* Kansas City Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg, right, and assistant GM J.J. Picollo answer pre-draft questions. Goldberg lived in Guelph from 2003-07 when he was an Atlanta Braves area scout. .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott KANSAS CITY -- They have worn “Royals” jerseys in Guelph going back to the 1954 Intercounty League when the Guelph-Waterloo Royals played.
Some are wearing them again with another meaning as the Kansas City Royals meet the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series.
After all, how many cities in Canada have a scouting director who lived in their city for 4 1/2 years and married a native daughter?
Lonnie Goldberg, who wed Guelph’s Blythe Colley in 2002 and lived in the Royal City from 2003 to 2007, was behind his desk at Kauffman Stadium before Game 3 was cancelled Monday afternoon talking ball and friendships, those which led him to Guelph, KC and the post season.
Goldberg grew up Fairfax, Va. where Washington D.C. traffic was heavy and when the second baseman was taken on his recruiting visit to George Mason University it was by Patriots second baseman Dayton Moore.
Moore eventually coached George Mason and is now the KC general manager.
In between he was a scout with the Atlanta Braves at the 2003 winter meetings in New Orleans when he bumped into Goldberg.
“Dayton knew I’d married a Canadian girl, the Braves had signed Scott Thorman as a first rounder and had an opening for an area scout,” said Goldberg, who moved to Guelph, scouting Canada for Atlanta replacing the late Jim Kane of Brampton.
Blythe vacationed at spring training “six or seven” years before when she met Goldberg during his three seasons as an infielder in the Texas Rangers system. He played in Taiwan and Independent ball, before managing the Yuma Bullfrogs in the Western League in 2001. Blythe visited Goldberg at Yuma.
What’s that old baseball saying? If you can survive desolate Yuma a relationship can survive anything.
They were soon married.
That first June Goldberg drafted the highest Canuck in the 2003 draft London Badgers’ Jamie Romak.
“My first year scouting in Canada I didn’t know a soul,” Goldberg said. “Jim Ridley (Minnesota Twins scout), Greg Hamilton (National Junior Team coach) and Walt Burrows (Major League Scouting Bureau) couldn’t have been nicer. I couldn’t be more proud of Jamie -- the first I ever signed.
“He’s an incredible young man from an incredible family.”
Moore left the Braves to join KC in 2006 and soon Goldberg followed.
Goldberg was in the Royals draft room when his phone rang. Not another agent.
Nope it was Romak?
“I’m thinking -- why is he calling, he knows I’m busy,” recalled Goldberg. “Then, something hit me. I answered and Jamie asked me to come to LA the next night -- he’d been called up by the Dodgers.”
Romak was promoted in his 12th year in minors. His scout didn’t make it to LA, but the Dodgers soon came to KC. Goldberg had his son Jaxon, 10, born at Guelph General, on the field for pictures.
“Jamie bought Jaxon his first Little League glove ... of course he also bought Jaxon his first hockey stick,” Goldberg said. The Romaks made a connection being from London, where Blythe attended the University of Western. And the Goldbergs were invited to Romak’s wedding last year.
Romak, an Atlanta farmhand for four years, spent almost three seasons in the Royals organization after three seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was at class-A Wilmington and double-A Northwest Arkansas hitting .296 with 29 doubles, a triple, 13 homers and 64 RBIs in 127 games. The next year he hit .251 at Northwest Arkansas with 21 doubles, one triple, 23 homers and 71 RBIs in 124 games.
He was with triple-A Omaha for 11 games before moving to the St. Louis Cardinals organization. On the year at Omaha, double-A Spingfield and triple A Memphis he hit .260 with 21 doubles, three triples, 10 homers and knocked in 60 runs in 106 games.
His teammates with big-league time include the likes of position players Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Jarrod Dyson, Wil Myers, Christian Colon, Shane Costa, Josh Fields, Johnny Giavotella, Manny Pina, Clint Robinson, Derrick Robinson, Jeff Bianchi, Matt Treanor, Tony Abreu, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jason Bourgeois, Cody Clark, Terry Evans, Irving Falu, Chris Getz, Kevin Kouzmanoff, David Lough and Mitch Maier.
And pitchers Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy, Kevin Chapman, Aaron Crow, Ryan Dennick, Chris Dwyer, Devon Lowery, Will Smith, Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy, Gil Meche, Everett Teaford, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davis, Jeremy Jeffress, Zach Miner, Jake Odorizzi, Max Ramirez, Nathan Adcock, Francisley Bueno, Roman Colon, Doug Davis, J.C. Gutierrez, Tommy Hottovy, Donnie Joseph, Michael Mariot, Justin Marks, Vin Mazzaro, Sean O’Sullivan, Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo.
Working Canada, as his duties expanded the next three drafts, under scouting director J.J. Picollo to cover JUCOs and the Mid-Atlantic states, he also drafted and signed Mississauga’s Jamie Richmond and drafted Toronto’s Clayton Caulfield in 2004. And in 2007, he signed lefty Scott Diamond, who went undrafted in June, impressed Braves scouts at Martinsville, Va. in summer ball and came home to Guelph.
“I was with my wife at the Guelph General for the birth of our daughter, wrote up the contract, dropped it off at his house at 4 AM, went back to the hospital, Jaden was born, met Scott and his parents at a pizza parlour behind our house,” said Goldberg, who lived on Kortright Rd. "He wasn't even drafted and he pitched in the big leagues (with the Minnesota Twins.)"
Had Diamond not signed that day and headed off to the Binghamton University campus for his senior year, the Braves wouldn’t have been able to draft him until the next June. This winter, Diamond will pitch in the Dominican for Gigantes del Cibao, the club Royals assistant GM Rene Francisco is running.
The Royals have not drafted a Canadian since 2011 when they selected INF Nic Cuckovic (Victoria, BC) Riverside Community College in the 17th round (he signed) and INF Joey Hawkins (Whitby, Ont.) from the Ontario Blue Jays in the 42nd round. Hawkins headed for Missouri State.
Only 17 Canadians were selected in this June’s draft, the lowest since 1991 when Canadian high schoolers were eligible to be drafted.
Goldberg has hired Corey Eckstein (Abbostford, BC) and Kirk Barclay (Wyoming, Ont.) to scout Canada, replacing Jason Bryans (Windsor, Ont.), who has joined the St. Louis Cardinals, leading up to next June.
“It should be a much better year with Demi Ormiloye (Orleans, Ont.) and Josh Nayor (Mississauga, Ont.),” said Goldberg.
After three seasons as KC’s director of operations he took over as scouting director in 2010. He was on staff when first baseman Eric Hosmer in 2008 and Christian Colon in 2010 went in the first round.
Goldberg selected lefty Brandon Finnegan, with the 17th over-all pick this June (seven innings during the regular season, 4 1/3 in the post season) and speedster Terrance Gore in the 20th round in 2011.
How good is the Royals farm system?
“Pretty good,” said John Manuel of the highly-respected Baseball America. “They had a lot of prospects at high A. Probably a top-half system, has won back-to-back Triple-A titles, not many impact prospects at higher levels this year but they did have those at high A. Kyle Zimmer (injured most of year, now in Arizona Fall League) and Finnegan are close to ready for 2015 rotation. Those two are key.
“Adalberto Mondesi (Raul Mondesi’s son), is an 18-year-old shortstop who is the top position player in their system. He hasn’t hit yet but scouts love him. It’s a good not great system, likely five Top 100 prospects but I don’t see a top 20 guy.
“But their goal when we did the story about them having nine Top 100 guys going into 2011 (a BA record, going back to 1990) was to have more than one wave of prospects. They said then that they knew they had to keep feeding the development pipeline, and they are doing that pretty well.”
Oakville’s Laura Frasor, who married Jason Frasor, now with KC, after graduating from Oakville Trafalgar, is another Canuck rooting for the Royals.
Now, the Guelph exports live in Overland Park, Kan. with their children.
“You know how people will meet someone from Canada and say ‘you must know ...” asked Goldberg. “One day someone phoned and said there was another mother on our kid’s team who was Canadian. The woman is married to football coach Pat Perles (a former assistant with the Hamilton Tiger Cats). Blythe knew her.
“The only two Canadians in Overland Park and they knew each other.”
Blythe’s parents, Judy and Peter, who ran the family operated Colley Insurance (est. 1934) are in KC for the playoffs and don’t miss a Royals game on TV.
“Americans love baseball, they talk averages and go back years,” said Peter. “This is all new to me. Baseball wasn’t one of my games. I grew up on football track and field.
“We’ve become interested much more in the last three or four years.”
Peter now winters in Vero Beach, Fla., telling friends what his son-in-law does made him a celebrity around the tennis club. Said Peter “they were all happy for his success. We’re very proud of him know, we how hard he works, travelling all the time.
Blythe has been receiving phone calls of congrats from Guelph and Facebook messages.
“I didn’t know if this would ever happen, Lonnie went through a lot,” said Blythe a baseball widow from February until the draft -- and then it is time for the scouting director to sign all his charges.
“Making the post season was something everyone dreams on ,,, and now we’re here,” she said.
In Guelph there has been a ball team known as the Guelph Royals for the 33 of the past 34 years beginning with the 1981 season. And they were also known as the Royals for two years, 1962-63, before they were sponsored by C-JOY radio in 1964.
One more win and the Kansas City Royals, with a key decision maker from the Royal City of Guelph, will be in the World Series for the first time since 1985.
-- Follow Bob Elliott on Twitter @elliottbaseball