By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes:
-Please send your thoughts and prayers to Blue Jays Central host Jamie Campbell who shared on Twitter on Wednesday that he’s battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). He told fans that he still plans on being behind the desk, next to Joe Siddall, at Rogers Centre for Blue Jays Central on Opening Day. Jamie has been a huge source of encouragement for me and a strong supporter of this blog. He is a kind and generous man. I’m thinking of him and sending him my strength and love.
-Right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) has signed a one-year, $2.8-million, non-guaranteed contract with the Atlanta Braves. He missed the entire 2021 season after he re-tore his Achilles’ tendon last June and will start the 2022 season on the 60-day injured list. Soroka recently spoke with the Calgary Booster Club and said he’s not putting a precise timetable on his return. “After the first (surgery), I was much more timeline-oriented,” he said. “I wanted to be back for opening day, I wanted to make it, I wanted to push, I wanted to do it to prove to myself, and obviously everybody else, that I could. But at this point it’s just making sure that I am 100 per cent of what I was — and more. I think (returning in) July is still pretty reasonable. If I could get back on the mound for bullpen (sessions) by the very end of spring training — end of March or even in April — I would be happy. That would kind of be the start to being able to really map out a return date.” The Junior National Team alum made just three starts in 2020 prior to tearing his Achilles the first time, but in his rookie campaign in 2019, Soroka went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
-Former Chicago White Sox third baseman and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Pete Ward (Montreal, Que.) passed away on Wednesday at the age of 84 from complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. I wrote an article about his nine-year major league playing career on Thursday. What I didn’t include in that article was that Ward was almost on the cover of Sports Illustrated for their June 7, 1965 issue. That would have made him the first Canadian baseball player to appear on their cover. The cover story was to have been on the White Sox who had moved into first place in the American League. Unfortunately for Ward, Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in the first round in a fight just before the magazine went to press and the Sports Illustrated photographer sent photos back to the editor just in time to bump Ward off the cover. There were, however, a few of the Ward covers printed (see below). One of them ended up on Ward’s office wall. A few have also surfaced for sale. “You know, Ali was on something like 40 covers. It would’ve been nice if he let me be on just one,” joked Ward in a 2000 interview with Sports Illustrated.
-Canadian Baseball Network writer George Farelli has compiled a list of the 22 Canadians in major league camps this spring. You can read it here (subscription required). The Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Guardians and Seattle Mariners lead the way with three Canucks each in their camps. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.), Otto Lopez (Montreal, Que.) and Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) are in the Blue Jays’ camp, while Kole Cottam (father is Canadian), James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) and Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) are with the Red Sox. Brothers Bo and Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) and Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) are in the Guardians’ camp and Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.), Myles Miller (Windsor, Ont.) and Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.) are with the M’s.
–Scott Crawford, of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, shared on Twitter on March 10 that Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) is likely to set the record for most career major league games played by a Canadian this season. Heading into the 2022 campaign, Votto has suited up for 1,900 games, that’s 88 shy of Maple Ridge, B.C. native Larry Walker’s all-time record. Votto also has a shot at catching Walker’s all-time Canadian hit mark this season. Walker registered 2,160 hits. Votto has 2,027 – which leaves him 133 hits short.
-Please take a moment to remember former Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Al Widmar who would’ve turned 97 today. Prior to his role with the Blue Jays, Widmar pitched in parts of five major league seasons between 1947 and 1952, making 114 appearances (42 starts) with the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox. Following his playing career, he became a minor league manager and then a big league pitching coach with the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers before joining the Blue Jays following the 1979 season. In his decade as Blue Jays’ pitching coach, he helped hone the skills of Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key and Jim Clancy among others. He passed away from colon cancer in 2005.
-Happy 42nd Birthday to Khalid Ballouli, the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2002 sixth-round pick and grandson of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Dick Fowler (Toronto, Ont.). The 6-foot-2 right-hander, who was born eight years after his grandfather passed away, pitched in the Brewers’ system from 2002 to 2006 before a recurring lat-tear injury ended his career. Following his playing career, Ballouli went back to Texas A&M and earned three degrees, including a Masters and Ph. D in Sport Management. He’s now an associate professor and the Ph. D. program director in the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management College of Hospitality at the University of South Carolina. When I spoke to him in 2020, he said he would’ve loved to have pitched for Canada at the World Baseball Classic to honour his grandpa. “That would’ve been something that I would’ve jumped on completely,” he said.
-Thank you to Dave Kaufman, the wonderful Montreal-based radio host and broadcaster, for sharing these photos of a tribute bridge that has been built at the Fox Creek Golf Club in Dieppe, N.B. in honour of late Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B.). Cormier, a left-hander who made 683 big league appearances in parts of 16 seasons, passed away on March 8, 2021 after courageously battling cancer. The photos were taken by Dan LeBlanc. What a beautiful tribute to a great guy.
-As you’ve already heard, Kris Bryant has signed a seven-year, $182-million contract with the Colorado Rockies. The 2016 National League MVP spent parts of seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs before completing 2021 with the San Francisco Giants. He owns a .278 career batting average and 167 home runs in 884 games. But did you know that Bryant was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in 2010? Yes, the Blue Jays took him in the 18th round out of Bonanza High School in Las Vegas. Bryant opted not to sign and he attended the University of San Diego prior to being selected second overall by the Cubs in 2013.
-This week’s trivia question: The record for most triples in a season by a Montreal Expos player is 13. Three different Expos players had 13 triples in a season. Name two of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who holds the Toronto Blue Jays’ record for most sacrifice hits?) was Alfredo Griffin with 74.