By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Rest in peace to Canada’s hockey dad, Walter Gretzky. He passed away on Thursday at the age of 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease and a number of other health issues. The senior Gretzky was also a big baseball fan. His son, Wayne, did not play hockey year-round as a kid. Walter registered him for baseball in the summer. And according to a news release from the Intercounty Baseball League on Friday, Walter was also once the part-owner of the Brantford Red Sox. The release also states that it was while Walter was at a Red Sox game that he received the news that his son had been traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988.
-Vancouver Cannons and Junior National Team alum Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) is not likely to be ready for the start of the major league season with the Chicago Cubs, according to Russell Dorsey, of the Chicago Sun-Times. Wick suffered an intercoastal muscle strain injury last September and didn’t pitch after the 16th of that month. Nearly seven months later, the injury remains slow to heal. The hard-throwing right-hander has been a go-to, late-inning reliever for the Cubs for the past two seasons. In 2020, he led Canadian big league pitchers in appearances (19) and saves (4), while posting a 3.12 ERA and striking out 20 in 17 1/3 innings before being shut down. In 2019, he made 31 big league appearances and recorded a 2.43 ERA while striking out 35 batters. Wick is a converted catcher who made his big league debut with the Padres in 2018.
–With Ken Giles now in the Seattle Mariners’ organization (and out for the season following Tommy John surgery) and the newly signed Kirby Yates coming off surgery for bone chips in his elbow, there’s some uncertainty as to who will begin the season as the Toronto Blue Jays’ closer. The 33-year-old Yates, who signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays in the off-season, was dominant with the San Diego Padres in 2019 when he posted a 1.19 ERA, recorded 41 saves and struck out 101 batters in 60 2/3 innings. He says he’s healthy but he has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. If he’s healthy, the closer’s job will be his. But there are those lobbying for Canuck right-hander Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) to get the ball in the ninth inning. Coming off an outstanding 2020 campaign that saw him post a 1.23 ERA and strike out 21 batters in 14 2/3 innings before suffering a season-ending finger injury, Romano’s fastball velocity consistently approached triple digits in his first two appearances this spring.
-Happy 53rd Birthday to Denis Boucher! In 1993, the Lachine, Que., native became the first Canadian to have played for both the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. In Boucher’s big league debut with the Blue Jays on April 12, 1991, the first three batters he faced were Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Gary Sheffield. In other words, he battled two Hall of Famers and a 500-home run hitter in his first major league inning. Talk about baptism by fire. But to his credit, he retired all three in order. After seven appearances with the Blue Jays, he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians as part of a package for knuckleballer Tom Candiotti on June 27, 1991. He’d pitch parts of two seasons with Cleveland before eventually landing with the Expos in 1993. On September 6, 1993, he made his Expos debut in front of more than 40,000 fans at Olympic Stadium. With Windsor, Ont., native Joe Siddall catching and Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker in right field, the contest represented the first time in modern baseball history that three Canucks have been in the starting lineup for the same team. Boucher held the Colorado Rockies to one run in six innings and recorded the win in the Expos’ 4-3 victory. In all, Boucher, who has served as a pitching coach for the national team in recent years, pitched in parts of four big league seasons. He is currently a scout for the New York Yankees.
-Want to feel old? Joe Carter turns 61 today. And what better way to celebrate his birthday than to re-watch his walkoff, 1993 World Series-winning home run off Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mitch Williams (click on the video below)? When Carter retired, he was the Blue Jays’ all-time leader in home runs with 203, but that total has since been surpassed by Carlos Delgado (336), Jose Bautista (288), Edwin Encarnacion (239) and Vernon Wells (223). In recent years, Carter, who lives outside Kansas City now, has returned to Toronto to host his annual celebrity golf tournament that raises money for charity. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.
-Whenever I think of players that had sensational springs with the Blue Jays, I think of North Vancouver native Simon Pond in 2004. In Dunedin that spring, Pond, who was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos 10 years earlier, topped the Blue Jays in hits (23) and batted .338 with four home runs. His performance earned him a surprise spot on the Blue Jays’ Opening Day roster. Unfortunately, Pond’s hot streak didn’t carry over to the regular season and he went 8-for-49 (.163 batting average) in 16 games and was sent to the minors. That would be his only taste of big league action. One of the best articles I’ve ever read about Pond was this one by John Lott. He caught up with Pond in 2016. At that time, Pond, who played 13 seasons of pro baseball, was running his own tile and stone business in North Vancouver.
-Who’s the only person to have served as a pitching coach with both the Expos and the Blue Jays? The answer is Galen Cisco. He turns 85 today. Happy Birthday to him! Cisco was the Expos’ pitching coach from 1980 to 1984 and the Blue Jays’ pitching coach in 1988 and again from 1990 to 1995. He also had tenures as the pitching coach with the Kansas City Royals (1971 to 1979), Padres (1985 to 1987) and Philadelphia Phillies (1997 to 2000). Prior to his coaching career, he pitched for parts of eight major league seasons with with Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Royals between 1961 and 1969. Cisco also toed the rubber for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs for parts of two seasons in 1966 and 1967.
-This week’s trivia question: Who is the only Blue Jays player other than the five mentioned above (Carter, Delgado, Bautista, Encarnacion and Wells) to have hit more than 200 home runs for the club? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
– The answer to last 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?) was either Andre Dawson or Marquis Grissom.