Taveras Has Canadian Past

Melissa Couto talks prospect Oscar Taveras’ teenage past in Montreal, Jays manager John Gibbons and the World Cup, Joey Votto’s return from injury, and more in this week’s ThrowinSmoke column

Melissa Couto talks prospect Oscar Taveras’ teenage past in Montreal, Jays manager John Gibbons and the World Cup, Joey Votto’s return from injury, and more in this week’s ThrowinSmoke column

TORONTO — Oscar Taveras has fond memories of his time in Montreal.

And to the surprise of no one, they all have to do with sports.

"Playing baseball, playing basketball," the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder recalled on a recent trip to Toronto.

"I played a little bit of everything — but not hockey. I can't play hockey. My skating is not very good."

Though born in the Dominican Republic, Taveras spent four years (from ages 12-16) living north of the border with his father, Francisco.

He played for the Marquis de Montreal of the Quebec midget triple-A league, where the competition was decent, but nowhere near the level he was used to.

"In Montreal, I was playing against kids who were really good," Taveras said. "But in the Dominican the competition is more hard, they play  [Taveras] more games, they play all year so everyone is (improving) all the time.

"Here, you play three months so it's different, but it was still very good baseball."

Taveras signed with the Cardinals as an international free agent in 2008 when he was just 16 years old. He was called up from triple-A Memphis to make his MLB debut on May 31, and smacked a solo home run in his second major league at bat in a 2-0 win against the San Francisco Giants.

Since then, however, the 21-year-old hasn't had much success at the plate, hitting .189 with a .225 on-base percentage through 10 games.

Last week, the Cardinals played their first series at Rogers Centre in years, and Taveras had some extra motivation sitting in the stands.

Francisco Taveras, wanting to see his son in a major league uniform for the first time, made the 543-kilometre trek from Montreal for the special occasion.

Oscar says he was disappointed his father didn't get to see a better performance from him — he was 2-for-11 on the Toronto trip — but Francisco was proud of his son nonetheless.

"I didn't do a great job ... (But) he was so happy to see me," Oscar said. "He said I'm doing good, just continue to play. Sometimes I'm not hitting, but I have to try every day — come to the field, do my stuff, and go out there and play the game."

Taveras holds a Canadian passport thanks to his father — himself a former baseball player who signed a minor-league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers before an elbow injury forced an early end to his professional career.

"My dad was a great player when he was younger," Taveras said.

The son isn't bad either.

Heading into last season, Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Taveras the best prospect in the Cardinals organization — and the Canadian national team took note.

Taveras says he was asked to play for Canada at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but decided to stay with the Cardinals during his first big league spring training.

The next WBC (in 2017) might be different, however — especially if both Canada and the Dominican Republic come calling.

"It (would be) a hard decision," Taveras said. "If they (Canada) asked me, I'd say yeah, of course, why not? I'm from here, I'm from the Dominican, whatever.

"My passport is here. My father is here. My roots are in the Dominican with my mother, my friends, but baseball is baseball. It would be good to play for (either country)."

GIBBONS STICKING TO BASEBALL

While most of Earth's sports-watching public will be completely engulfed in the World Cup over the next 30 days, Blue Jays fans can rest assured that manager John Gibbons will not be.

Asked recently who he would be cheering for in the month-long tournament — which started Thursday — Gibbons replied: "Who's in it?"

Told that Spain was a safe bet, considering they won the last World Cup by beating the Netherlands 1-0 in extra time in South Africa in 2010, Gibbons expressed his surprise.

"Is that right?" he asked with a laugh. "How did I not know that?"

NOTES: The Toronto Blue Jays have signed 24 of their 41 draft picks, with 49th overall selection RHP Sean Reid-Foley taking home the biggest bonus so far at $1,128,000. Foley, who was considered by most to be a steal in the second round, settled for not a penny over slot value. Others to sign include third-round LHP Nick Wells, fourth-round C Matt Morgan, fifth-round RF Lane Thomas, and 10th-round RP Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont. ... First-round picks Jeff Hoffman and Max Pentecost have yet to sign ... The Blue Jays offence may have dried up over the last few nights, but SS Jose Reyes hasn't been affected. Reyes is on a 13-game hitting streak, with a .379 batting average over his last seven games.

CANADIANS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES

It hasn't taken long for Joey Votto to get back into the swing of things.

The Toronto native was back in the Cincinnati Reds lineup Tuesday, making his first start with the club since May 15.  [Joey-Votto]

Votto spent 25 days on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps, and was 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in his return — a 6-1 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Great American Ballpark.

The Reds first baseman fared even better on Wednesday, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs in Cincinnati's 5-0 win over L.A., and he was 2-for-3 with a double in the Reds' 4-1 win over the Dodgers on Thursday.

Votto is hitting .267 with a .416 on-base percentage through 42 games this season.

NOTES: Colorado Rockies 1B Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) has cooled down considerably from his hot start to the season. Morneau ended April hitting .343 but his batting average has dipped to .292 since. He had a good day at the plate Wednesday, however, going 3-for-4 with an RBI, and he was 2-for-5 with a home runs and three RBIs on Thursday. ... Pittsburgh Pirates C Russell Martin (Montreal) has 10 hits in his last eight games, including a 3-for-3, four-RBI night last Friday. ... L.A. Dodgers OF Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) picked up the first hit of his major league career — a two-run double — on Sunday. The 28-year-old is hitting .083 through nine games (12 at-bats).

CANADIANS IN THE MINOR LEAGUES

Jordan Lennerton didn't exactly get off to the best start this season.

The triple-A Toledo (Detroit Tigers) first baseman from Langley, B.C., is hitting just .190 through 60 games.  [Jordan-Lennerton]

But over his last seven contests, Lennerton has nine hits, including two home runs and three doubles.

The 28-year-old was Canada's only representative at last year's Futures Game. He finished the season with a .278 batting average, .382 OBP and .812 OPS.

NOTES: RHP Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont.) was traded from the Blue Jays' double-A affiliate to triple-A Charlotte (Chicago White Sox) on Wednesday. Hill was 2-1 with a 4.85 ERA in six games (four starts) with the Buffalo Bisons, and 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA in three starts with New Hampshire.

— Follow Melissa Couto on twitter @throwinsmoke

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Melissa Couto

My name is Melissa Couto. I'm a sports reporter-editor at The Canadian Press, where I've worked for the past two years. Mostly I work on the night desk, editing copy for print, online and broadcast, but I have been doing more and more writing recently. I also contribute to the Canadian Baseball Network, a website founded by renowned Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott.

 

I'm a graduate of Centennial College's sports journalism post-graduate program. Before that, I went to Western where I completed a BA and MA in American history (it's helped me impress people when we're watching Jeopardy). In all seriousness, my time at Western was valuable.  I walked away with a real passion for writing. When I took the post-grad program at Centennial, I learned to merge that love of writing with the love of sport that I've always had (particularly for baseball), and as they say, the rest is history.