducey competed for Canada at the 2004 Olympics and served as a coach at the 2006 World Baseball Classic and 2008 Olympics. He has also been a scout for the Blue Jays and has worked in player development for a Mexican League team and as a coach in the Phillies organization. He is currently the hitting coach for the Fubon Guardians of the Korean Baseball Organization.
– Tip O’Neill Award winner and New York Yankees left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) has declared himself ready to pitch if the MLB season were to start today. Paxton says he has completely recovered from the back surgery he underwent in early February. “It’s [my back] feeling really good,” Paxton told Newsday’s Erik Boland in an article published on Friday. “[My] back is a non-issue. I feel totally healthy, so I’ll be ready to go as soon as the season comes about . . . I think I’m back to full strength.” The Canuck southpaw has been rehabbing at his home in Wisconsin and has thrown “12 to 14 bullpens.” The initial prognosis after the surgery was that he would miss three-to-four months. The procedure that Paxton underwent was a microscopic lumbar discectomy which included the removal of a peridiscal cyst. Paxton, who has pitched in parts of seven major league seasons, is coming off a career-best 15 wins with the Yankees in 2019.
– Here’s some interesting trivia I learned about Montreal native Russell Martin from the tweet below on Monday. The Canadian catcher hit the only two walk-off home runs that the New York Yankees registered during the 2012 season. In all, Martin hit 21 home runs in 133 games for the Bronx Bombers that campaign, which would be his last in The Big Apple. To watch the two walk-off home runs, click on the tweet below.
– And here’s another piece of Canadian baseball trivia I learned this week: 2019 Tip O’Neill Award winner Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) was the Atlanta Braves’ first-round compensatory pick in 2015 for free-agent right-hander Ervin Santana, who left the club to sign a four-year, $54-million deal with the Minnesota Twins after the 2014 season. (I read this in this MLB Trade Rumors article). The Braves selected Soroka 28th overall in the 2015 MLB draft. The Canuck righty was actually the Braves’ second, first-round pick of that draft. Fourteen picks before Soroka, the Braves chose left-hander Kolby Allard, who has since been traded to the Texas Rangers.
– Former Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team pitcher Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) has remained in Dunedin, Fla., during the COVID-19 shutdown. Romano made his major league debut with the big league Blue Jays in 2019. Last Sunday he shared in a video on Twitter (click on the tweet below) that the first big league game he ever attended at SkyDome was on June 1, 1996 against the Kansas City Royals. He was three when he went to that game and he can’t remember much about it aside from running the bases after the contest. For the record, Joe Carter hit a walk-off, two-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning of that game to give the Blue Jays a 5-3 win.
– I was fortunate to track down and interview former Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Scott Brow for my “Whatever happened to . . . ” series for this blog. You can read the full article here. Brow played with a number of Canadians while in the Blue Jays’ organization, including Rob Butler (Toronto, Ont.), Greg O’Halloran (Toronto, Ont.), Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.) and Nigel Wilson (Oshawa, Ont.). Brow told me that Wilson had tremendous power. “Nigel Wilson could hit balls about as far as anyone I’ve ever seen. I mean that guy would hit balls in Dunedin that would carry over the light stand and then disappear into the darkness and you’re like how far did that go? Like literally how far did that ball go? 500 or 600 feet? Because that ball was still climbing when it went over the light stand.”
– Former Canadian Baseball Network writer Alexis Brudnicki continues to do outstanding work during the MLB break. Now employed by MLB.com, she is writing profiles about some of our country’s top scouts. This week her story about Blue Jays’ vice-president of international scouting Andrew Tinnish (Hamilton, Ont.) was published. Among the stories Tinnish shares in the article are about him marvelling at the skills of a teenage Francisco Lindor, about passing on Chris Sale in the draft and about selecting Kevin Pillar in the 32nd round. You can read the full article here.
– Back in September 2017, legendary Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan shared a photo on Twitter of his scorebook from the day that Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland threw a complete-game, 18-hitter (yes 18 hits!) to earn the win in the Boston Red Sox 12-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 25, 1977. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to uncover the number of pitches Cleveland threw in any box score of the game, but I suspect it was over 150.
– Happy 47th Birthday to the last active former Montreal Expos player Bartolo Colon! The Dominican right-hander recently said he would like to pitch one more major league season. Colon went 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts for the Expos in 2002 after he was acquired from the Cleveland Indians on June 27 that year for a package of prospects that included Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee. In all, Colon has recorded 247 wins in parts of 21 big league seasons.
– This week’s trivia question: There have been three Canadian catchers that have caught games that Bartolo Colon has pitched during his big league career. Name one of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. Please note: I’m going to hold off awarding prizes until after the COVID-19 pandemic. Hope you understand.
– The answer to last week’s trivia question (Prior to Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.), who was the last Canadian to throw a regular season pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies?) was Jesen Therrien (Montreal, Que.) who made 15 appearances for the Phillies in 2017.