EXTRA BASES XXI -- Larry Walker - National Treasure

Jan. 28, 2009 Updated Draft list

2009 Canadians in College

EXTRA BASES XXI -- Larry Walker, National Treasure, the Team Canada bqnuet and all that that entails

By Bob Elliott

Larry Walker played 9 1/2 seasons with the Colorado Rockies. The man inside the clubhouse in Denver had seen each and every home game.

Each and every one of his triumphs.

Each and every one of hits at home which saw him presented with the National League batting title at the home opener after the 1998 (.363), 1999 (.379) and 2001 (.350) seasons.

Each and every move he made during his 1997 NL most valuable player winning season.

So, we asked the man standing inside the Rockies clubhouse in 2007 as the Rockies prepared to meet the Boston Red Sox on the eve of the 2007 World Series, what was the most amazing thing you ever saw Larry Walker do?

“Well you see that couch over there,” the man inside the Rockies clubhouse nodding to a spacious couch in front of a large-screen TV the size of Maine.

In front of the couch was a table ... littered with magazines and cribbage board.

“One day -- don’t ask me the year -- Walker is watching TV, lying on the couch,” said the man inside the Rockies clubhouse. “A commercial comes on, Walker gets up runs to the other end of the clubhouse, picks up a popsicle, talks to a player for a minute or so.

“Now, he’s hurrying back. He runs, jumps on the table, avoids the magazines, leaps into the air, spins and lands flat on his back, all the while peeling wrapper off his popsicle.

“Now that is the most amazing thing I have ever seen any pro athlete do.”

He pointed how Walker could have, as many major leaguers do, ordered a clubhouse attendant to get him his popsicle, how he could have landed on a magazine on the table, slipped and fell cracking his tail bone or  when he leapt it looked like he was going to sail over the back of the couch.

Instead he wound up on his back, probably in the same butt crack spot Homer Simpson style too.

Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) will be short in voting for the Hall of Fame voting in Cooperstown -- only because he played so hard, running into fences and diving head first into third and in the outfield, that he missed a lot of time due to injuries -- but he will have plenty when voting for the Canadian Hall of Fame class for St. Marys will be released next month.

“What stunned me about the whole thing was that guys on a couch in a big-league clubhouse would have asked or ordered a clubhouse kid to get them a popsicle. With Larry it was like he was in a contest to get back on the couch to see his show before the commercial ended-- like high school,” said the man inside the Rockies clubhouse. “It was so athletic, so playful and the way he was so humble going to get it himself, it was very Canadian.”

And Saturday night he was honored rightfully so as the first Team Canada alumnus to have his name placed on the Baseball Canada Wall of Excellence. Ferguson Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) is the one Canadian in Cooperstown. He never pitched for Team Canada.

Walker rose from a table near the front and quickly reached the podium. He had his back to the crowd -- which had immediately rose for a standing ovation when MC Jerry Howarth finished his intro with the words “Larry Walker.”

The clapping continued and we just don’t mean Stubby. He shook hands with Linda Lewis, vice-president of Baseball Canada. The clapping continued. He shook hands with Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt, (the Windsor, Ont. suburb of Clinton Township, Mich.) The applause continued. He was hugged by former Montreal Expos boss Jim Fanning (Dorchester, Ont.). The clapping continued. He put on his red and white Team Canada jersey and then finally turned around to see everyone standing. Walker’s first movement was a look of shock and his second was to motion people to sit down. In other words he handled it like Canadian ... this best position player from Canada since the game was invented.

A seven-time gold glove winner, a five time all-star, a three time Silver Slugger winner and a Lou Marsh award winner as Canada’s athlete of the year in 1998 (he had lost to race car driver Jacques Villeneuve the year before and said “I got beat by a machine”). Walker dominated the annual fund raiser and his presentation was the highlight of the evening.

“The thing I noticed tonight with all these great Canadian players coming up here tonight and getting their awards was that they were all so humble and respectful,” Walker told Howarth. “No one thinks he is better than the next guy.”

Walker told of signing for his $1,500 US free-agent signing bonus and what did he spend it on?

“My girlfriend, I bought her a necklace ... and she dumped me,” said Walker, “so there I was driving around in my Datsun B-210.”

Walker credited Regina Pats coach Bob Strumm for steering him towards baseball.

“Two years in a row he cut me as the third goalie,” Walker said, “and as you know Jerry, they only keep two.”

Walker remembered the Montreal Expos for giving him the “opportunity to play, the Rockies and Denver where “most of it happened, Denver was a great place to hit” and St. Louis is where “I got to the World Series.” Walker made it in 2004 against the Boston Red Sox the final year of his 17-year career and in 2006 was given a Series ring, he proudly wore Saturday, as a coach with St. Louis.

The national treasure spoke of former Expo executive Fanning “who was always there for me to give me confidence ... I love the man.”

Discussing the upcoming World Baseball Classic Walker said “we beat Team USA in 2006 and there would be nothing better than to do it again on Canadian soil.”

Fanning described Walker as the absolute complete player. He saw Walker at the World Junior championships in Kindersley, Sask. saying “he was not a very polished shortstop,” but I saw line drives. Expo scout Bob Rogers was on Walker there and was the only scout a couple of weeks later when he went to Portland, Ore. when Walker broke out in a senior tournament. Rogers signed Walker in Vancouver and phoned Fanning with the news.

“Like any scouting director I asked how much did we give him and he said “$1,500, I said gee Bob you could have given him enough so that he could take a cab,” Fanning remembered.

Then the former Expos skipper told of his old teammate Ralph Rowe leaving the Baltimore Orioles after 17 years to work his final year with the Expos. Rowe watched the young Expos for a week in Utica, N.Y. and told Fanning: “The first day one of your people talks hitting with Larry Walker is the same day you get my resignation. He has a perfect swing.”

Fanning turned and asked Walker “did anyone with the Expos talk hitting to you, try to change your approach?”

Walker: “they did -- but I didn’t listen.”

When asked how Team Canada would prepare for the WBC, Whitt answered “drink beer ... it’s the Canadian way. Seriously it has been a privilege to have this job since 1999, these guys play with pride and passion.

“We’ll be OK, I want to talk Larry into coming out of retirement and being our DH.”

Walker: “You have a better chance of seeing Moses in the WBC.”

Howarth asked Walker about catching a foul ball at Dodgers Stadium ... Walker thought it was the final out and tossed it to a youngster near the railing only to realize that the grab was only the second out. He scooped the ball back from the youngster and threw the ball into the infield.

“I’ll never forget the young boy’s name -- Sebastien Napier,” Walker said. “The good thing was it was the ESPN Sunday night game of the Week ... so hardly anyone was watching.”

Major League Baseball presented Linda Lewis, vice president of Baseball Canada with a cheque for $100,000 US -- with Steve Rogers of the Players Association making a rare pinch-hitting appearance for the other side -- Fanning of the Jays handed over a cheque for $15,000 and the Royal Bank chipped in with $10,000. A pair of four-seat packages to Wrigley Field -- donated by Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC) were the high earners in the silent auction.

The highlights of the rest of the award winners from the night which began with Greg Hamilton expressing a moving tribute to departed Team Canada members Jim Ridley (Burlington, Ont.) and Tom Burgess (Lambeth, Ont.) ...

INF Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC), of the Milwaukee Brewers, Junior National Team MVP, presented by Disney’s Wide World of Sports. A video showed Lawrie explaining his move from third base to behind the plate “my coaches said they saw improvement in my catching, how they had Russell Martin and they said I’m a better catcher than Russell Martin at the same age.” On stage, Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) rolled his eyes.

“He’s not missing any confidence is he?” Martin asked the crowd. Martin played third and shortstop for the National Junior Team before being switched a year into the Dodger organization ... “and now my body hurts all the time ... I’m not really sure what I was thinking.”

Lawrie made his mark hitting five homers in a doubleheader against a Dominican academy team, two to left, two to right and his final drive to straightaway centre. Milwaukee Brewers scout Tom McNamara was there that day. And in a worse case scenario ... his cell phone would not work.

“I got back to the hotel and ran up about a $150 phone bill calling his scouting director Jack Zduriencik in Milwaukeee,” McNamara said. “I told Jack I was flying out in the morning.

“I said Jack I just saw the kid hit five home runs, what more can he show me?”

Lawrie homered the first at-bat the next day. Now, Zduriencik and McNamara work for the Seattle M’s, the former as the new GM and the latter as the new scouting director. They were attending to see Phillippe Aumont, a first rounder from 2007 selected by scout Bob Engle and Wayne Norton.

Said Paul Quantrill, pitching coach with the Junior National Team: “Brett was fearless, you could tell him either Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson was pitching from 50 feet and he would not be afraid.”

Lawrie, who won the triple crown at the world junior championships in Edmonton, will play infield when he begins his first pro season next month.

OF Nick Weglarz (Stevensville, Ont.) Cleveland Indians, Olympic Team MVP, presented by MLB Players Association.

Howarth asked Weglarz who his favorite player was growing up.

“Well, two years ago I said Mark McGwire,” said the red head, “now I’d say Larry Walker.”

Weglarz was named the No. 3 prospect in the Indians system by the highly-respected Baseball America after hitting .272, with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in four months at Single-A Kinston in 106 games. At the Olympics he led in homers and RBIs.

Like Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC), Weglarz also wears No. 33 like Walker. And like the others he certainly wears it well.

Presenter Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) has been working out in Arizona with Martin and taking batting practice after being forced to switch careers due to an elbow injury.

“Life throws you hoops, it was either take up hitting or go back to school and enroll at Trinity Western,” said Loewen, who signed with the Jays this winter. “I grew up watching the 1992-93 Blue Jays. It is every Canadian’s dream to play for the Jays.” Mike Saunders (Victoria, BC) another presenter and an Olympic slugger said he grew up watching Walker. “Especially Larry with me being an outfielder,” said Saunders. “He’s a stand up guy and he’s approachable.”

RHP Scott Richmond (North Vancouver, BC), Toronto Blue Jays, the Stubby Clapp award for perseverence, presented by Mizuno Canada. Richmond did not travel the fast path like Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC) and Loewen, prime-time Premier League players. Undrafted he worked three years on the Vancouver docks, then enrolled in Douglas college, headed to Moose Jaw, Sask. where he pitched in a wood bat league, then Missouri Valley College, then Booiser Parrish, two years at Oklahoma State and then three seasons for the independent league Edmonton Cracker Cats, where he was pitcher of the year in 2007.

“It was a hard road,” Richmond said. “I got to make my first start at the Rogers Centre the day Team Canada’s Olympic team was there to be introduced before the game.”

Richmond described Jays scout Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.) who signed him “like an angel from heaven.” “Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.) phoned me and said ‘hey this guy can help you, he can pitch at Double-A at least,” Ducey said. “You take the word of your friend and a former major-league pitcher.”

RP Rheal Cormier (Moncton, N.B) Canadian Olympic Team, Baseball Canada Alumni Award, presented by L.J. Pearson Foundation

Cormier competed in his second Olympics ... 20 years after his first. To get ready he pitched for the Moncton Mets this spring. In the Olympics he pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits.

“Going to Bejing was a lot different than travelling to Souel, Korea in 1988,” Cormier said. “I was able to take my wife and children this time.”

Cormier said how happy he was to see Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) gain a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies. “It was especially nice to see him hit that pinch-hit homer against the Dodgers -- sorry Russ,” said Cormier who is building a house in Utah and spending time with his wife and family skiing.”

While Cormier said he didn’t remember much about his first trip to the Olympics, presenter Rob Butler did.

“I remember every second of it, Rheal, I was only 18,” Butler said. “There were a lot of “Lord Tunderin’ Jesus” and “bonjours” tossed around, because Rheal only spoke French and I only spoke Newfie.”

Butler praised his older brother Rich for his career and his experience. Stubby Clapp said he “loved the atmosphere in the room ... we’re talking about memories, telling stories about guys in the room -- the Canadian way.” Adam Stern (London, Ont.), a former winner, was also a presenter and said “We’re 1-0 against USA in the WBC. Let’s make it 2-0 -- if you know what I am saying.”

After video evidence was shown of Stern’s inside-the-park homer, Howarth asked Stern when he knew he would try to go all the way.

“They could have tried to hold me up, but I wasn’t stopping,” joked Stern, who signed with the Milwaukee Brewers this week.

Howarth: “And when will you be appearing at Yuk-Yuk’s?”

Stern: “We’ll be there in the off-season ... Ryan Dempster and me with his $52 million contact, if you know what I am saying.”

RP Jeff Zimmerman (Kelowna, B.C.) former Texas Rangers reliever, Baseball Canada Alumni award, presented by L.J. Pearson Foundation

Zimmerman said watching and listening of Richmond’s battle to the big leagues was like a mirror image of his own career. Zimmerman was not drafted out of college, headed to France where he learned a slider for coach Greg Hamilton with Montpeliier, made the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the independent Northern League and within two years was pitching at Fenway Park in an all-star game.

“Listening to Scott’s story re-invigorated my career, it was like looking at the movie -- except I’m not 6-foot-9 or whatever he is. I did well as a pitcher, but I flunked rehab. The harder I worked during rehab the more damage I did.”

Zimmerman, as eloquent speaker as ever to grace the Baseball Canada banquet stage, said he looked out and saw three generations of players and now the current guard with Brett Lawrie and Phillippe Aumont. Zimmerman was the pitching coach with the National Junior team in October.

“I’m so proud they wear the Canadian uniform with so much pride.”

Aumont was a presenter and said “it meant a lot to wear the Canadian hat and jersey. Greg saw me pitching with the ABC team in Quebec and asked him out with Team Canada.”

The tall righty did not pitch until he was 14. And what did he do until then Howarth asked?

“Oh, I was dropping bombs,” said Aumont to roars of laughter.

RP Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) Canadian Olympic Team, Special Recognition Award, presented by MLB Players Association.

Reitsma was with the Atlanta Braves their final two years of their 14 year-run as National League East champ.

“And unfortunately I was their for the 15th year when our streak ended,” Reitsma said. “Bobby Cox is like a grandfather. He never bashes a player to the media. Even after a bad game he comes in and says “you’re still my guy!”

Canadian Hall of Fame CEO Tom Valcke worked for the Major League Scouting Bureau that year and wrote on his Reitsma report “apple pie.”

“Everyone knows what apple pie represents, my boss phoned and said you have to be a little more careful slapping that tag on Canadians -- you could put that on them all,” Valcke said. “In all my years I only put that tag on four players: Michel Laplante (Val D’Or, Que.) and three guys who are in this room tonight: Stubby Clapp, Jeff Zimmerman and Chris Reitsma.” Peter Orr (Newmarket, Ont.) a former teammate of Reitsma’s with the Bravos said both Whitt and Hamilton were respected as class acts.

“Everyone in this room would agree with me,” Orr said. “Even guys on other teams from other organizations will say you have a good one managing Canada in Ernie Whitt.”

1B Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) Cincinnati Reds, special achievement award, presented by MLB Players Association.

Votto spoke affectionately about his late father, also named Joey, whom he had just spoke to previously to his three-homer game for the Reds and they had an in-depth conversation about his hitting, making the game extra special. His father died during the summer.

Votto spoke highly of his days at Richview Collegiate as well.

Howarth asked Votto which was tougher “a pitch down and away” or one “high and tight.”

“I’d probably roll over on a pitch down and away,” Votto said. “Now one that’s high and tight I’d probably just go out and duke it out with the pitcher depending who it was.”

As they say on the social pages ... a good time was had by all. Especially special guest Cathy Kim who made her first appearance.

“I’ve met so many nice people and players. Through all the players I’ve met I saw our son Michael ... players achieving their big dreams. This was a great experience and I had a great time.”

The two trips to Wrigley Field -- supplied by Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC) of the Chicago Cubs, with time on the field during batting practice, serving as a bat boy and assorted other gifts each went for $6,000 each to Nick Malcolm and David Fabian.

WBC-ING YOU SOON: The World Baseball Classic dates at the Rogers Centre Game 1, Saturday, March 7 -- Team Canada vs. Team USA, 2 p.m. Game 2, Saturday, March 7 -- Italy vs. Venezuela, 8 p.m. Game 3, Sunday, March 8 -- Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m. Game 4, Monday, March 9 -- Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 6:30 p.m. Game 5, Tuesday, March 10 -- Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4 5 p.m. Game 6, Wednesday, March 11 -- Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5 6:30 p.m. (Losers of Game 4 and Game 5 are eliminated.) (Game 6 will decide first and second-place placings for the second round.) IN YER FACE: The Canadian Baseball Network facebook group is up and running ... and running fast: Mike Nitsos (Whitby, Ont.) of the Iowa Western Reivers, is the 400th to join. Grant Kveder (Lethbridge, Alta.) of the Gonzaga Stags is No. 500. Dan Chappel (Edmonton, Alta.) is No. 600. Drew Parker (Surrey, BC) of West Florida, is No. 700. Andrew Brock (Burnaby, BC) of the Idaho Coyotes is No. 800. Derek Papp (Windsor, Ont.), who used to pitch for Judson, is No. 900. EXTRA, EXTRA: Since you asked ... we have a recap of the previous blogs: Brett Lawrie, first rounder, of the Brewers. EXTRA BASES 1 -- First week of the nationals. EXTRA BASES II -- Second week of the nationals. EXTRA BASES III -- Results from the third week of the nationals. EXTRA BASES IV -- The best 15-16-year-olds from Canada gather at the Rogers Centre for the annual Mizunio Camp. EXTRA BASES V -- Checking in on the National Junior Team in Florida. EXTRA BASES VI -- Dropping in on the Cincinnati Reds instructional camp in Sarasota, more Canucks on the roster than anyone else. EXTRA BASES VII -- Letters of Intent list of Canadians committed to college. EXTRA BASES VIII -- WBC SS job goes to Chris Barnwell, Jay Johnson pops at the PBA. EXTRA BASES VIX -- Baseball Ontario and Baseball Canada's best hear from former Expos ace Steve Rogers. EXTRA BASES X -- Past All-Canadian team members to go on to the pro ranks EXTRA BASES XI -- Alexandre Periard (Brewers) Chris Leroux (Marlins) promoted to 40-man rosters. EXTRA BASES XII -- R.I.P. Tommy Burgess, former MLB player, National Team coach! EXTRA BASES XIII -- R.I.P. Jim Ridley, former minor-league pro, Intercounty MVP, scout and national team coach. Our all-time hit leader. EXTRA BASES XIV -- 2008 All-Canadian College Team with links to 2000-07 teams. EXTRA BASES XV -- Dany Wood is Canuck born, Lutton Birnie -- Fab 50s, Baseball Canada banquet, BA top prospects EXTRA BASES XVI --Morneau, Whitt to Lead Team Canada in WBC, Tip O'Neill award to Morneau, All-American honours to Davis Regan EXTRA BASES XVII -- Miller, Van Pelt turn in skates for scholarships EXTRA BASES XVIII -- The top 100 Most Influential Canadians in baseball EXTRA BASES XVIX -- Team Canada's WBC roster and more ! EXTRA BASES XX -- Campbell wins Volunteer award in Ottawa