By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– “I’ve always dreamed of it happening,” Josh Naylor told Cleveland.com reporter Paul Hoynes about being on the same team as his younger brother, Bo. Hoynes recently wrote an excellent feature about the Naylor brothers, who hail from Mississauga, Ont., who are both in Cleveland’s major league camp this spring. Josh, the elder Naylor, was acquired along with fellow Canuck Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) from the San Diego Padres on August 31 as part of a package for right-hander Mike Clevinger. Bo, the younger Naylor, was selected in the first round (29th overall) in the 2018 MLB draft by Cleveland. The 23-year-old Josh, who made his big league debut in 2019, told Hoynes that the last time he played on the same team as his younger brother was at the Pee-Wee level in Mississauga, Ont. “Noah (Bo’s given name) was nine or 10 and got called up. He had one at-bat, maybe two, and had a pinch-hit double,” said Josh. Both Naylors are graduates of the Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team programs.
-In case you missed my previous blog entry, left-hander Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) has signed a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins and he’s in their big league camp this spring. This comes after three seasons with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League. On top of his successful tenure in Japan, Albers has posted a 4.10 ERA in 26 appearances in parts of four major league seasons with the Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners between 2013 and 2017. Minnesota TV station KSTP recently interviewed Albers over Zoom and in that interview the Canuck lefty revealed that he trained at the Going Yard Baseball Academy in Saskatoon this off-season. While he was there, he also helped coach the academy’s youngsters. The 35-year-old Albers said he expects to start the season as a starter with the Twins’ triple-A club in St. Paul. In the interview with KSTP, Albers also discussed his evolution as a pitcher, how he probably would’ve went back to Japan had he received an offer and he also provided a view of his distinctly Canadian bedspread. You can watch the full interview here.
– After two subpar seasons by his lofty standards, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) told reporters, including David Jablonski from the Dayton Daily News, on Monday that he’s hoping to get back to “being dangerous” at the plate this year. Now 37, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman, who spent his off-season in Toronto, feels healthy and strong. Votto, who hit a career low .226 with a .354 on-base percentage last season, believes he has gotten away from some of his strengths at the plate. In recent years, he told reporters he has focused “on command of the strike zone, putting the ball in play, being a tough at-bat.” “And it zapped my power,” said Votto. “In (2017), I played really, really well because I had that nice combination of low strikeouts, tons of power, lots of walks. It was like the dream season for me. I stuck to that the last couple years. And in (2019) a little bit and especially last year, I had to let that go and get back to what got me to the league.” Now heading into his 15th MLB season, Votto is five home runs shy of 300 for his career and he needs 34 RBIs to reach 1,000.
–Please take a moment to remember Toronto baseball legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ron Roncetti who passed away 29 years ago today at the age of 80. Born near Rome, Italy, Roncetti came to Toronto with his parents when he was eight months old. Settling with his family near Elizabeth Street in downtown Toronto, he developed a passion for baseball and starred as a centre fielder for the Toronto Lizzies during the 1920s. The fleet-footed outfielder moved on to toil with the Wellington Juniors and Eastern Athletic Club in Toronto in the 1930s, before becoming one of the city’s top amateur coaches. In the late 1940s, Roncetti became involved with the Leaside Baseball Association. Largely under his leadership, Leaside became a powerhouse on the Toronto baseball scene. Starting in 1953, Roncetti led Leaside teams to four consecutive city championships at the juvenile and junior levels. In 1954, Roncetti began moonlighting as a scout for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs (triple-A affiliate of Chicago White Sox). A respected and passionate voice for Canadian talent, Roncetti soon found himself scouting for the big league White Sox, before landing similar gigs with the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos. In 1973, he began a long scouting affiliation with the New York Mets that would see him rewarded with a 1986 World Series ring. In his final scouting stint, he evaluated talent for his hometown Blue Jays. For his efforts, he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1998.
– Montreal Expos legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tim Raines recorded 808 major league stolen bases, which ranks fifth all-time. But his 84.7% success rate when attempting to steal bases is the best in MLB history for any player who has swiped at least 300 bases. This tweet by author Jim Passon (below) illustrates just how astute and efficient Raines was at stealing bases.
–According to the MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, former Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider has signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves. A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2006, Snider has played parts of eight seasons in the big leagues with the Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Now 33, the left-handed hitting outfielder played in the affiliated minor league and independent ranks from 2016 to 2019. I don’t profess to know Snider, but I’ve witnessed one of his acts of kindness that I like to tell people about. Sometime prior to a game during spring training 2010, I was standing along the right field fence line at the Blue Jays spring training stadium in Dunedin, Fla., with my dad. A little girl (probably grade 1 or so) and her father were standing beside us. Snider, on his way to the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, stopped to sign an autograph for the little girl. Her father filmed the exchange and told Snider that she was working on a school project. The father jokingly asked if his daughter could interview Snider for the project. Snider said, “Sure.” The Blue Jays outfielder then grabbed two chairs – one for him and one for the little girl – and walked around the fenced-off area and sat and patiently answered the little girl’s questions while her father filmed it on his phone. The little girl was so happy she was almost crying. I imagine she got an A on her school project. And I still give Snider an A for his kindness.
–I like to keep up on how former Expos players are doing. Ex-MLB.com Marlins beat writer Joe Frisaro, who has started his own website called Man On Second Baseball, recently caught up with Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former Expos third baseman Tim Wallach. According to Frisaro, Wallach, who retired as the Marlins’ bench coach after the 2019 season, is now “enjoying family time with his wife, children and grandchildren at his Southern California home. He still closely follows the Marlins, and his son, Chad, is a catcher on the club.” Frisaro’s article also offers a fascinating look at the planning that goes into a big league spring training camp through the eyes of the bench coach and workout schedule coordinator – a role that Wallach served for the Marlins from 2016 through 2019. You can read the full article here.
-The Toronto Blue Jays will play their first two home stands of the regular season in Dunedin, Fla. After that, the plan is that the club will play in Buffalo and, perhaps, if the COVID-19 pandemic slows and travel restrictions are loosened, Toronto. But an executive with Oneida County, which includes the city of Utica, has written a letter to the Blue Jays offering another alternative. If the Blue Jays were to play the bulk of their games in Buffalo, they would displace their triple-A affiliate. So Oneida County executive Anthony Picente has written a letter to the Blue Jays offering Murnane Field in Utica as a temporary home for the triple-A Bisons. Longtime Blue Jays fans will recall that Murnane Field was home to the Blue Jays’ low-A New York-Penn League affiliate from 1977 to 1980. Murnane Field, now called Donovan Stadium at Murnane Field, has been significantly upgraded since the Blue Jays’ moved on from the city more than 40 years ago. The Blue Jays haven’t responded to the offer.
-Whenever I need a reminder of just how supportive and awesome my grandma, Elma Jewitt, was, I think of this photo (below). She went on a trip with my parents and I to Cooperstown in 1990 and we had this photo taken at Pro Image Photo on Main Street. That’s her second from the left. My mom is on the far left and my dad on the far right. My grandma passed away 20 years ago yesterday. I still miss her, but I’ve grown to cherish magical memories like this one. For the record, the reason I’m wearing a Phillies uniform in the photo was to illustrate Dale Murphy’s career trajectory. I had a previous photo taken with my family at the same place in Cooperstown in a Braves uniform when Murphy was with the Braves. Interestingly, this photo also seems to foreshadow the 1993 World Series.
-This week’s trivia question: Tim Raines had 635 stolen bases with the Expos, which is the most in franchise history. Only two other Expos recorded more than 200 stolen bases with the club. Can you name one of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
– The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who are the two Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in the following 1961 Vancouver Mounties photo?) is Claude Raymond (Montreal, Que.) and Ron Piche (Verdun, Que.).