By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– In case you haven’t heard, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) has tested positive for COVID-19 and has left the Cincinnati Reds training camp. The Reds shared the news on Wednesday. The Canadian slugger had gone 4-for-9 in four Grapefruit League contests this spring. Votto has been placed on the injured list and will be sidelined indefinitely. Earlier in the month, the Etobicoke Rangers alum, who spent his off-season in Toronto, had told reporters that he was feeling healthy and strong and was looking to rediscover the form that made him one of the National League’s best hitters in 2017. Now 37 and heading into his 15th major league season, Votto is five home runs shy of 300 for his career. I would like to wish him a speedy recovery.
-It’s hard to comprehend that Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rheal Cormier has passed away at just 53 years old. He died on Monday and initial reports indicated that Cormier had died from pancreatic cancer, but his family shared in his obituary that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in January 2020. A private funeral mass was held for Cormier at Ste-Thérèse-d’Avila Roman Catholic Church in his hometown of Cap-Pelé, N.B. on Friday.
–I had one extensive interview with Cormier and that was prior to his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction in St. Marys, Ont., in June 2012. But I found him to be charismatic, charming and full of life. I followed his career extensively, so I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about him. But here’s an interesting fact about Cormier that I learned this week, courtesy of Ray Moffo, former WNJC sports director, on Twitter:
-Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum Bo Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) clubbed his first-ever Cactus League home run on Wednesday (click on the tweet below to watch video of it) when he deposited a pitch from Los Angeles Angels right-hander Felix Pena over the left-centre field fence at Goodyear Ballpark in Arizona. Naylor, whose brother Josh is also with Cleveland, has impressed this spring, going 4-for-9 (.444 batting average) in six contests.
-According to a report from David O’Brien, of The Athletic, right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) quietly threw a simulated game for the Atlanta Braves last Sunday morning. Soroka threw a second simulated game yesterday morning. Last Sunday, the PBF Redbirds and Junior National Team alum reportedly tossed two innings and a team official told O’Brien that Soroka looked “very good” but that his velocity was a “couple of ticks” below normal. This is understandable given that Soroka is returning from a torn Achilles that he sustained on August 3 last season. The general recovery for this type of injury is nine to 12 months. It has now been just over seven months and Soroka seems to be ahead of schedule. With that said, he hasn’t yet run the bases or gone all out in fielding drills. Soroka has said he wants to begin the regular season with the big league club, but the Braves seem to prefer a more cautious approach. On Saturday, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos told Craig Mish of Sports Grid that he expects Soroka to make a big league start for the club sometime in April whether that’s at the beginning of the month or later is still to be determined.
-Happy 71st Birthday to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Vancouver native Dave McKay! Despite not having a baseball team at his high school and only playing about 12 games a year as a teen, McKay evolved into a big league prospect and signed with the Minnesota Twins on June 20, 1971. After being called up by the Twins in August 1975, he homered in his first big league at bat. He’d spend another partial season with the Twins, before being selected by the Blue Jays in the 1976 expansion draft. The switch-hitting infielder was the only Canadian on the field in the Blue Jays’ first game on April 7, 1977. Despite the snow falling at Exhibition Stadium, McKay had two hits and drove in the winning run in the Blue Jays’ 9-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox. McKay finished his playing career with three seasons with the Oakland A’s prior to accepting a coaching position with the A’s. When Tony La Russa was named the A’s manager in 1986, McKay was retained as a coach. He worked on La Russa’s staff for more than two decades, and moved with the renowned skipper to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1996. One of the game’s hardest working coaches, McKay owns three World Series rings, securing one in 1989 with Oakland and two with St. Louis (2006, 2011). After La Russa retired, McKay served as the first base coach with the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and 2013 and he’s now employed in the same post with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
-Speaking of McKay, he was in the Blue Jays’ starting lineup at third base 44 years ago today when his club faced the Montreal Expos in the first game ever played between the two Canadian big league clubs. It was a Grapefruit League contest that took place in front of 1,950 fans at Grant Field in Dunedin. Ron Fairly, a former Expo, knocked in Otto Velez with a single in the bottom of the eighth to give the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead – one they would hold on to for the win. You can see the box score from the Montreal Gazette below. The Expos fielded a formidable lineup that included Warren Cromartie, Ellis Valentine, Tony Perez and Gary Carter. A report in the Montreal Gazette indicates that Ted Williams, a friend of Blue Jays’ hitting coach Bobby Doerr, was also in attendance at the game.
-Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) standout Arleene (Noga) Johnson who would’ve turned 95 today. She passed away in 2017. Born in Ogema, Sask., she grew up on a farm and graduated from Omega High School before moving to Regina. She starred on local diamonds before she was signed by the AAGPBL’s Fort Wayne Daises in 1945. After one season with the Daisies, she suited up for two-and-a-half campaigns with the Muskegon Lassies. The 5-foot-4 Canadian led the AAGPBL in fielding percentage at third base for three consecutive seasons (1946 to 1948). In 1949, she returned to Saskatchewan and played and coached softball for three decades. Along the way, her teams captured nine provincial softball championships and five Western Canada titles. For her efforts, she was elected to the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988 and into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, along with the 67 other Canadian women who played in the AAGPBL, in 1998.
-This week’s trivia question: With 683 major league appearances, Rheal Cormier appeared in more big league games than any other Canadian left-hander. What left-hander has the second-most big league appearances by a Canadian? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who is the only Blue Jays player other than Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Vernon Wells to have hit more than 200 home runs for the club?) is George Bell, who clubbed 202 home runs with the Blue Jays.