April 23, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Minnesota Twins second baseman Edouard Julien (Quebec City, Que.) enjoyed the first three-hit game of his major league career on Wednesday. He went 3-for-4 with a home run and two singles in the Twins’ 10-4 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The home run was his second with the Twins. Unfortunately, Julien was sent back down to triple-A on Friday. The ABC and Junior National Team alum was called up by the Twins on April 12 and went 6-for-27 (.222 batting average) in eight games. His big league promotion came on the heels of his strong performance in triple-A and an outstanding four games with Canada at the World Baseball Classic that saw him go 7-for-13 (.538 batting average) with two home runs and five walks. Selected in the 18th round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Twins, the Junior National Team alum enjoyed a breakout season in 2022. He batted .300 and posted a .441 on-base percentage in 113 games for the double-A Wichita Wind Surge. He also belted 17 home runs, walked 98 times and stole 19 bases.
-Meanwhile, right-hander Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) threw six scoreless innings against the Omaha Storm Chasers in his third start with the Atlanta Braves’ triple-A Gwinnett Stripers on Tuesday. He allowed just four hits and struck out five in the contest, which should represent a huge step towards him returning to the Braves’ rotation. The 25-year-old righty was sidelined for much of this spring with tightness in his left hamstring. After initially tearing his right Achilles tendon in 2020, Soroka then re-tore it 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.
-The news wasn’t as positive for James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) who is attempting to work his way back to the majors with the Boston Red Sox triple-A Worcester Red Sox. He was hit hard by the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in a relief appearance on Wednesday, allowing seven runs in 2/3 of an inning. He had made two previous starts with Worchester. In his three appearances in triple-A this season, Paxton owns a 11.57 ERA. The veteran lefty has not taken the mound in a major league game since exiting his spring training start on March 3 with a hamstring injury. Paxton, 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 34-year-old southpaw has pitched in parts of nine major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.
-On a positive note, in that same contest in which Paxton was hit hard, right-hander Noah Skirrow (Cambridge, Ont.) started and tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He is now 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in three appearances (two starts), spanning 13 innings, for the Philadelphia Phillies’ triple-A affiliate this season. The 24-year-old’s stock continues to rise in the Phillies’ organization. Coming off an excellent start in which he tossed five scoreless innings for Canada against Colombia in the World Baseball Classic, Skirrow has continued to show improvement. The Great Lake Canadians and Ontario Blue Jays alum honed his skills with the Liberty University Flames before signing with the Phillies as a free agent in June 2020. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-hander is now in his third professional season. He split his first campaign between Rookie Ball, High A and double-A and posted a 4.34 ERA, while collecting 60 strikeouts in 58 innings, in 18 appearances (including 10 starts). He spent 2022 with the double-A Reading Fightin’ Phils and went 5-8 with a 4.65 ERA and struck out 115 batters in 98 2/3 innings in 21 starts.
-Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B.) who would’ve turned 56 today. He passed away after a battle with cancer in 2021. A longtime big league pitcher, Cormier was selected in the sixth round of the 1988 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. The crafty lefty would make 683 appearances (second-most by a Canadian pitcher) in a 16-season major league career that included stops with the Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, Phillies and Cincinnati Reds. His best season was 2003 with the Phillies when he finished with an 8-0 record and a 1.70 ERA in 65 relief appearances. In all, he pitched parts of six seasons with the Phillies. Cormier also toed the rubber for Canada in multiple international competitions, including at the 1988 and 2008 Olympics and in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
-Happy 39th Birthday to Baseball Canada alum and former big league left-hander Dave Davidson (Richmond Hill, Ont.)! Selected in the 10th round of the 2002 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 6-foot-1 southpaw toed the rubber for parts of seven seasons in the Pirates’ system before making his major league debut on September 6, 2007 when he pitched an inning against the Cardinals. He’d make one more relief appearance for the Pirates that season before spending the 2008 campaign with the Pirates’ double-A Altoona Curve. He returned to the big leagues for one relief outing with the Florida Marlins in 2009. His last professional season came with the Edmonton Capitals of the independent North American Baseball League in 2011. In total, in eight pro seasons (minors and majors), he posted a 4.20 ERA in 229 appearances (11 starts).
-On this date 57 years ago, Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) made his Chicago Cubs debut at Wrigley Field after being dealt to them by the Phillies just two days earlier. Not only did the Canadian righty pitch 5 1/3 scoreless innings in relief against the Los Angeles Dodgers to pick up the win, he also belted his first major league home run. Jenkins socked a solo home run off fellow Hall of Famer Don Sutton in the fifth inning to help the Cubs beat the Dodgers 2-0.
-Canada’s 14th prime minister Lester B. Pearson was born on this date in 1897. Pearson was a fine all-around athlete who participated in a variety of sports, including hockey, football, rugby, basketball and lacrosse. But baseball was Pearson’s true passion. He suited up alongside his brother, Vaughan, with the Guelph Maple Leafs of the Ontario Intercounty Baseball League and attended games at Toronto’s famed Hanlan’s Point stadium as a youngster. Later in life, the Nobel Peace Prize winner served as an honorary board member with the Montreal Expos. After his death in 1972, the Pearson Cup, named in his honour, was presented to the winner of an annual exhibition game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos from 1978 to 1986. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1983.
-On this date 68 years ago, Eric MacKenzie (Glendon, Alta.) played his first and only major league game with the Kansas City A’s. With the A’s trailing the Chicago White Sox 29-6 in the bottom of the eighth inning at Municipal Stadium, MacKenzie pinch-hit for catcher Joe Astroth. He grounded out to second base in his only major league at bat. He then caught Ozzie Van Brabant (Kingsville, Ont.) in the ninth inning for the A’s to form the first all-Canadian battery in American League history. That may have been his only big league game, but MacKenzie played 631 contests in parts of eight minor league seasons before becoming one of Canada’s most respected coaches. He managed the national team at the 1979 and 1983 Pan Am Games, as well as at the 1984 Olympics and eventually became the director of Parks and Recreation in Mooretown, Ont. Among the players he helped mentor was Mike Gardiner (Sarnia, Ont.) who went on to pitch parts of six big league seasons from 1990 to 1995. In more recent years, he served as a groundskeeper for a baseball field in Courtright, Ont. and in 2019, that field was renamed in his honour.
-If you were wondering how popular John Gibbons still is in Canada, here’s the Globe and Mail weekly books sales chart published on Saturday. Gibbons’ recently released biography is No. 4 on the paper’s list of best-selling non-fiction books in Canada (that includes all non-fiction genres not just sports).
– Few things are as painful to me as listening to my own voice, but I also love to talk about Canadian baseball history. I was recently interviewed by Matt Betts for the Canadian Baseball Network podcast. I listened to it. I cringed at some of my answers, but overall I’m not completely embarrassed. If you want to listen to me, here’s the link.
-The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony to be held on June 17 is free to attend. But the Hall does rely on donors, sponsors and advertisers to be able to hold this event. One of the ways you or your business can help the Hall is by taking out an ad in their annual induction program which is sold on induction day and in the museum for the rest of the year. You can purchase an ad for as low as $125. Click here for more information.
-This week’s trivia question: The Blue Jays have had two interim managers during their history — one managed during the 1991 season (while Cito Gaston was sidelined with a back issue) and one managed at the end of the 1997 (after Gaston was fired). Can you name one of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Outside of John Upham, name another Canadian who spent time in the big leagues as both a left-handed pitcher and as an outfielder.) was Adam Loewen (Surrey, B.C.) who pitched in the big leagues from 2006 to 2008 and then again in 2015 and 2016, but appeared as an outfielder for the Blue Jays in 2011.