March 19, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Atlanta Braves right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) threw a two-inning batting practice session on Friday, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com. “His next step is TBD,” tweeted Bowman. “But he should make at least one start before the Grapefruit League season ends.” This followed a report from Bowman that he had seen Soroka participating in Pitchers Fielding Practice (PFP) drills on Wednesday. These are positive strides for the 25-year-old right-hander who had been sidelined this spring with tightness in his left hamstring. Soroka has not pitched in a major league game since tearing his Achilles tendon in a start for the Braves on August 3, 2020. He then re-tore his Achilles the following June. After two years of recovery and rehabilitation, Soroka returned to game action in August last year and posted a 5.40 ERA in six late-season starts between class-A and triple-A before being shut down with elbow inflammation. A graduate of the Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in 2015. 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.
–Ian Browne, from MLB.com, reported on Saturday that Boston Red Sox left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) was back throwing on a mound for the first time since exiting his spring training start on March 3 with a hamstring injury. The Canuck lefty, who had signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2022 season, exercised his $4-million option with the club in November. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2021, Paxton had been working his way back in the Sox system when he suffered a grade 2 lat tear in late August 2022 that shut him down for the season. A North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum, the Canuck lefty has pitched in parts of nine major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.
-Congratulations to long-time Chicago Cubs pitcher and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) who has landed a job as co-host of the MLB Network’s long-running show “Intentional Talk.” He’ll join Siera Santos and former Marlins teammate Kevin Millar as co-hosts of the program, which will air weekdays at 5 p.m. E.T. starting on March 31. Intentional Talk is the MLB Network’s longest-running talk show. It provides a light-hearted look at the game, as well as unfiltered analysis and player interviews. Dempster, who collected 132 wins and 87 saves during his 16-season major league career, is no stranger to talk shows. He has hosted “Off the Mound” on the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network for the past three seasons. Before that, the 45-year-old Canadian was an MLB Network studio analyst from 2014 to 2020.
– Congratulations to Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.) who has been named a pitching consultant for the Moose Jaw Miller Express of the Western Canadian Baseball League. Selected in the 15th round of the 2003 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Lethbridge Community College, Molleken toed the rubber for parts of eight seasons in the Bucs’ system before enjoying tenures in the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Guardians and Detroit Tigers organizations. The 6-foot-4 righty made his big league debut with the Tigers in 2016. During his career, Molleken also consistently answered the call for the national team and was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning squad at the 2011 Pan Am Games. Since hanging up his playing spikes, he has become a highly respected pitching instructor in his home province.
-Over the past week, my respect and admiration has grown for Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.). Coming off an injury-riddled campaign in 2022, the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder could’ve (understandably) backed out of playing for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Instead, O’Neill competed in all four contests for his country and went 8-for-13 (.615 batting average). The 27-year-old batted in the three hole the entire tournament and was a leader on the young club. He also played centre field in two of the games which should boost his stock in Cardinals’ camp. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, said in late February that O’Neill, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner in left field, would compete with Dylan Carlson for the Cards’ starting centre field job. The 2022 season was a difficult one for O’Neill. He missed time due to hamstring issues, neck stiffness, a wrist injury and shoulder soreness. In all, in 96 games, he batted .228 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs.
-In case you missed it, Melissa Verge wrote an excellent profile about Jerry Howarth for the Canadian Baseball Network that was published on March 12. In the article, Verge shares that Howarth is healthy and excelling at bridge in Etobicoke, Ont. Howarth also makes it clear that he’s no fan of the Rogers’ cost-cutting decisions on Blue Jays’ radio broadcasts. He is disappointed that Ben Wagner, the Blue Jays’ radio play-by-play voice, will not be be travelling with the club and will call road games remotely. He is also disappointed that the Blue Jays have not hired a former player to partner with Wagner in the booth. “You need to have two people who are in-sync the entire time over 162 games,” Howarth told Verge. “And the other player with the play-by-play announcer is a former player to share his experiences down on the field. Caleb Joseph, there’s an example of somebody who’s there. Hire him full-time, give him the job and let him work with Ben for 162.”
-If you saw a guy in the stands with a mountie uniform at Canada’s World Baseball Classic game against Mexico at Chase Field on Wednesday afternoon, that was none other than long-time national team member and former Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C.) (photo below). It had to be an adjustment for Richmond to watch the national team from the stands. After all, he has pitched for Canada at international competitions numerous times, including on the 2011 and 2015 Pan Am Games gold medal winning teams.
-I’m glad to see Fergie Jenkins in Chicago Cubs camp again, and the Canadian baseball legend, who turned 80 in December, is still great with the fans. Here he is signing autographs last week:
-Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) is 1-for-7 in three Cactus League games this spring. His lack of game action casts some doubt on whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day. The 39-year-old Votto underwent shoulder surgery on August 19, just four days after playing his 1,989th major league game which broke Larry Walker’s record for most games played by a Canadian. In all, Votto batted .205 with 11 home runs in 91 games in 2022. The 16-season veteran has one year left on his contract with the Reds (with a team option for 2024). If Votto can return early in the 2022 season, he has strong shot at breaking more of Walker’s all-time Canadian big league records. For example, Votto has 2,093 career hits, which is just 67 short of Walker. The Reds first baseman has also belted 453 doubles. Walker had 471.
-If you’re nostalgic about the mid-80s to early 90s Toronto Blue Jays (like me), this is your year to play in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Annual Celebrity Golf Classic. It will take place on June 16, the day before the induction ceremony, at the St. Marys Golf and Country Club. Among the ex-Jays that will be golfing are Jesse Barfield, Tom Henke, Pat Borders, John Olerud, Ernie Whitt, Lloyd Moseby and Denis Boucher. Other celebrities include Fergie Jenkins, Steve Rogers, Jacques Doucet and Rich Harden. For all of the details, click here.
-This week’s trivia question: Who was the first batter to walk to the plate for the Toronto Blue Jays in a regular season game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who is the oldest living former Montreal Expos player?) was Roy Face who turned 95 on February 20.