* INF Eddie Sanchez (Okotoks, Alta.) won two awards at the seventh annual Okotoks Dawgs banquet and Hall of Fame ceremonies: best bow tie and the Jimmy Henderson JDawg player of the year award. Sanchez heads to College of San Mateo next fall. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list
By Bob Elliott
OKOTOKS, Alta. -- There were 19,560 fans at Petco Park on a Tuesday night last April in San Diego.
One of the lucky ones to get to the front of the ticket line was Okotoks Dawgs founding father John Ircandia.
He was watching, but more so he was anticipating a save situation to see Milwaukee Brewers closer Jim Henderson, an original Dawg and the first from his organization to make the majors.
Henderson hadn’t pitched the night before as Milwaukee beat the San Diego Padres 7-1.
Now, the Brewers led 6-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth and on came Henderson ... Ircandia’s guy.
Henderson struck out pinch hitter Mark Kotsay on a 3-2 pitch for the first out.
And lead-off man Everth Cabrera lined a 3-2 pitch to centre. Two out.
Then, Will Venable walked on a 3-2 pitch.
Tying run on deck.
No. 3 hitter Chase Headley at the plate.
Ircandia began to pace back and forth along the concourse.
Just as he did at Foothills.
Or Seaman Stadium.
Or in Arizona or Seattle watching his Dawgs.
Or in Weyburn or Medicine Hat.
Finally, on a 2-2 pitch, Henderson struck out Headley to end the game for his fifth save.
Later, Ircandia congratulated Henderson.
“Hey, was that you up there pacing? I thought I saw you,” said Henderson.
Ircandia shook his head, yes: “how does a big-league closer -- in a save situation -- come to the set and check the crowd looking for people from Alberta?”
The Dawgs' founding director, like most baseball people, is superstitious. Once, when son Matt Ircandia was pitching for Mike McRae’s Niagara Purple Eagles in a tough situation on their spring trip to the Carolinas, the father did push ups between his son’s pitches.
“He kept throwing strikes, why not?” said Ircandia, whose son Vince, a second baseman, also played at Niagara and made the Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian Second Team in 2003.
* * *
Henderson sat beside Tyler Hollick, who finished his first full year in the San Francisco Giants organization, at Rylie’s Cattle Barn, run by Peterborough’s Rob Bolton.
After playing for the Dawgs, Hollick was a 14th round draft pick from Chandler-Gilbert Community College in 2012.
“I went to one of his college games,” said Henderson. “They’re up by eight or nine, he squares around and does a fake bunt. I told him he better not do that when he gets to pro ball.”
Or the next sound would be: Kerr-plunk ... ball hitting ribs.
Hollick hit .248 with seven doubles, three triples, three homers and 29 RBIs in 78 games split between class-A Augusta and class-A Salem-Keizer.
Henderson is an example of Canadian stick-to-it-iveness. Drafted by Dana Brown of the Montreal Expos (and now Alex Anthopoulos' top aid with the Blue Jays) in the 26th round in 2003 from Tennessee Wesleyan, he spent 10 seasons in the minors -- pitching for the rookie-class Gulf Coast Expos, class-A Vermont, class-A Savannah, class-A Potomac, double-A Tennessee, triple-A Iowa, class-A Wisconsin, class-A Brevard County, double-A Huntsville and triple-A Nashville with three different organizations -- before taking over the closer’s role with the Brewers.
He saved 28 of 32 opportunities (88%) last year, going 5-5 with a 2.70 ERA 61 games. On the season, he walked 24 and struck out 75 in 60 innings.
* * *
After displaying a strong arm across the diamond and equally strong arm on the mound, right-hander Ben Tighe was asked about the indoor facilities at Duvernay Fieldhouse.
“We don’t have anything like this where I’m from,” said Tighe, as hundreds of teenagers before him have said.
Where is he from?
Well, he moved to Alberta from Oviedo, Fla., near Orlando, where “we don’t need any indoor facilities, we’re outside all the time.”
His father, Tom Tighe, from Victoria, BC, and mom Jennifer from Toronto, moved to Atlanta to work on projects leading into the 1996 Olympics.
Ben was born in Douglasville, Ga., but because of Ma and Pa remains World Baseball Classic eligible.
His father then took a job with FT Services in Fort McMurray. After making the Orlando-Calgary-Fort Mac commute for a while and getting a promotion, the family moved to Alberta. Tom is now Site Manager with CNRL Horizon.
“Ben reminds me of Jason Frasor, the way he always throws on a downward plane,” said pitching coach Bruce Walton after Tighe’s bullpen was over.
Do you know who Jason Frasor is, I asked?
“No sir, I do not,” answered the grade nine student.
“Well, look him up on baseball-reference, where the answers to all your questions are. Frasor had two Tommy John surgeries and still pitched in more games for the Toronto Blue Jays than anyone. He was absolutely fearless. Manny Ramirez, you name a slugger, he battled.”
* * *
“My family didn’t have a problem with me coming west,” said Dawgs catcher Cole MacLaren of Morell, PEI.
What young player wouldn’t want to get more exposure?
Tanner Craswell (Charlottetown, PEI) and Mitch Maclean (South Winsloe, PEI) came west.
Likely the best infielder off the Island since Andrew McNevin, Craswell represented PEI at the Canada Cup three times (2004-06), played two seasons for coach Les McTavish at the Vauxhall Academy, and made Canada’s National Junior Team in 2007. Craswell played his freshman year of collegiate ball at the College of Southern Idaho before transferring to Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge.
Maclean wore a PEI uniform in 2006-07 at the Canada Cup and the 2009 Canada Summer Games before enrolling at the PBA in 2010. He was headed to Louisiana State University-Shreveport in 2012.
Both played for the Lethbridge Bulls of the Western Major Baseball League in 2010-11.
Heading to the airport on their way home for Christmas, Craswell, 22, and Maclean, 20, along with Tabitha Stepple, 21, were shot and killed in Claresholm, Alta. Shayna Conway, 21, Craswell’s girlfriend, who was shot in the leg, side and back, survived.
Enraged that Stepple was breaking up with Derek Jensen, he rammed the car from behind, and when they stopped he opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol, according to police reports. Jensen then took his own life.
“Tanner’s father [Keith] was my coach this summer,” said MacLaren. “I remember I was going out the door to hockey practice when we got the call.
“The ball field is like 30 seconds from my house. I used to watched Tanner play there all the time in the summer for the Morrell Chevies. Man, he could play.”
Word of the trageyd spread from coast to coast, but nowhere were the shock waves felt more than in PEI.
“We’re a small province, but that tragedy showed how we could all come together as a baseball family,” said McLaren, who praised the Blue Jays for flying in both the Craswell and MacLean families for part of opening night ceremonies in 2012 at the Rogers Centre.
At the second annual Tanner Craswell-Mitch MacLean Memorial (TCMM) game in May between the WMBL Lethbridge Bulls and Vauxhall, a double rainbow arched across the sky at Spitz Stadium.
Crack Lethbridge Herald photographer David Rossiter caught the image and it flashed across the country.
Bulls president Kevin Kvame received an email from Diane MacLean in Charlottetown. The message about the picture read:
“This confirms to me that they are still watching over all of us and that they had the best seats in the house last night. So comforting and amazing. I’ve never seen twin rainbows.”
Mock jerseys with the names and numbers of both players are on the outfield wall at Spitz. And last season, there was a No. 13 (Craswell) on the infield dirt at short and No. 6 (MacLean) at second. The Bulls also flew a PEI flag on each of the dugout flag poles in 2012.
The PBA, Vauxhall and the Bulls have set up a Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean Memorial Fund (account number: 00059 0157317). Donations can be made by email money transfer to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by cheques made payable to the Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean Memorial Fund at any of the three teams.
RHP Spencer Horne (Cornwall), RHP-INF Charles Maclellan (Cardigan) and OF Jed Noonan (Albany) are other Islanders at the Academy.
All followed the Atlantic province's success in Tournament 12 on Twitter and Facebook while exchanging text messages. RHP Andrew Case from the PBA was signed by Blue Jays scout Jamie Lehman, and Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar, who used to wear No. 12, presented the trophy to the Maritimes.
Dawgs coach A.J Fystro came to the Eastern Academy to see McLaren work out and offered him a spot for his grade 12 year.
“Taylor Burns said I could go to the Edmonton Prospects for both grade 11 and 12, so I was set to go,” said McLaren, a grade 11 student. “Coach Fystro called that they had room for another catcher, so here I am.”
* * *
Thomas Rodrigues came west from Montreal to play for the summer college program which averaged the fifth-highest attendance of any summer college team.
“My dad phoned one night after a game, told me how he heard Jonathan Hodgson interview me on the post-game show and how it was ‘so big league,’” Rodrigues said in his speech. “Yeah, Dad. That’s how it is here.
“At home ... at home I walk around trying to get noticed.”
Rodrigues, who plays for the Niagara Purple Eagles, recalls his meeting with coach Fystro.
“They warned me he was a little intense,” said Rodrogues. “I meet him and he said ‘practice tomorrow at 10:30 and again at 2:30!’”
Except Rodrigues said the words at breakneck speed, you’d think there were not any spaces between them. He said he thought to himself, “gee this is summer ball.”
Rodrigues earned MVP honours, while other awards from summer collegiate went to Josh Myers, as rookie of the year, Jordan Procyshen, as the True Grit player of the year, and Hayden Cleveland, as pitcher of the year.
Henderson presented the second annual JDawg player of the year award to INF Eddie Sanchez who is headed to College of San Mateo next fall.
* * *
The young ‘uns come out when the Dawgs stage their banquet.
Caden Chubak, five, kicked off the night with a dramatic rendition of “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” with all the mannerisms and dramatic pauses of a Shakespearian actor.
When Bruce Walton was presented with a framed jersey, he had help when he walked to the front to pose for pictures.
His daughter Calista raced to the front to be with her daddy.
Walton lives in Calgary during the off-season and will serve as the pitching coach at triple-A Iowa (Chicago Cubs) this season.
Okotoks had a busy 2013: hosting the largest Blue Jays camp (outside of Metro Toronto) for kids and raising $65,000 -- the largest donation made to the Jays Care Foundation with the Home Run Challenge -- which went to flood relief victims in the High River area.
And from the top Dawg, Ircandia, to the smallest -- Sanchez -- all are kept in line by Marlene Donnelly at Holy Trinity Academy.
Donnelly is the woman responsible for making sure that the ballplayers are students too, although she had better success keeping Sanchez in line than Ircandia.