Day One with Team Canada

* Team Canada begins to arrive in Phoenix for third annual World Baseball Classic. .... Elsewhere .... MELISSA COUTO -- Another (Etobicoke) Ranger rides in C John Suomi makes 3 joining Joey Votto and Shawn Hill from Bob Smyth’s Connorvale teams .... ADAM MORISSETTE -- Trevor Grieve will work first two rounds of WBC .... CHRIS MELITO -- Pool C preview: Spain, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and host Puerto Rico begin play Thursday .... The game that still haunts Ernie Whitt Italy upset Canada 6-2 at 2009 WBC at the Rogers Centre in 2009 .... RHP Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) top HSer in Ontario at the four MLB Bureau invite-only camps .... 

Day II with Team Canada Day I with Team Canada

2013 Top Canadians eligible for draft 2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent 2012 Canadians in the Minors  2012-13 Canadians at Canadian schools



By Bob Elliott

PHOENIX _ This flight reminded me of the old days covering ball.

I covered the Montreal Expos from (1979-1986) and then the Toronto Blue Jays (1987-1991) as a beat man, before becoming a baseball columnist

It was a time when writers flew team charters.

“What you hear here, stays here,” Expos travelling secretary Peter Durso, light years ahead of the Las Vegas ads, told me in 1980 on my first trip, a July 4 weekend series in New York. “Don’t talk to the players unless they talk to you,”

So, onto the charter I walked and headed to the back as I figured that is where the lowly writers sat.

“Get outta here, get up to the front!” yelled Warren Cromartie. “This is our ghetto.”

Which was fine for Cromartie to say ... except I was a salmon swimming upstream as more and more players were coming to the back of the plane.

I later learned The PPO, plane’s pecking order, and what group of people where supposed to sit what order:

Manager Dick Williams.

Coaches Vern Rapp, Galen Cisco, Ozzie Virgil, Norm Sherry, Pat Mullin and others.

Broadcasters Dave Van Horne and Duke Snider, Jacques Doucet and Roger Brulotte.

The travelling writers.

And then the players.

Sitting at the gate for the US Airways flight 454 for Phoenix Sunday afternoon in Tampa I saw Team Canada coach Stubby Clapp (Windsor, Ont.), now a hitting coach with the class-A Dunedin Blue Jays.

And boarding I ran into Team Canada catcher Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.) of the Baltimore Orioles organization and Team Canada infielder Peter Orr (Richmond Hill, Ont.) of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Robinson introduced me to Team Canada centre fielder Tyson Gillies (Langley, BC) who I’d interviewed at the 2009 Futures Game in St. Louis and Team Canada lefty Jay Johnson (Sussex Corner, N.B.) whom I’d never met.

I knew his former coach Blair Kubicek very well and had written the story how Johnson had been drafted twice, by the Orioles and the Blue Jays, yet failed to pass either physical.

So, Kubicek phoned his pal Pat Gillick to ask for another chance. Johnson is now considered a fast riser in the Phillies system.

Johnson and I talked walking down the jet way, how his brother and father are herring fisherman 40 minutes from Moncton, N.B. I told him my son moved to Moncton to be with his gal Sarah and Xavier -- who in fact turned three on Sunday. Xavier was the cutest 2 1/2 year-old in New Brunswick in November when I was in Moncton for the Santa Claus parade.

Xavier now has a new age division to conquer, of which I have zero doubt he will.

Kubicek ran the Prairie Baseball Academy for years, coaching Johnson, and then built all the new diamonds at Oktoks, Alta. I asked Johnson to tell Kubicek there was one diamond in Dunedin better than Okotoks.

We saw Trystan Magnuson (Vancouver, BC) on the jet ridge -- he was the one two feet taller than everyone else. A long, tall drink of water.

Entering the plane there was Clapp in Dick Williams seat.

Also in first class were reliever Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.), of the Phillies, who told me his Gatineau coach Stephane Petronzio was coming to Arizona; Canada’s Game 1 starter Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont.) of the Detroit Tigers, Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) of the Blue Jays minor league system; right-hander Jameson Taillon, whose mother is from Toronto and his father from St. Andrews West, Ont.; Orr and Robinson ... and some other people I don’t think were Team Canada members -- especially the lady with the long flowing red hair.

I headed back to 18-D which was an aisle and better than normal from my travel agent 1-800-Middleseat.

And Johnson kept on going.

Later I saw Magunson on the aisle and poor Johnson in a middle seat.

I did not know that Team Canada travelling secretary John (Rude Dog) Broiux who had the same job with the Blue Jays was also not working for 1-800-Middleseat.


* * *

There were 183 seats on the A-321 carrier.

Only 11 belonged to members of Team Canada, but it had that feel of a charter.

So, it was not a complete team charter ... it only seemed so getting on the plane.

The charter business was a mysterious world I never understood. The team kept track of the air fare from City A to City B, the newspaper totalled the advertising lines and whichever side spent more at the end of the year wrote a cheque for the remaining amount.

One September the plane had three seats on one side and two on the other. I sat down alongside Razor Shines, a September call-up, for the Chicago-St. Louis flight on the two-seat side of the plane ... saw him last year coaching in the Los Angeles Dodgers system in the Mid-West League for the Great Lakes Loons, when I went in to visit with Jeff Hunt.

Not so fast.

Under the Basic Agreement players were allowed 1 1/2 seats. Player rep Steve Rogers told me to move, so the writers crammed into one row.

One memorable charter was a stormy night from Houston to Chicago.

In flight planes will make noises -- gears switching or whatever?

Expos right-hander Andy McGaffigan would always yell “we’re going down!” when he heard the noise.

It got to be funny except for Cromartie and a couple of others were nervous fliers.

This night we could see lightening and were bouncing around pretty good.

“We’re going down,” yelled McGaffigan.

Van Horne, who the players called Mr. President behind his back for the way he carried himself -- always the most distinguished person in the travelling party, unless Expos president John McHale was on the tip and then it was close -- jumped up out of his seat and headed back to McGaffigan.

Van Horne yelled: “cut that out! It is not funny! Yo do not want to do that again!”

McGaffigan never did it again as long as I recall.


* * *

I did interview Tom Henke once on a charter. The Jays were in Arlington and were flying Dallas-Chicago after the game. I tried to talk to him before the game but he was taking treatment for some ailment (and the next day was an off day, so there wasn’t any availability to talk to players).

I tried after the game and he said “ah we’ll do it on the plane, I’ll come up and sit with you.”

I said it was not allowed.

Henke said it was.


I figured he would forget, as players do, but up he came as soon as he finished his meal.

Another time, another year there was a memorable exit from Midway Airport in Chicago.

In those days the bus would pull onto the tarmac alongside the plane. I hear since 9/11 players have to go through the terminals.

Our bus pulls up to the right of the plane -- the Jays always had two buses, one for the manager, coaches, trainers and any players who brought their families on the trip; the other bus was for the rest of the players.

The wives’ bus pulled up on the right side on the charter. People got up and began to get off when an airport official came on and told the driver to back up the bus and move to the left side.

We pulled up to the left side and Tony Fernandez was getting off with two of his family members, holding one in his arms half asleep, another by the hand and a baby’s bag over his other arm.

All of a sudden the bus leapt forward jumped the cement barrier and crashed through the terminal glass. We never knew what happened for sure, but since the driver left the bus running the best CSI Charter could figure out was a strap from the baby’s bag caught the gear shift ... and away we went.

Larry Millson from the Globe and Mail, Allan Ryan from the Toronto Star and myself eventually got off and headed for a bank of those old pay phones to call our offices ... it was like that old comedy when the newspaper guys rush the phone booth at once and topple the booths.

Fortunately, there were not any injuries, but how wise was that guy to have moved us from the right side to the left ... if we had not moved the bus would have lurched 10-to-15 feet with players and wives in the way.

That was scary thinking of that.

Eventually, Toronto writers were kicked off the charters, I think it was after the Tim Johnson era.

The good thing about flying the charter was you woke up in the city you were supposed to be in the next day.

The bad thing you had 45 minutes to write your story or be left behind by the bus. The worst stories ever were on getaway day.

As one wise acre said “the only advantage to flying on the charter would be to cover a crash if the plane went down -- but if it went down you would probably miss deadline.”

Now, Jays writers fly the next day on their own.


* * *

On the Expos charters P.R. man Richard Griffin and legendary pitching coach Larry Bearnarth used to play a game.

Richard would say 18.

And Bearnarth would shrug.

Richard would say “the number of hard-boiled eggs coach X (who no one liked) could eat during a doubleheader.”

And we’d all laugh.

Or Richard would say 2,312.

Bearnarth would not know the answer.

Richard would say the number of stolen balls coach X has in the trunk of his car right.

The coach had the most annoying habit of clearing his throat.

“110 ... number of times he cleared his throat on a Montreal-Pittsburgh flight.

Richard always was the last man to walk down the jet way.

I used to be like that too for about 15 years, but plane are so full nowadays, the overheard so crowded and sometimes my satchel does not fit underneath the seat in front of me. It was good it decided to get on when I did or I would not have seen Robinson and Orr.


* * *

At the baggage claim in Phoenix newcomers Iorg and Taillon met Robinson, Orr and Loewen.

A fan asked some Canadian players to sign a WBC base which he had just removed from the plastic and then moved on to the next carasouel where Peter Gammons of MLB Network was waiting.

Talking with Iorg I told him he should ask his father Garth Iorg, a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers, to call pitches ... at least one belt-high fastball each and every at-bat.

“That would be nice,” said the younger Iorg with a laugh.

Johnson explained that he was at the back of the plane because he turned in his first-class ticket so his gal could fly to Phoenix.

My son also sent a text from Moncton to ask Johnson to show me the secret New Brunswick hand shake. Johnson said he did not know it.


* * *

Robinson he mentioned the story I’d written about Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg having managed  both Robinson at triple-A Iowa and John Suomi (Etobicoke, Ont.) at triple-A Lehigh Valley.

He’d been in Fort Myers as the Orioles played the Twins but once Robinson got to Sarasota he phoned. He had spoken to his wife and phoned back a second time to say “I forgot to mention Margaret Sandberg and how she got the whole team involved in community events in Des Moines. I can’t forget Margaret.” ... So I inserted something into the column about Margaret.

I told Robinson I’d been to a surprise party for Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News Saturday night in Clearwater. Hagen is this year’s winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award, which means he’ll share the stage with Saint Shirley Cheek when Tom Cheek is honoured with the Ford C. Frick award.

Hall of Famers Pat Gillick and Sandberg showed and pictures were taken.

Every one wore a t-shirt with Paul’s logo on it.

The organizers scoured the coast and decided to have it at Frenchy’s which happened to be the gathering spot for Paul and all the other Philadelphia writers for the last 27 years -- that I know of.

Anyway, on the way out the door I said good night to Sandberg and be called me back in to meet his wife Margaret.

I told her how nice Robinson had been to think of her ... and even call back.

Margaret said last year when Robinson’s Norfolk team played Lehigh and she made it a point to find Chris Robinson’s wife, Amy and twins, Laine and Griffin, now 13 month old.

Have never seen either one but we can guess Chirs’s parents Don and Katie have decided the two have wrapped up the cutest 13-month-old division in the province of Ontario.