By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
-Derek Aucoin lit up a room when he walked into it. The former Montreal Expo was a talented pitcher, an inspiring speaker and coach and, most importantly, a loving husband and father. It was one year ago today that he passed away from brain cancer at the age of 50. It still breaks my heart that he’s gone. But it’s comforting to know that a memorial to Derek has been added to the first base dugout at St. Marys Cement Plant Field, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s main field on their site. On September 4, Derek’s wife Isabelle and nine-year-old son Dawson travelled from Montreal to St. Marys, Ont., for the small ceremony, which was all the pandemic would allow, to unveil the memorial. Derek was a trailblazer in many ways. Not only was he the first Quebec-born player to be signed and brought up through the Expos system to play with the big league club, he later became the first Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame board member from Quebec. The photo of Derek above is from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
-According to his Twitter feed (below), Fergie Jenkins is back in Ontario for the holidays. He has been spending some time with his daughters in his hometown of Chatham. I hope he and his family had a wonderful Christmas together. Unfortunately, the documentary about his life “Glory & Grief: The Fergie Jenkins Story” produced by the Chicago-based Marquee Sports Network which I thought was going to be shown on the MLB Network here in Canada on Thursday was not available to Canadian viewers. I’m sure there’s a legal explanation for this. I will look into this.
– Former Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Rich Butler (Toronto, Ont.) shared a great story on his Facebook page on Wednesday. The Canadian outfielder shared that he fielded Michael Jordan’s first hit in professional baseball. Playing in double-A for the Birmingham Barons in April 1994, the basketball superstar recorded his first hit in his third game. It was a single to right field that was fielded by Butler, who was with the Blue Jays’ double-A Knoxville Smokies at the time.
-John Lott, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2021 Jack Graney Award winner, has long been one of my favourite baseball writers. He is also a great guy to talk to, but he has always preferred not to do broadcast interviews. I can’t remember ever hearing him do one when he was active on the Blue Jays’ beat. Well, Mike Wilner recently convinced John to speak to him for his podcast and the resulting conversation between the two Canadian baseball writers is one of the best podcast episodes I’ve heard all year. You can listen to it here.
– Mark Kotsay, who played parts of 17 seasons in the major leagues, was named the manager of the Oakland A’s on Tuesday. He batted .276 and recorded 1,784 hits in 1,914 major league games with the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, A’s, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers. Kotsay was the A’s third base coach in 2021 and prior to that he had served as the team’s bench coach. But as someone who follows Canadian baseball players closely, the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear Kotsay’s name was how excited he was after Dorchester, Ont., native Chris Robinson belted his first major league home run for the San Diego Padres on September 25, 2013. By that time, Kotsay was in his final major league season. “To have a guy like Mark Kotsay, who’s retiring after a 15-year career, get so emotional for me — and who am I, really? – means the world,” Robinson told the London Free Press in a phone interview after the game. “That’s the type of people we have here and I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys.”
–One of the best books ever written about Canadian baseball players is Dan Turner’s “Heroes, Bums and Ordinary Men: Profiles in Canadian Baseball” that was published in 1988. For this book, Turner interviewed and shares the stories of several Canadian major league players. One of my favourite chapters is devoted to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and then young Blue Jays outfielder Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.). That chapter contains this wonderful photo (below) of Ducey that Turner took at the Blue Jays’ spring training stadium in Dunedin, Fla.
– Happy 74th Birthday to Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk! After parts of 11 seasons with the Red Sox to begin his career, Fisk was a free agent after the 1980 season and there was talk he might be waving home runs fair at Exhibition Stadium for the Blue Jays in 1981. At least Alison Gordon hinted at this in her fine 1984 book “Foul Balls.” “The papers were full of breathless reports on the possibility of the Red Sox star coming to Toronto,” she wrote. But as we know Fisk opted to sign a lucrative deal with the White Sox and he continued to build his Hall of Fame resume for the next 13 seasons in the Windy City. And by the time the grizzled backstop retired at age 45 in 1993, he had set big league records (since broken) for most games caught (2,226) and most home runs by a catcher (351). In 24 big league seasons, he was selected to 11 all-star games, won three Silver Slugger Awards and a Gold Glove Award in 1972. Born in Vermont and raised in New Hampshire – two states that border Canada – Fisk played his position with the intensity of gritty hockey forward. He wasn’t Canadian, but he was almost Canadian and the Blue Jays’ overtures to him as a free agent aren’t his only Canadian connections. Here’s an article I wrote back in 2014 that discusses Fisk’s Canadian connections.
-This week’s trivia question: Who is the player in the photo below? Hints: He was property of the Blue Jays for a little over a month one off-season, but they traded him before he ever donned a Blue Jays uniform. He was once the manager of the double-A London Tigers. He played for Cleveland, the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves during his 15-year major league career. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (The following is a photo of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2015 inductees. Without looking them up, can you name these five inductees?) was (from left to right) Carlos Delgado, Felipe Alou, Matt Stairs, Bob Elliott and Corey Koskie.
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