By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
-It was 75 years ago today that Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to compete in integrated professional baseball in the modern era when he suited up for the International League’s Montreal Royals against the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J. And what a debut it was. Starting at second base for the Royals, Robinson went 4-for-5 with a three-run home run and two stolen bases to help lead his club to a 14-1 win. He also scored four runs and drove in four. It was a sign of spectacular things to come from Robinson that season. With the Royals in 1946, he would top the International League in batting average (.349), walks (92) and runs (113), and spur the club to their first Junior World Series title.
-Left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) underwent successful Tommy John surgery on Wednesday. The expected recovery time from this procedure is generally 12 to 15 months. The Canadian lefty was removed from his first start of the season with the Seattle Mariners on April 6 after only 24 pitches. Paxton’s surgery was deemed a success, but this is just the latest and most serious in a long string of injuries for the southpaw. The 32-year-old left-hander, who signed a one-year, $8.5-million deal in February to return to the Mariners, underwent back surgery last February and made just five starts for the New York Yankees in 2020 prior to being sidelined for the rest of the season with a flexor strain in his throwing arm on August 20. In all, Paxton has pitched in parts of eight major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.
-Right-hander Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) was placed on the 10-day injured list by the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday with ulnar neuritis. If you’re like me, you may have wondered what exactly that is and how long it will sideline the 27-year-old Canadian. Well, according to Sports Medicine Today, the injury is “irritation and inflammation of the nerve (“neuritis”) on the inside portion of the elbow (the ulnar nerve).” The site goes on to say that it’s an injury that’s generally treatable without surgery if it’s caught early. In the Sports Medicine Today information, it says: “After a 2-3 week pain-free period, athletes may begin to gradually return to their activities.” In other words, it could be a month before we see Romano, who was a key member of the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen, pitch again. Romano had allowed just one run and struck out three in 3 1/3 innings this season and had picked up a win in relief on Opening Day. The Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team grad is 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.
-According to David O’Brien, of The Athletic, the Atlanta Braves do not have a set timetable for the return of right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) who left his start at the Braves’ alternate site on April 6 after just one inning with shoulder discomfort. He has since been diagnosed with right shoulder inflammation. Bowman had reported earlier that tests showed no structural damage. Prior to this setback, the 23-year-old right-hander had been hoping to return to the Braves’ rotation this month from a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered on August 3. The Junior National Team alum didn’t experience any issues in his rehabilitation from that injury this spring. Soroka made just three starts in 2020, but in his rookie campaign in 2019, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
-One Canadian pitcher who has been healthy and effective this season is Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.). In four relief appearances for Cleveland, he has allowed just two runs on five hits, while striking out four, in seven innings. The Ontario Terriers and Junior National Team grad started last season with the Padres before he was traded to Cleveland on August 31. In all, between the Padres and Cleveland in 2020, he combined to make 18 appearances and finished with a 2.25 ERA and topped all Canadian big league pitchers in innings pitched (32) and strikeouts (31). The 26-year-old righty also made his postseason debut in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the Indians’ Wild Card series against the Yankees. He struck out Yankees’ outfielder Aaron Hicks to close out that frame.
-St. Louis Cardinals slugger Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) was placed on the 10-day injured list last Sunday after being removed from the previous day’s contest with groin tightness. After homering on Opening Day, O’Neill had struggled, and was 4-for-28 before being sidelined. The 25-year-old slugger was hoping to build on a strong spring with the Cards in which he went 16-for-45 (.356 batting average) with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 16 games. He batted .173 with seven home runs in 50 games in 2020, but won a Gold Glove Award for his defence in left field.
-In case you missed it yesterday, in the top of the eighth inning of the Cincinnati Reds’ game against Cleveland, Reds reliever Amir Garrett allowed back-to-back singles that put runners on first and third to open the inning. This brought Canadian Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) to the plate. Naylor proceeded to hit a line drive to Reds first baseman Joey Votto that the Etobicoke, Ont., native snared and tagged out Franmil Reyes who was leading off first base. That was two outs. Meanwhile, Cleveland outfielder Eddie Rosario, who was on third base, thought the ball hit ground and ran home. Votto then wisely threw the ball to third base to complete the triple play. The Reds ended up winning 3-2 in 10 innings. I’m guessing here, but I think this is the first time a Canadian has lined into a triple play started by another Canadian. You can watch the play by clicking on the link above.
-Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former Blue Jays batting champion John Olerud was interviewed by Bret Boone for his podcast earlier this month. It’s a wonderful interview that runs for more than an hour. In the interview, Olerud discusses his father’s influence on his career, the life-threatening brain aneurysm he suffered while at college and how the Blue Jays convinced him to sign and come directly to the major leagues in the heat of the pennant race in 1989. Another interesting tidbit, I learned from the interview was that Olerud was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the 27th round in 1986 but declined to sign and opted to attend Washington State University.
-It was 43 years ago today that the Boston Red Sox sold Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.) to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers converted Cleveland, who had been a starter for most of his career, into their closer and the Canadian righty proceeded to enjoy one of his best major league seasons, posting a 3.09 ERA and recording 12 saves in 53 appearances. That would be his only season with the Rangers. He was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers on December 15, 1978 for Ed Farmer, Gary Holle and cash.
-Former Boston Red Sox third baseman/outfielder Ty LaForest (Edmundston, N.B.) was born on this date in 1917. He batted .250 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 52 games for the Red Sox in 1945. That would be his only taste of big league action. He split the following season between the triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs and Louisville Colonels. Sadly, he passed away when he was just 30 on May 5, 1947 from a heart attack brought on by pneumonia.
-This week’s trivia question: Ty LaForest (Edmundston, N.B.) made his MLB debut with the Boston Red Sox in 1945. Since that time, two more players born in New Brunswick have played for the Red Sox. Can you name them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (Hank Aaron hit career home run No. 705 off Reggie Cleveland. That was one of three home runs that Aaron hit off Cleveland. Aaron also hit two or more home runs off three other Canadian pitchers. Can you name one of them? ) was either Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.), Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.) or Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.).