By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Calgary native Mike Soroka was named the Atlanta Braves Opening Day starter on Tuesday. The Canadian right-hander, who posted a 13-4 record and a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts in his rookie season in 2019, will get the ball for the Braves in their opener against the New York Mets at Citi Field on July 24. On Tuesday, the Braves tweeted out that at 22 years, 355 days, Soroka will become the youngest Opening Day starter in their franchise history. Baseball Canada’s Adam Morissette noted on Wednesday that Soroka joins a select group of Canadian pitchers who have made Opening Day starts for major league clubs. That list includes Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) for the Chicago Cubs (1967, 1969-73, 1983) and Texas Rangers (1975, 1979), Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) for the Florida Marlins (2001-02) and Cubs (2011-12) and Érik Bédard (Navan, Ont.) for the Baltimore Orioles (2007) and Seattle Mariners (2008).
– It was five years ago today that the Canadian national team secured their second consecutive Pan Am Games gold medal. In the nail-biting gold medal contest played in front of 5,489 boisterous fans in Ajax, Ont., the Canadian squad trailed the Americans 6-4 heading into the bottom of the 10th inning. International baseball rules dictate that teams must start extra innings with runners on first and second base. With one out, Pete Orr (Newmarket, Ont.) flared a single to centre field to score Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, B.C.) to make it a 6-5 game. American lefty David Huff then threw wildly when he attempted to pick Orr off first base and Skyler Stromsmoe (Bow Island, Alta.) darted home to tie the game. Orr aggressively dashed for third base and U.S. right fielder Brian Bogusevic threw the ball wide of the bag. Orr then scampered for home, while U.S. shortstop Tyler Pastornicky corralled the ball and threw it to U.S. catcher Thomas Murphy. Orr slid in safely in a close play at the plate and Canada won 7-6. It was an unforgettable sequence of events that will be remembered as one of the greatest in Canadian baseball history. You can watch what I’ve described unfold in the video below.
– There’s a buzz around Canadian right-hander Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) in the Toronto Blue Jays Summer Camp after he struck out all three batters he faced in Wednesday’s intrasquad game at Rogers Centre. With his fastball now regularly registering in the high 90s, Romano has added an excellent slider to his mix. He has been working on this pitch diligently in recent months. At the beginning of spring training, Romano was generally considered a long shot candidate for the Blue Jays’ bullpen, but he’s now being talked about as a pitcher who could be used in crucial situations in the late innings. The former Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team hurler made his major league debut in 2019 and had impressed in Grapefruit League action this spring, striking out six batters in five scoreless innings.
– Good to see Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rob Thomson (Corunna, Ont.) back with the Philadelphia Phillies after he had tested positive for COVID-19 last month. He reported to the Phillies’ Summer Camp on July 7. Thomson, who’s heading into his third year as the bench coach with the Phillies, told Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Scott Lauber that his symptoms were “very mild.” He told Lauber, however, that he did have a 101 degree fever that lasted for three or four hours and had “extreme body aches” for about 10 days. “I didn’t put two and two together. I didn’t think that was COVID. I just thought I was getting old or something,” Thomson said. “When [the fever] broke, all my body aches went away. It was truly fascinating to me. I feel very fortunate. I can’t imagine what other people have gone through.”
– Is it possible for a major league player to hit .400 during this year’s 60-game season? Well, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) hit .408 in 72 games in the second half of the 2016 campaign. Votto’s extended hot stretch is discussed and analyzed in this YouTube video put together by Foolish Baseball.
– Who was the first New York Yankees player to hit a home run in their first World Series at bat? No, the answer isn’t Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle. It’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee George Selkirk (Huntsville, Ont.). He walked to the plate in the third inning of Game 1 of the 1936 World Series, on September 30, 1936, and belted a home run off New York Giants Hall of Fame lefty Carl Hubbell. For the record, Elston Howard and Roger Maris later duplicated this feat for the Yankees.
– It was 20 years ago today that the Toronto Blue Jays made what is arguably the worst trade in franchise history. With a 51-45 record and trailing the New York Yankees by just a game-and-a-half in the American League East, the Blue Jays, with Roy Halladay shipped to the minors and Chris Carpenter demoted to the bullpen, desperately needed a starting pitcher for the stretch run. With that in mind, Blue Jays Canadian general manager Gord Ash (Toronto, Ont.) contacted his Texas Rangers counterpart and fellow Canuck Doug Melvin (Chatham, Ont.) about right-hander Esteban Loaiza. Loaiza had been a relatively reliable starter up until that season. However in 2000, he had posted a 5.37 ERA in 20 games and had been relegated to relief duties. But eager to make a move, the Blue Jays offered the Rangers 25-year-old right-hander Darwin Cubillan, who was 3-1 with a 0.55 ERA in triple-A, and one of the players on a list of middle-infield prospects that included Felipe Lopez, Brent Abernathy, Cesar Izturis and Michael Young. At the time, Young was a 23-year-old second baseman toiling in double-A and was the lowest on the Jays’ depth chart, but the Rangers scouting staff liked his athleticism and versatility and Melvin asked for Young in the deal. Hindsight is, of course, 20-20, but the Blue Jays finished third in their division and Loaiza went 5-7 down the stretch and was even less memorable in his ensuing year-and-a-half with the Jays. And while Cubillan was a bust with the Rangers (10.70 ERA in 13 games), Young went on to be selected to seven all-star games over the next 14 seasons. During that period, he recorded six, 200-hit seasons, hit over .300 seven times and won a batting title in 2005.
– Happy 54th Birthday to former Toronto Blue Jays first base coach, London Tigers player, national team coach and Ottawa Lynx manager Tim Leiper! And yes, this is also another reason for me to share this great London Tigers card of him.
– Twenty-two years ago today, Carlos Delgado became the first player to hit a ball into the fifth deck in right field at SkyDome when he did so off Andy Pettitte in the fifth inning in a Blue Jays’ 9-3 win over the New York Yankees. The ball travelled an estimated 467 feet. For the record, on July 27, 1996, Joe Carter had clubbed a ball into the fifth deck in left field at SkyDome. Also, Oakland A’s players, Jose Canseco (October 7, 1989) and Mark McGwire (July 25, 1996), had previously deposited balls into the fifth deck in left field.
– Thank you to Bob Elliott for sending along this link to a CBC story about a 1981 SABR meeting that took place in Toronto during the MLB players’ strike. The story features an interview with renowned historian and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Bill Humber (beginning around the 1:25 mark).
– This week’s trivia question: Former Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays switch-hitting first baseman David Segui turns 54 today. By my count there are four other switch-hitters that have played for both the Blue Jays and Expos. Can you 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 (Who is the only player to have 100 RBI seasons with both the Blue Jays and Expos? ) was Tony Batista.