By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
-Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) heads into this afternoon’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals one home run shy of 300 for his major league career. When he does belt that milestone homer, he’ll become just the second Canadian to reach that mark. Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) finished with 383 home runs. For the record, five of Votto’s home runs have come against Canadian pitchers, including two off 2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) and single homers off Rich Harden (Victoria, B.C.), Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) and John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.)
-Whenever Montreal Expos legend Jim Fanning visited the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., during my shifts there, I felt like I was in the presence of baseball royalty. Inducted into the Canadian ball shrine in 2000, he was a modest man and he’d casually share stories about Hank Aaron or Gary Carter or Andre Dawson. And I soaked them all in. I realize now what a privilege it was to have that time with him. Mr. Fanning died six years ago today at the age of 87. I sure do miss him.
-I was wrong about Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.). The hard-throwing right-hander was activated from the 10-day injured list by the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday and entered yesterday’s contest against the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth inning and walked the first two batters he faced. A hard-hit ground ball then went through the legs of third baseman Cavan Biggio to score two runs and Romano was saddled with the loss in the Rays’ 5-3 victory. The 27-year-old righty had been sidelined by ulnar neuritis since April 14. Last week, I shared my research on ulnar neuritis and according to Sports Medicine Today, the injury was “irritation and inflammation of the nerve (“neuritis”) on the inside portion of the elbow (the ulnar nerve).” The Sports Medicine Today site indicated that: “After a 2-3 week pain-free period, athletes may begin to gradually return to their activities.” Using that information, I thought it could be a month before Romano was ready to return. In observing him yesterday, it was clear that his velocity was down and his command was off, so it feels like he came back too soon. Romano is being counted on to be a key member of the back end of the Blue Jays’ bullpen. 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.
-It sounds like right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) will not be returning to the Atlanta Braves any time soon. The Canadian righty, who left his start at the Braves’ alternate site on April 6 after just one inning with shoulder discomfort, has since been diagnosed with right shoulder inflammation. And though tests show no structural damage, he has not started throwing again and Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters on Wednesday that the 23-year-old righty’s return is “so far away it’s not even relevant right now.” Prior to this setback, Soroka 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 big league pitcher that has been healthy this season is Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.). He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his start for the Boston Red Sox against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday and ended up allowing two runs on just one hit before being taken out of the game. The M’s eventually won 7-3. So far in six starts with the Red Sox since he was acquired last August, Pivetta has a 4-0 record and a 2.93 ERA. The Victoria Eagles and Junior National Team alum came to the Red Sox in a trade last August after spending parts of four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 98 career big league appearances, he is 23-30 and owns a 5.31 ERA, but has 452 strikeouts in 427 innings.
-St. Louis Cardinals slugger Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) was activated from the 10-day injured list on Friday after missing 10 games with a groin injury. He entered the game on Friday in the sixth inning as a defensive replacement in left field and flew out to right field in the following frame in his only at bat. He started in left field on Saturday and went 0-for-3, but scored a run. After homering on Opening Day, O’Neill had struggled, going 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.
-My condolences to the family of longtime coach Tom Robson who passed away of natural causes on Tuesday at the age of 75. Robson was best known as a hitting coach on Bobby Valentine’s big league staffs with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, but prior to that, he played 10 seasons in the professional ranks. After being selected by the Mets in the 50th round of the 1967 MLB draft, he competed in the Mets’ minor leagues for three seasons before being purchased by the Montreal Expos on April 6, 1970. He split the 1970 season between the Expos’ class-A affiliate in West Palm Beach and their double-A squad in Jacksonville, combining to hit .226 with four home runs in 93 games. He was released by the Expos the following spring and signed with the Cincinnati Reds where he landed with their double-A affiliate in Trois-Rivieres where he batted .274 with 16 home runs in 136 games. His only taste of big league action came in two stints with the Rangers in 1974 and 1975 in which he hit .208 in a combined 23 games. Robson is survived by his wife, Jeannette, his sons Adam and David and three grandchildren. Reds third baseman Mike Moustakas is his nephew.
-This is my confusing baseball card of the week (above): This 1972 Topps card features Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) with the Montreal Expos. I’ve researched and written lots about Taylor’s World Series-winning seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets and, of course, I knew about his tenure as the Toronto Blue Jays’ doctor, but I didn’t know he had been part of the Expos’ organization. It turns out that Taylor was purchased by the Expos from the Mets on October 20, 1971 and he spent spring training of 1972 with the Expos before he was released. He then signed with the San Diego Padres where he pitched his final four big league games in 1972 prior to retiring.
– My trivia question for this week: While Taylor never pitched for the Expos in a regular season game, 11 Canadians did. Can you name three of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
–The answer to last 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? ) was Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) and Rheal Cormier (Cap Pele, N.B.).