Carrying on a Canadian tradition
*OF Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC), hoping to make the New York Mets, is one in a long line of Canadians who Pay It Forward ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
Port St. Lucie, Fla. — Pay it forward.
It’s become an unwritten rule among Canadians in baseball.
From helping the transition of a fellow Canuck into a new clubhouse, to crossing the diamond to greet one in the opposing dugout, to letting one stay at your house as he works his way to the big leagues, every Canadian baseball player has a story to tell.
“I think it’s because we’re such a small family,” New York Mets outfielder Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) said. “Every one of us has either played together or ran into each other somewhere along the way. So there’s that, plus being Canadian.
“But it all starts with a guy like Justin Morneau. He’ll take a guy into his house and put him up there and have him come work out with him. It’s guys taking care of other guys.”
While Morneau (New Westminster, BC) gives special attention to any fellow Canadian playing the game, he’s spent more time over the last couple of years with Rene Tosoni (Coquitlam, BC), who joined Minnesota for a couple of stints with the big club last season.
“He’s from right where I’m from,” the Twins first baseman said last May at Target Field. “He had this locker (next to mine) when he was up here and he stayed at our place. He actually stayed with us the last two winters and we worked out together and all that stuff.
“He’s a guy that I’m definitely looking out for and I’m hoping he’s able to be here for a long time. We (Canadians) take care of each other. That’s how it was when I got here with Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.). He took care of me. There aren’t too many of us in baseball and (Tosoni) being a Canucks fan, that definitely helped his cause.”
Fellow Vancouver Canucks fan Loewen followed in the footsteps of Morneau, who learned from Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC) on how to provide wisdom and a place to stay further down the line of Canadian players.
“I’ve done it in the past,” Loewen said. “(Texas Rangers prospect) Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC), he came and stayed with me. And then me and Justin kind of did it together. He’d go work out with them and he’d come stay with me for three days. It’s a fun experience because when I was growing up I would have liked to do something like that and hopefully it continues.”
Following the trend from the Philadelphia Phillies organization has been Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC) taking young Canadian pitchers Steven Inch (Edmonton, Alta.), Colin Kleven (Kamloops, BC) and Ethan Stewart (Campbell River, BC) under his wing and providing them with a spring home.
“A few years back, leading into Colin and Steven’s first spring training, I invited both of them to come down to Florida early and stay at my house and work out with me,” Mathieson said from Japan, currently playing for the Yomiuri Giants. “Both of them accepted the offer and came down to Florida early.
“I made a point to try and really kick their asses and work them as hard as they could. I wanted them to be more than ready for spring training and to teach them that if they want to get to the next level that they would have to work harder than everyone else. They both worked really hard and really showed me that they wanted to get to the next level and had that never-give-up attitude.
“All three of those guys are great guys and have a bright future in baseball as long as they keep the attitude that they have.”
The three young Phillies farmhands all acknowledge the huge impact that Mathieson has had on their careers, even though they just met him for the first time a few years ago.
“His dad was actually my coach in my senior year,” Kleven said of Mathieson. “So I met Scott that way because he came down to a few of the games when we went to some showcases in LA so I met Scott pretty early. And then in my draft year I came down here, I met Scott at [Florida Instructional League] and then my first spring training he invited me to stay down with him. So I stayed at his house a few times. He’s a great guy. He’s helped out all the Canadians.”
While the players on the West Coast have a tendency to somewhat stick together, the Canadian players from Montreal have a similar inclination. Though Russell Martin, Josue Peley and Jesen Dygestile-Therrien each represent one of baseball’s three biggest franchises in the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, respectively, they all work together during the off-season.
During the winter months, Peley and Dygestile-Therrien joined Martin at his place in Arizona to train with him for a few weeks, having somewhere to stay where warm weather is found and baseball can be played. The Red Sox catching prospect lost 15 pounds heading into the upcoming season and is in the best shape of his life, thanks to help from a New York Yankee.
“He’s amazing, first of all,” Peley said of Martin. “I know he’s a Yankee but out of the season he’s like anybody. I try to get in his brain as much as I can. The guy’s a two-time All-Star, a Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and last year he hit 20 home runs. Plus, he’s a really good guy, a good family guy. I try to learn everything, hitting, catching, life, and we even eat together. I try to get the most from him that I can.”
Boston’s farmhand was able to give as much information as he took in during his time in Arizona. Peley offered a unique perspective into Dygestile-Therrien’s pitching, helping him from behind the dish. As the young hurler headed into his first spring training this year, he had Peley’s four years of minor league experience to learn from as well.
“Every time we talked it was about baseball, and how to get outs as a pitcher,” Peley said. “I told him a little bit about the pitching side of pro ball. I caught him during the off-season so I was always giving him feedback about his bullpens.”
Dygestile-Therrien paid it forward even further, offering his experience and wisdom to younger players as he hung out with some of the current members of the Canadian Junior National Team after playing against them in the St. Petersburg International Baseball series.
“I went for dinner with the guys after the game and that was really nice, talking about how things are going now for me, and how things are going for Team Canada too,” the Phillies prospect said. “It was nice. It’s a privilege for us to be Canadian and to be here in Florida playing baseball every day.”
Dygestile-Therrien was joined at dinner by Inch and juniors from both of their home provinces.
“I went to Vauxhall High School,” Inch said. “There were three Vauxhall kids [on the team]. I went out to dinner with them (after the game), along with a kid from Quebec that Jesen knew. We took them out to dinner on Sunday.”
“We were just talking. I keep in touch with one of them quite a bit, Logan Seifrit (Spruce Grove, Alta.). It was fun. We talked a little bit of baseball and we talked about their experiences. A couple of them are starting to choose where they’re going to school and they’re maybe potential draft picks.”
For all the help that older, more experienced players offer to the up-and-comers, it’s still nice for big leaguers to run into another Canadian, whether it is in the clubhouse or elsewhere.
“It’s always good having Canadian guys,” Jason Bay (Trail, BC) said of Loewen joining the Mets. “Because most of the time even if you don’t know somebody, and I know (Loewen) a little bit from playing in the (World Baseball Classic) and certain things, but even if there is a Canadian guy that you don’t know, it’s kind of like you play winter ball in the Dominican and you’re one of two American guys. You kind of feel like you’re buddies. It’s the same way here. He’s another Canadian guy.
“It is nice to have some familiar faces and [the media] have been asking me a lot of Canadian baseball questions lately and it’s nice to see that we have a lot more Canadian players. When I was growing up, 15 years ago, there was one or two, and now there’s a ton of us.”
While there are many more Canadians in the game than there were when Bay was young, the numbers are still small enough to have intimate connections between the players.
Though Matt Stairs (Fredericton, NB) is no longer playing, he always made sure during his 19-year major league career to seek out those from his home and native land.
“We’ve known each other for so long, being on Canada teams,” Stairs said before a game last season between the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs. “And I think the biggest thing is when you have the chance to see somebody on one of the other teams, like Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC), I was talking to him earlier over by the dugout right by the locker room, it’s special.
“There are only about 12 or 13 of us in the league and we’re all characters. So I think we talk about hockey a lot and talk about our careers and how friends are doing and enjoy hearing another accent.”