Morneau Finds Hockey Pucks no Matter where he goes -- even in the Desert, A gold-winning picture, Support for Dempster
By BOB ELLIOTT
This is one of the few times you will ever see us mention that six-letter word unless he was a former player. You know the word, the sport which causes baseball players to get hurt in the winter: H-o-c-k-e-y. Scott VandeValk (Guelph, Ont.) is a good baseball man. A lifer. He coached the Guelph Silvercreeks to the national junior championship in 2006. He is vastly overpaid as the Intercounty Junior League commissioner. He coaches his hometown Georgetown Eagles bantams. But like everyone else he has warts. He coaches h-o-c-k-e-y. And so it unfolded that on Thursday afternoon he has his h-o-c-k-e-y team from Christ The King Secondary School in Georgetown in Tempe, Az. He went two years ago and spent time talking to Adam Moser (Medicine Hat, Alta.) when the University of Nevada-Las Vegas was visiting Arizona State. On this day VandeValk had arranged for his team to take a tour of Arizona State University. His team met legendary former football coach Frank Kush, who gave his kids tickets to the Saturday afternoon game between the 14th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils and the 23rd-ranked Washington State Huskies at Ned Wulk Court/Wells Fargo Arena. The guard giving the tour then took them to Bobby Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark, saw the mostly empty field and let the team walk into the dugout. “We walked into the dugout, saw these guys taking pictures and I said that guys looks like a pro,” said Matt Quinn, a grade 11 student, “I looked at my buddy Justin Kaye and we both said at the same time: “Oh my gawd! It’s Justin Morneau!” There standing at home plate was a familiar sight for the Canucks oh so far away from home. Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) of the Minnesota Twins, former American League MVP and Canada’s best slugger for the World Baseball Classic when it takes place at the Rogers Centre, doing a photo shoot for a sporting goods company. During a break in the shutter bugging, VandeValk, who happened to be wearing a Baseball Canada t-shirt, introduced himself. “I walked over, introduced myself and said ‘Hi Justin, this is my team,” VandeValk said. “He said what we were doing down here and I said playing some hockey ... can you come over and say hello when you are done.” Morneau quickly made his world the same as the high schoolers. He joked and chatted with the youngsters: “Don’t tell me that you guys are Maple Leaf fans?” “Who is going to pitch for us in the WBC?” asked on player. “Ah don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out when we get there,” Morneau answered. “He was a really great guy, so down to earth,” said Dan Merchant, who is doing a victory lap or Georgetown before heading to Laurier in the fall. Since he is injured he’s helping with the coaching on this trip. “It was nice to see a Canadian and he seemed to enjoy seeing us,” said Merchant, who plays junior ball in Georgetown. When the photo shoot was over the woman called over to the players and asked them in they wanted the baseballs Morneau had littered the outfield with because she “didn’t want to go pick them up.” Out they scattered as if chasing free pizza. It wound up that each player had three baseballs each. Morneau signed each and every one. “He signed for everyone who asked,” Merchant said, “and he was easy to talk to. He wasn’t stuck up and you could tell that he hard-working.” When someone suggested they take a team picture, the Twins first baseman insisted that they move out to the outfield to get the scoreboard in the background. “It was a fun day, ASU was sweet,” Merchant said, “it’s nice to compare the U.S. college programs to ours. They get more publicity and more exposure than ours.” Quinn has had VandeValk as a gym teacher since grade 9 and says “as a teacher ... Coach V is a better hockey coach.” “It was awesome,” Quinn said. “He told us how he used to be a goalie, asked if we were Maple Leaf fans, a couple of us laughed and he laughed. We told him this season is like every year -- they’re not doing too well.” And to complete the perfect day Christ the King knocked off a club team, the Phoenix Mustangs 6-4 on the ice. Merchant was OK, although his back was a little sore for carrying the head coach and Quinn notched a pair of assists. Quinn said the Phoenix team was comparable to Nelson High School in Burlington. The Georgetown team headed for the parking lot the same time as Morneau did. “He was driving a Mercedes I think,” Merchants said. “Some of the guys asked him to burn out and he said he didn’t want to get caught by cops.” So the highlight of the high school hockey team’s day in the desert, a day which included the tour of the ASU facilities, meeting a major league super star and winning a hockey game? “The highlight of the day would be seeing and meeting Morneau,” said Merchant. “Probably meeting Morneau,” said Quinn. Tell us your high school brush with greatness? A RARE PICTURE: Jim Curtis was there that day in Kindersley, Sask. in 1991. A day it could be argued that was Canada’s best-ever day on the diamond. It’s when Canada won the World Junior championship, the first time the country has ever won gold. He has posted a picture the gold-winning Team Canada team, of coach John Harr along with the only team inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys. A team which included: Jason Dickson, Mark Fraser, Rob Nicholson, Jason Gooding, Daniel Brabant, Brad Campbell, Todd Betts, Stubby Clapp, Troy Croft, Joe Young, Jason Lee, Troy Croft, Kenny Torrence, Jason Birmingham, Jim Curtis, Gord Leduchowski, Mike McKinley, B.J. Ricardson, Todd Schell, Kevin Collins, Blaise Levay, along with coaches Tony Flood and Gary Picone. DEMPSTER BACKER: Ryan Dempster has a defender in Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who says any criticisim the Chicago Cubs righty receives is unfair. WBC-ING YOU SOON: The World Baseball Classic dates at the Rogers Centre Game 1, Saturday, March 7 -- Team Canada vs. Team USA, 2 p.m. Game 2, Saturday, March 7 -- Italy vs. Venezuela, 8 p.m. Game 3, Sunday, March 8 -- Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m. Game 4, Monday, March 9 -- Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 6:30 p.m. Game 5, Tuesday, March 10 -- Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4 5 p.m. Game 6, Wednesday, March 11 -- Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5 6:30 p.m. (Losers of Game 4 and Game 5 are eliminated.) (Game 6 will decide first and second-place placings for the second round.) IN YER FACE: The Canadian Baseball Network facebook group is up and running ... and running fast: Mike Nitsos (Whitby, Ont.) of the Iowa Western Reivers, is the 400th to join. Grant Kveder (Lethbridge, Alta.) of the Gonzaga Stags is No. 500. Dan Chappel (Edmonton, Alta.) is No. 600. Drew Parker (Surrey, BC) of West Florida, is No. 700. Andrew Brock (Burnaby, BC) of the Idaho Coyotes is No. 800. Derek Papp (Windsor, Ont.), who used to pitch for Judson, is No. 900. Jonathan Lussier (Montreal, Que.), former C-DH with the Les Ailes du Quebec alongside Phillipe Alexandre Valiquette (St. Laurent, Que.), Alexandre Periard (St. Eustache, Que.) and Mathieu Poirier (Montreal, Que.) is No. 1,000. EXTRA, EXTRA: Since you asked ... we have a recap of the previous blogs: Brett Lawrie, first rounder, of the Brewers. EXTRA BASES 1 -- First week of the nationals. EXTRA BASES II -- Second week of the nationals. EXTRA BASES III -- Results from the third week of the nationals. EXTRA BASES IV -- The best 15-16-year-olds from Canada gather at the Rogers Centre for the annual Mizunio Camp. EXTRA BASES V -- Checking in on the National Junior Team in Florida. EXTRA BASES VI -- Dropping in on the Cincinnati Reds instructional camp in Sarasota, more Canucks on the roster than anyone else. EXTRA BASES VII -- Letters of Intent list of Canadians committed to college. EXTRA BASES VIII -- WBC SS job goes to Chris Barnwell, Jay Johnson pops at the PBA. EXTRA BASES VIX -- Baseball Ontario and Baseball Canada's best hear from former Expos ace Steve Rogers. EXTRA BASES X -- Past All-Canadian team members to go on to the pro ranks EXTRA BASES XI -- Alexandre Periard (Brewers) Chris Leroux (Marlins) promoted to 40-man rosters. EXTRA BASES XII -- R.I.P. Tommy Burgess, former MLB player, National Team coach EXTRA BASES XIII -- R.I.P. Jim Ridley, former minor-league pro, Intercounty MVP, scout and national team coach. Our all-time hit leader. EXTRA BASES XIV -- 2008 All-Canadian College Team with links to 2000-07 teams. EXTRA BASES XV -- Dany Wood is Canuck born, Lutton Birnie -- Fab 50s, Baseball Canada banquet, BA top prospects EXTRA BASES XVI --Morneau, Whitt to Lead Team Canada in WBC, Tip O'Neill award to Morneau, All-American honours to Davis Regan EXTRA BASES XVII -- Miller, Van Pelt turn in skates for scholarships EXTRA BASES XVIII -- The top 100 Most Influential Canadians in baseball EXTRA BASES XVIX -- Team Canada's WBC roster and more EXTRA BASES XX -- Campbell wins Volunteer award in Ottawa EXTRA BASES XXI -- Walker, the national treasure, earns special Baseball Canada honour NOTES AND NEWS FROM OUTLYING AREAS:
O sounds cool. thanks Nathan Smith Brampton, Ont. University of Evansville
Really like the Canadian Baseball Network
David Robb Okotoks Dawgs
Thanks for the add Bob. I remember we were in contact 7 years ago back when I was playing junior college baseball, you wrote some blurbs about me and again when the Blue-Jays signed me. I read most of your articles in the Toronto Sun and I enjoy every one of them! You’re a very talented writer. I even have a baseball rule book that you wrote about fifteen years ago. Take care.
James Pidutti Sudbury, Ont.
Keep up the good work Bob
Marty Chubb Kitchener, Ont.
Bob: I must say thanks for bringing back some memories of days gone by with the ‘95 Team Canada Media Guide my friend borrowed from you. I know I have one somewhere at home but is in a box somewhere with all the rest of my memorabilia. I was excited when “The Northern Game” came out and happened to see my name in the appendix ... great read. That year I was actually shopping for my dad for Christmas and came upon it. Thumbed through in the store and got to the appendices ... pleasant surprise to say the least (I bought two copies). Sad to hear about Coach Ridley, he was a great mentor. Hope all is well with you ... I’ll keep reading if you keep writing. Regards, Mike Bennett Burlington, Ont.
Really enjoy the articles you have written over the years, always enjoy seeing coverage on Canadian ball players. I’m living full time in Oakville now, let me know if I can help with anything you have going on in the future.
Geoff McCallum Oakville, Ont.
Thanks for all the time you put into your research about Canadian baseball. I was on the list as a freshman playing college baseball last year but am not under as a sophomore this year.
Not sure if you just missed me or something but being in the U.S. makes me realize how proud I really am to be Canadian.
Thanks for your work,
Matt Skirving London, Ont.
Great Site! Thanks, keep up the great work. Bobby Bogensberger New Mexico Junior College Thunderbirds.
hey bob just wanted to say love the CBN site.
Aaron Lavorato Calgary
Hi Bob, I like what your doing with your website.
Leon Boyd Vancouver
It is pleasure to be your 1000th member of the Canadian Baseball Network facebook group You do a great job with the baseball and the draft. It's been a long time since i first went on your site. I have playing junior elite since 2005. Baseball is a sport that i play for fun now, not to get drafted or go to a college.
Jonathan Lussier Montreal