By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
On Tuesday afternoon, news broke that the Toronto Blue Jays would be acquiring Jason Grilli from the Atlanta Braves.
The most important detail of the trade in my mind was that the right-handed reliever would be heading north of the border in exchange for 21-year-old Canadian minor league hurler Sean Ratcliffe.
I understand that most people don’t think this way. And for the majority of my life, I didn’t either. But thanks to Bob Elliott – Hall of Fame writer, Canadian Baseball Network curator, mentor, friend, question-answerer, and big-time advocate for the little guys in life – I suddenly found myself thinking more about the next move of a young player from Ajax, Ontario, who spent his high school-aged days playing for the Ontario Blue Jays and the Canadian Junior National Team than I was pondering how the trade might help the struggling bullpen of my lifelong favourite team, and the squad that I have worked for over the past seven seasons.
When I say that most people don’t think this way, I am being generous. The likelihood of anyone other than Ratcliffe’s friends and family wondering about him first and foremost upon hearing about the move is pretty small. The former Blue Jays farmhand wasn’t even officially informed of the trade himself until after he unofficially heard that I had tweeted it, from fellow Canuck – hailing from Saint John, New Brunswick and currently rehabbing in Dunedin, Fla., at extended spring training – Andrew Case.
So as everyone around me talked about Grilli, guessed at what the acquisition might mean for the Blue Jays, and asked questions about his numbers and previous attempts made by the organization to get the now-39-year-old in a Toronto uniform, I searched for a like-minded individual to talk to about Ratcliffe.
Well, let’s be honest. I went looking for Bob.
I found him, and interrupted a conversation between the Hall of Famer and Steve Simmons, who I now know was probably talking to him about his retirement for this tribute in the Toronto Sun. At the time, I didn’t know Bob’s last official day would be Wednesday. I stress the word “official” here, because he is still may write for the Sun, once a week or so, he tells me, and spend more time and energy on the Canadian Baseball Network website than ever.
“I’ll retire from the website when they put me in a box,” he said.
Last year, when Bob was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, after being presented the Jack Graney Award five years earlier, and becoming the first Canuck to win the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and take his place in Cooperstown in 2012 – also being inducted in between into the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians Hall of Fame, the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame, and the Okotoks Dawgs/Seaman Stadium Hall of Fame – I asked his wife Claire if she ever thought he would retire.
Claire told me that even when he did, nothing would really change. Stories for the Toronto Sun about the Blue Jays might turn into tales from the sandlots about Canada’s next best player, or the upcoming quests for the national teams, or the World Baseball Classic, but Bob will never stop loving the game, or promoting the Canadian players within it.
Moments after my conversation with Bob about Ratcliffe – which turned into a conversation about last year’s 28th-overall draft pick and native of Calgary, Alta., Mike Soroka, the previously lone Canadian in the Braves system that Ratcliffe will be joining, which then turned into a conversation about last year’s 12th-overall selection by the Miami Marlins and the highest Canadian position player ever taken, Mississauga, Ont., native Josh Naylor, which then of course continued into a conversation about his Greensboro Grasshoppers teammate and Toronto native Maxx Tissenbaum – I learned of Bob’s impending retirement.
I sent him a message asking if what I’d heard was true.
He confirmed, gave me some details, and at the end of his message he said, “Thanks for Ratcliffe.”
He thanked me. And for what? Interrupting his conversation to take a moment to make myself feel better by finding the only other person at Rogers Centre who would spend more time considering the Canadian minor-league impact of the trade than the more obvious implications for the team right in front of us?
If anyone owes thanks, it’s me. Without Bob, I wouldn’t be a writer. And I only feel comfortable calling myself a scribe after writing this piece – only because it won this year’s SABR Contemporary Commentary Award – that would never have happened without Bob’s support, or without The Hardball Times.
But if my writing was a house, it’s one that Bob built. I’ve told the story before, but after I finished my graduate studies in Sports Journalism at Centennial College, I interned at Baseball America, completing that internship with a trip to Baseball Canada‘s National Teams Awards Banquet and Fundraiser, penning a piece on the state of the game in our nation. Bob found it, called editor John Manuel and asked, “Who is this guy writing about Canadian baseball?”
That guy was me, and Bob asked if I’d be interested in writing for Canadian Baseball Network. I didn’t know much about the landscape of the sport in our country beyond the Blue Jays, so he opened my eyes to a whole new world that has now become my own.
He gave me something to write about, and a platform to do it on. It’s been six years and despite numerous contract opportunities with Baseball America, Prep Baseball Report, The Hardball Times, the Australian Baseball League, Major League Baseball and more, I still don’t have a full-time job, so I cannot stress enough how huge it is to have a consistent platform available for me to utilize.
Bob’s encouragement has meant the most. Everyone in my life can tell you that I have more questions than anyone else they know, and he’s answered every single one I’ve sent his way. He’s made my work feel important, he’s tried to reassure me when I need it, and he pulls me back in every time I’ve felt like quitting writing – including lately, and somehow here I am, writing about Bob. He’s helped me find importance in the things I do, the places I go, and the experiences I get from the game, good and bad.
There are not enough words to describe the impact Bob has had on my professional and personal life, although I won’t stop trying to find the best ones to fit. I’ve had the privilege of being in attendance at Bob’s inductions to both Cooperstown and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and I’ll try to be at the next several inductions scheduled across the country for years to come as well.
I don’t need to miss him, because he will still be covering the game I love every day, answering my emails, and telling me about what’s next for Canadian Baseball Network and more. But I do need to thank him, because I don’t do that enough, and without him I don’t know what I would be so passionate about.