February 12, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Baseball Canada unveiled its roster for the 2023 World Baseball Classic on Thursday and you can view it here. Rather than dwell on who is not on the roster (For example, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.), Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.), Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) and James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) are all recovering from injuries), I sat down and put together what would be my starting lineup and batting order for the club based on the players that have agreed to play. Of course, Ernie Whitt, who will manage the Canuck squad for the fifth time in the event, and Greg Hamilton, the national teams director, will create a much better lineup than me, but I found myself getting quite excited while I was preparing my batting order. Here it is:
-I tried to rotate left and right-handed hitters in the order (Toro is a switch-hitter). Given that O’Neill is coming off a season where he had multiple hamstring injuries, he may also need some time at DH. But my starting lineup would leave Owen Caissie (Burlington, Ont.), Denzel Clarke (Pickering, Ont.), Kellin Deglan (Langley, B.C.) and Andrew Yerzy (North York, Ont.) as the position players on the bench.
-As for the pitching staff, Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) and Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) are obvious choices to start two of the games. On Friday, I was talking with Bob Elliott on the phone and I casually mentioned that Canada might not want to start 19-year-old left-hander Mitch Bratt (Toronto, Ont.) because he’s so young and hasn’t pitched above class-A. Then Bob reminded me that left-hander Adam Loewen (Surrey, B.C.) was 21 and had never pitched above class-A when he got the start against the United States in the first World Baseball Classic in 2006. Loewen ended up throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Canada’s upset win over the Americans. Other options to start for Canada could be right-handers Noah Skirrow (Cambridge, Ont.) or veteran lefty Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.).
-Twenty-four-year-old right-hander Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.), who was outstanding after being converted into a reliever by the Seattle Mariners last season (2.35 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings in 34 appearances), is a good bet to close games for Canada. But veteran John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.), who has worked his way back from his second Tommy John surgery, has 144 major league saves on his resume, and 38-year-old righty Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, B.C.) also has closing experience. Among the left-handers in the bullpen will be Loewen, Evan Rutckyj (Windsor, Ont.) and Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.). Right-handers include veteran Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.), Trevor Brigden (North York, Ont.), Indigo Diaz (North Vancouver, B.C.), R.J. Freure (Burlington, Ont.), Cade Smith (Abbotsford, B.C) and Curtis Taylor (Port Coquitlam, B.C.).
–Adam Stern, the hero of Canada’s first World Baseball Classic, turns 43 today. Happy Birthday to him! The London, Ont., native almost single-handedly propelled Canada to an 8-6 win over the United States in Canada’s second game of that tournament when he went 3-for-4 with an inside-the-park home run, a triple, a single and four RBIs. In centre field, Stern also made several outstanding plays, including a tremendous running catch against the wall on a deep fly ball hit by Chase Utley with two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the eighth. Selected in the third round of the 2001 MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves, Stern played parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers. These days, he owns Centerfield Sports, a successful indoor training facility in London, Ont., and is the director of player development of the Great Lake Canadians, one of the best elite baseball programs in the country.
-Newly elected Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Denis Boucher (Lachine, Que.) will return as pitching coach for Canada in the World Baseball Classic for the fifth time. Over the past 25 years, I’ve spent a lot of time around the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., so I thought I knew every artifact they had in their collection. But I didn’t know until the past couple of weeks that they had a game-used ball from Boucher’s Montreal Expos debut (See photo below). His highly anticipated first game with the Expos, his hometown squad, came on September 6, 1993 in front of more than 40,000 boisterous fans at Olympic Stadium. With Windsor, Ont., native Joe Siddall catching and Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker in right field, the contest represented the first time in modern baseball history that three Canucks have been in the starting lineup for the same team. Boucher held the Colorado Rockies to one run in six innings and the Expos prevailed 4-3. With that start, Boucher also became the first Canadian to have played for both the Toronto Blue Jays and Expos.
-Here’s a fun fact supplied by fellow Canadian baseball historian Tyler Partridge on Twitter. When Cal Quantrill pitches for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, there’s a chance that he and his father, Paul, who toed the rubber for Canada in the 2006 event, could become the first father and son to have competed in the tournament. They will, however, have competition from Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who played for Puerto Rico in the 2006 and 2009 events, and his son, Derrick, who is slated to play for Puerto Rico this year.
-It’s too bad the World Baseball Classic wasn’t being played when Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) was an active pitcher. The Hall of Fame right-hander would’ve undoubtedly been Canada’s ace. Last year, the Chicago Cubs unveiled a Jenkins statue outside of Wrigley Field and on May 6 of this year, the Cubs will be handing out Jenkins’ statue bobbleheads (See photo below) to their home fans. The durable Jenkins pitched 10 seasons with the Cubs and holds franchise pitching records in WAR (53.1), starts (347) and strikeouts (2,038). While with the Cubs from 1967 to 1972, Jenkins registered six consecutive 20-win seasons and never tossed less than 20 complete games in any of those campaigns. The Canadian right-hander, who also toed the rubber for the Texas Rangers and Red Sox, retired with 284 career wins and as the only pitcher in major league history to record more than 3,000 strikeouts (3,192), while allowing fewer than 1,000 walks (997). Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez have since joined that elite club.
-Speaking of Jenkins, fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) paid tribute to the Canadian baseball legend on the Marquee Sports Network on Tuesday as part of Black History Month. “He was a trailblazer on so many different levels,” said Dempster of Jenkins. “What he did for Canadian baseball to give people a belief that they could make it to the big leagues. To be a Hall of Famer, obviously [is] incredibly special. And just what he has continued to do to give back . . . He continued to be a great friend, a mentor, somebody that I looked up to. He’s somebody to me as a kid coming from Canada that I had only heard about and then you meet him and you see what kind of person he is. He is just a tremendous human being and just a great ambassador for the game.” You can watch the video of the tribute here.
-Happy 48th Birthday to former Blue Jays pitching prospect and Waterloo, Ont., native Chad Ricketts! Selected in the ninth round of the 1995 MLB draft by the Cubs, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound right-hander pitched parts of five seasons in the Cubs’ organization, making it as high as double-A before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He toed the rubber in triple-A for the Dodgers for two seasons before he was traded to the Blue Jays along with Luke Prokopec on December 13, 2001 for shortstop Cesar Izturis and reliever Paul Quantrill. He posted a 3.24 ERA in 15 relief appearances in triple-A Syracuse in 2002 before completing his pitching career with two seasons in the independent Atlantic League. Ricketts also pitched for Canada at the 1999 Pan Am Games.
-I’m enjoying Danny Gallagher’s new Montreal Expos book, Around the Horn: Cash, Boots, Duq, Gully & the Expos. One of the many interesting tidbits I have learned is that Jackie Robinson served as an analyst on two Montreal Expos CBC TV broadcasts alongside Dave Van Horne in August 1972. I also didn’t know that Van Horne’s primary partner in the TV booth that year was Pee Wee Reese.
-This week’s trivia question: What Canadian outfielder was named to the World Baseball Classic All-Tournament team in 2013? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Rich Harden is the third former big leaguer that was born in British Columbia in 1981 to be elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Name one of the other two.) was either Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) or Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.).