Minor league baseball registration spiked across Ontario in 2007: - In Richmond Hill it was up 8 per cent in 2006.
- Markham, Newmarket, Barrie and Orangeville up 12-to-18 per cent.
- Aurora up 15 per cent.
- Toronto up 10-20 per cent.
- North London - a whopping 60 per cent.
Across Canada, British Columbia (44,112 players registered), Alberta (17,080), Saskatchewan (10,817) and Manitoba (7,774) have witnessed similar enrollment increases since 2005. What's going on?
Well, Paul Godfrey, the Blue Jays president and CEO, deserves some of the credit for Canada's renewed interest in baseball. The Jays were big-time players during the past two off-seasons, landing closer B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett and future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. Godfrey convinced Jays owner Ted Rogers, part fan, mostly businessman, to expand the payroll, buy the SkyDome and open the largest Rogers store. Another reason for the jump in registrations was the success of Team Canada against Team USA at the World Baseball Classic in 2006. Godfrey was pushing for the WBC years ago and served on Major League Baseball's international committee.
Under Godfrey, the Jays donate $20,000 each January to the Baseball Canada fund raiser. The Jays also sponsored the rookie, peewee, bantam and midget divisions of Baseball Ontario in 2006. All of which makes Godfrey our choice as the most influential Canadian in baseball for 2007.
"Paul's learning to be a good baseball guy," said Kansas City Royals owner David Glass, who first met Godfrey when the two were involved in other businesses. "He's determined that they're going to have a good team in Toronto. It would be easy to say, well, we've got the currency fluctuations and problems. He persuaded Rogers to make an investment in the team so that they could be competitive.&r"
If Godfrey is No. 1, Greg Hamilton, director of national teams for Baseball Canada, is 1A.
It could be argued that Hamilton deserves the No. 1 billing, based on the number of Canadians entering pro ball as well as Canada's success on the international scene. Each year Hamilton picks 50 of the best 15-to-16-year-olds from across the country for the Mizuno junior development camp. He also selects the Canadian junior team and manages Canada's senior team. "The best Canadian eligible for the draft this year, like every other year, wasn't signed by a pro team and that's Greg Hamilton." said Bob Engle, the Seattle Mariners head international scout. The junior team is a year round commitment, taking players to tournaments as well as instructional camps in Florida. There is also a 10-day trip to the Dominican to play pro teams. "You can pinpoint when Canadians began to succeed," said Walt Burrows, Canadian MLB director of scouting. "Greg took the junior team to Florida the first time in 1999, with Justin Morneau and Jeff Francis. Players receive pro calibre coaching and were exposed to better competition against pros. No wonder the players we're developing aren't organizational guys, they're all-stars. Greg prepares players for college or pro ball."
From his Ottawa office Hamilton put together teams that qualified for the Olympics in 2003 at Panama, reached the semi-finals at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and knocked off Team USA in the 2006 WBC. The Peterborough native scouts hundreds of players, evaluating talent on many levels to put his teams together. A year ago in Cuba, Canada finished third at the world juniors. "Greg is respected in baseball circles and goes the extra mile to promote Canadians," said Doug Mathieson, coach of the Langley Blaze in Langley, B.C. His son Scott Mathieson pitched for Team Canada and is with the Philadelphia Phillies. "Scouts at showcases in Arizona know of Hamilton's program and pay attention," Mathieson said. "He's been instrumental in the careers of many Canadian pros."
3. Doug Melvin, GM Milwaukee Brewers
His Brewers hit the break with a 5 1/2 game lead in the NL Central. Under Melvin the Brewers have gone from 56 wins in 2002 to 68, to 67, to 81 and 75 in 2006. The Brewers, with a $70 million payroll, have dominated each June when it comes to selecting Canadians. Melvin's from Chatham, Ont.
4. Ted Rogers, owner, Jays
The founder and chairman of Rogers Communications loosened the purse strings to enable Godfrey and GM J.P. Ricciardi to climb to a $82 million yearly payroll. Buying the SkyDome was a good move. Canadian Business ranked Rogers as the fourth richest Canadian in 2006 ($4.54 billion).
5. Pat Gillick, GM, Philadelphia Phillies
Gillick became a Canadian citizen in November of 2005 so he qualifies. With an $89 million payroll the Phillies are either in or out of the wild-card race depending upon the inning. Gillick has always supported Canadian baseball.
6. Walt Burrows, Canadian director, MLB Scouting Bureau
If a Canadian high schooler doesn't catch Hamilton's eye he'd best draw the attention of the man from Brentwood Bay, B.C. He weighs in with an opinion and his reports go to all 30 teams. In Burrow's first year with the Bureau he identified the best player in B.C. as Steve Nash, now a two-time NBA MVP.
7. Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
The reigning American League MVP is an all-star with the Minnesota Twins. While the guys in the suits and the guys in sweatsuits have the power, it is the New Westminster, B.C. native with No. 33 tattooed on his right shoulder - inset into a red Canadian flag - that kids admire.
8. Jeffrey Royer, co-owner, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Toronto resident is one of four co-owners who committed $160 million over the next 10 years for a stake in the team. He sits on the board of directors with Shaw Communications.
9. Claude Delorme, VP, Florida Marlins
From Sturgeon Falls, Ont., Delorme is in charge of stadium development and construction plans for a new park in Florida. His search may be the key to the franchise's survival. "He has not had success yet, but he's very good at what he does," said an MLB exec. He joined the Marlins in 2005, overseeing stadium operations after 23 seasons with the Expos.
10. Paul Beeston, ex-Jays president
While he is not on the payroll of a MLB club, in a week he may take calls from Jerry Reinsdorf, of the White Sox; Larry Lucchino, of the Red Sox; Player's Association boss Donald Fehr and Godfrey. Beeston is on the board of directors of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
11. Larry Walker, coach, St. Louis Cardinals
When Morneau needs hitting advice he phones Walker, a part-time coach with the Cards after coaching with Canada in the WBC.
12. Jerry Howarth, broadcaster, Jays
The lead radio announcer became a Canadian citizen in April 1994 and did his first game in 1980. The Etobicoke resident estimates he's worked roughly 4,100 regular season Jays games and has become the voice of the franchise, educating, entertaining and painting pictures.
13. Allan Simpson, Perfect Game Scouting Service
The Kelowna, B.C. native runs a service which college recruiters and most teams use as a guide leading up to the draft. He founded Baseball America, bringing the magazine to the point where it surpassed The Sporting News as the baseball bible.
14. Jeff Mallett, part owner, San Francisco Giants
The Victoria, B.C. resident is one of 25 partners under managing general partner Peter Magowan's umbrella. Mallett was a founder of Yahoo. Canadian Business ranked him as the 34th-richest Canadian and worth $750 million in 1997.
15. Michel Bussiere, CFO, Marlins
As executive V.P., the Montrealer oversees financial operations including financial reporting and budgeting, cash management, reporting requirements to MLB and tax auditing. Bussiere was the Expos CFO from 2000-2002. He had worked for the Expos since 1987.
16. Jim McKean, MLB umpire supervisor
After umping 29 years in MLB the Montreal native checks on those who make balls and strike calls from St. Petersburg, Fla. He suggests who gets the next big-league job when a vacancy occurs.
17. Fergie Jenkins, Hall of Famer
Canada's only Hall of Famer may live in Arizona, but he's often on the banquet tour. Whether it is in St. Catharines, his home of Chatham, Ont., or salmon fishing on the Chilliwack River in B.C., he preaches a never-give-up attitude to youngsters chasing their goal. Jenkins won 284 games in the majors and was given the Order of Canada award from the Governor General on May 4.
18. Terry Puhl, Team Canada manager
After guiding Team Canada to a fourth-place finish in Cuba, enough to qualify for the Bejing Olympics qualifier, the Melville, Sask. native will guide Canada's hopes next spring in Taiwan. Three countries in that eight-team tourney will advance to the Games. He's also head coach at the U. of Houston Victoria.
19. Phil Lind, vice-chairman of Rogers Communications
Not a limelight guy, the Toronto resident is given credit, along with Godfrey, for talking Rogers into buying the Jays from Interbrew, the absentee owners.
20. Gord Ash, assistant GM Brewers
He's played a key role in Milwaukee sitting atop the AL Central. The Toronto native, along with Melvin, has made the Brewers Canada's team: no less than 12 Canadians are in their system.