By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
–The Toronto Blue Jays announced on Thursday that closer Kirby Yates has undergone Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2021 season. The Blue Jays are now looking for someone to step in as closer. They have yet to anoint anyone to the role, but how can right-hander Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) not be the leading candidate? Romano has been dominant in Grapefruit League action this spring, registering a 1.59 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. In an interview with Scott MacArthur on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Friday, Romano said he’s prepared to close if the Blue Jays ask him to, but he’s willing to embrace any role in the club’s bullpen. “I just want to come into high leverage spots when the game is on the line . . . facing their best hitters in big situations, whatever inning that may be,” he told MacArthur. “That’s what I really like.” 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, an Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team grad, has consistently approached triple digits with his fastball this spring.
-Just after last Sunday’s column was published, the Cincinnati Reds announced that Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) had been cleared to return to the team’s camp after testing positive for COVID-19, 11 days earlier. Votto worked out with the team for the next five days before returning to the lineup on Friday. Batting third and playing first base, Votto went 0-for-1 with a walk, a run and two strikeouts in the Reds’ 7-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. He then singled in three at bats on Saturday in the Reds’ 6-3 loss to the Cubs. The Canuck slugger had gone 4-for-9 in four Grapefruit League contests prior to his positive COVID-19 test. Votto and the Reds are uncertain if he’ll be in the team’s lineup on Opening Day on Thursday. Now 37 and heading into his 15th major league season, Votto is five home runs shy of 300 for his career.
-Canadian lefty Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) was sent down to the Minnesota Twins’ minor league camp on Wednesday. In four big league relief appearances this spring, he had posted a 1-0 record with a 3.86 ERA. Albers signed a minor league deal with the Twins in February after spending 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. The 35-year-old southpaw trained at the Going Yard Baseball Academy in Saskatoon this off-season. While he was there, he also helped coach the academy’s youngsters.
-Please take a moment to remember former big league left-hander Joe Krakauskas who was born in Montreal, Que., on this day in 1915. In parts of seven major league seasons with Washington and Cleveland between 1937 and 1946, he posted a 4.53 ERA in 149 appearances. Krakauskas was also the pitcher that allowed the last hit in the Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. On July 16, 1941, DiMaggio doubled to left-centre field off him in the ninth inning in a New York Yankees’ 10-3 win over Cleveland. Krakauskas passed away in Hamilton, Ont., in 1960 when he just 45.
-Lachine, Que., native and former Montreal Expos right-hander Derek Aucoin lit up a room when he walked into it. He was a talented pitcher, an inspiring speaker and coach and, most importantly, a loving husband and father. He would’ve turned 51 yesterday. He passed away after a courageous battle with brain cancer on December 26. In Aucoin’s memory, his friend Dominic Lavallée plans to run 66 kilometres (66 was Aucoin’s longtime baseball number) on June 6 to raise money for the Montreal Cancer Institute. You can support the run by donating here.
-Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Bill Slack (Petrolia, Ont.) was a legendary minor league coach and manager in the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves organizations who helped shape the careers of legends like Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. When he managed in the Braves’ organization in the 1980s, he regularly crossed paths with Hank Aaron, who was an executive with the club. In Howard Bryant’s excellent 2010 Hank Aaron biography, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, Slack recalls one time in Richmond, Va., when he and the legendary slugger were having a beer together. “I remember one day I asked Henry when he was his most afraid,” said Slack. “I was thinking he was going to tell me the stories about being chased by the Klan or something like that. But he didn’t. He told me the most scared he’d ever been was getting on the train for the first time, heading to Winston-Salem.” Slack is referring to when an 18-year-old Aaron left Mobile, Ala. after he had signed his first pro baseball contract with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. He took the train from Mobile to Winston-Salem to meet up with his new teammates.
-I rediscovered this Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) baseball card (below) this week. This is from the 1993 Pinnacle “The Idols” series. Walker was a goaltender who made it as high as Junior A in the Canadian hockey ranks before shifting his focus to baseball. So I was surprised to learn that his favourite hockey player when he was growing up was New York Islanders sniper Mike Bossy.
-This week’s trivia question: Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) recorded his first save for the Blue Jays on August 21, 2020 in the club’s 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Two other Canadians have recorded saves for the Blue Jays over the years. Can you name one of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question ( Nick Pivetta is currently pitching for the Boston Red Sox. Name two other Canadians that have pitched for the Red Sox during the regular season over the years) is any two of Oscar Judd (Rebecca, Ont.), Phil Marchildon (Penetanguishene, Ont.), Ted Bowsfield (Penticton, B.C.), Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.), Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.), Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B.), Mike Gardiner (Sarnia, Ont.), Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.), Erik Bedard (Navan, Ont.), Eric Gagne (Mascouche, Que.), Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) or Peter Hoy (Brockville, Ont.). Please note: This may not be a complete list.