Big Zee (Zed), almost a Blue Jay

* LHP Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.) pitched for the Missouri Tigers this spring and was the top Canuck in the draft, 13th highest ever drafted, going 41st over-all to the Chicago Cubs. .... 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent

Bob Elliott

The top Canuck in this year’s major-league draft came oh so close to being with the Blue Jays.

“The Blue Jays let me know they wanted to take me with their 47th pick on Thursday night, around the 25th pick,” said lefty Rob Zastryzny Saturday from Corpus Christi.

“I was fine with that. both my parents are Blue Jays fans,” said the University of Missouri lefty, who was born in Edmonton.

“And then I got a text -- the Chicago Cubs were going to take me.”

And then he looked at the TV and there was Kerry Wood, the Cubs representative at the podium inside MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J..

“And then, he was saying my name,” said Zastryzny.

Saying his name is not easy.

It’s ZAS-tres-ny.

And Wood got it right.

The Jays missed him by seven picks. With Zastryzny gone, the Jays chose Clinton Hollon, a Kentucky high schooler.

The lefty was the 13th highest Canadian ever drafted. Day III of the draft saw 15 Canadians drafted. The highest was Sierra Jr. College right-hander Andrew Cooper of Belle River, Ont. In all, 20 were selected, the lowest since 1992. Lopping 10 rounds off the draft has hurt Canadians, although 27 were chosen a year ago.

As for Zastryzny he didn’t migrate south to play college ball, or leave in a snit over a Terry Jones review of the Oilers.

No, he left much earlier. Much earlier.

“I was one,” said the lefty, whose father, Jim, an electrician and mom Sandra, moved south to Corpus in 1993.

“I’ve been to Edmonton once with my dad once and three times with my mom,” he said. “Both sides of the family live in Edmonton.

“I have dual citizenship, when I first talked to Jays scouts they mentioned me coming to Toronto for a pre-draft workout and were excited to hear I had a Canadian passport.”

At Calallen High, he was 26-4 with an 0.71 ERA and 299 strikeouts for the fighting Wildcats, including 17-1 with a 0.20 ERA and 198 strikeouts as a senior.

“In Corpus, they’d call me Canada or always drop an ‘eh’ at the end of the sentence, the farther north I went the less they cared. Half the Missouri team didn’t know where I was born.”

Since he was home schooled one course he took was Canadian history (“mom thought it was real important”) and he grew up knowing his 50 states and their capitals plus 10 provinces and their capitals.

“My mom wanted to keep me in the loop, to learn both cultures,” he said. “I can relate to a lot of people.”

And one year at Missouri he helped his roomie prepare for a Canadian history test, a snap for someone  majoring in business administration and home schooled in Canadian history.

“To a Canadian the test would probably have been a joke,” said the Big Zee ... almost the Big Zed.

“They gave him a map. I picked out Calgary without looking. He had to figure out how much Canadian money was worth.”

And of course there was the cross-Canada are-we-there-yet vacation as a 12-year-old. The family flew into Edmonton, drove through the Banff national park, flew from Calgary to Thunder Bay, drove to Toronto, then to Montreal (“that was cool we went to a Montreal Expos game and I saw Vlad Guerrero play,”), on to Digby, N.S. for mussels and scallops (“the food were delicious,”) and then whale watching.

At Missouri, he pitched the opener of the Big 12 tournament last year, pitching 8 1/3 scoreless against the Texas Longhorns in the opener, a 5-0 win, and beating Oklahoma in the final, allowing four runs on three day’s rest.

This year Missouri moved to the SEC and struggled. Despite being clocked at 93 MPH he was 2-9, with 24 walks and 82 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings. He gained helium, allowing one run in nine innings in an extra-inning loss to Mississippi State in the tourney opener.

He never pitched summer ball, instead spending the summer recouping from the spring schedule.

“It allowed me to go deeper into games, we lost a lot of games but I was able to help save the bullpen so we could win either Saturday or Sunday,” Zastryzny said. “I don’t know if we were ready for the conference switch.”

As a present-day Canadiana history test, he’s told the 12 Canucks who were selected higher than him in the June draft:

RHP Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands, Tex.) second over-all in 2010; Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) fourth in 2002; LHP Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC) ninth in 2002; Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) 11th in 2007; Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC) 16th in 2008; RHP Dave Wainhouse (Scarborough, Ont.) 19th in 1998; C Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC), 22nd in 2010; Kevin Nicholson (Surrey, BC) 27th in 1997; INF Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.) 30th in 2000; RHP Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) 34th in 1996; Ntema Ndungidi (Montreal, Que.), 36th in 1997 and LHP James Paxton (Ladner, BC) 37th in 2009.

“I know a few of those names,” he said, “I saw Taillon as a high schooler. He came to town to play our rival (Moody). He threw real hard.”

Nicknamed Friday (when college aces start he arrived at Missouri weighing 170 pounds and leaves at 210. He says he’s gained 11% muscle and lost 8-to-10% body fat.

So, what happened when Wood name was called.

“I hugged my mom and dad,” Zastryzny said. “I didn’t want a huge party and make a big deal of it.”

How Canadian.