* Jim Lefebvre, Team China manager, shown here with President George W. Bush before an exhibition game against Team USA in advance of the 2008 Bejing Olympics, was the guest speaker at the BC Minor Baseball awards banquet at the Langley Event Centre. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list
By Bob Elliott
LANGLEY, B.C. -- Guest speaker Jim Lefebvre stood at the podium and looked around the crowded banquet hall at the Langley Event Centre.
“You guys get it,” he said to the crowd of 200 at the BC Minor baseball awards banquet.
He adjusted his glasses, looked down the head table as Baseball Canada president Ray Carter, looked him in the eye and said “I am serious ... you guys really get it.”
Lefebvre, 72, played eight years with the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the 1965 National League rookie of the year honours as the Dodgers went on to beat the Minnesota Twins in Game 7 of the World Series the same year.
He managed the Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers for six seasons, 860 games in all, with future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, Omar Vizquel and Edgar Martinez with the M’s, plus Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux in his lineup at Wrigley Field.
Yet, he is a man of the world: playing four years in Japan for Lotte Orions, managing Team China for five years and teaching in almost every country in the world that has a bat, a ball, a diamond and youngster with a dream under the MLB International umbrella.
So, he’s been around the block, er world.
“Korea? Everyone talks about them being a great baseball country,” said Lefebvre told his captive audience. “Korea had two big leaguers (Shin-Soo Choo and Hyun-jin Ryu) last year.
“Taiwan? Great baseball country. One regular big leaguer (Wei-Yin Chen) last year.
“Australia? People say how it’s a great place for ballplayers. They sign those teenagers and send them to the heat of Arizona. I’ve been there. It’s so hot that the other day I saw a dog chasing a cat -- both were walking. They only had a few guys (Grant Balfour, Travis Blackley, Liam Hendriks, Peter Moylan) last year.”
He discussed the Dominican Republic (134 players, led by Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Starlin Castro, Bartolo Colon, Edwin Encarnacion, Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Alfonso Soriano), Puerto Rico (20 players, led by Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina) and Panama (Christian Bethancourt, Bruce Chen, Manny Corpas, Randall Delgado, Mariano Rivera, Carlos Ruiz, Ruben Tejada).
Then, he spoke about Italy (Alex Liddi) and the rest of Europe.
He had praise for Mexico (Alfredo Aceves, Luis Ayala, Luis Cruz, Jorge De La Rosa, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, Edgar Gonzalez, Miguel Gonzalez, Luis Mendoza, Ramiro Pena, Oliver Perez, Fernando Salas and Joakim Soria).
Japan had 13 players in the majors, including pitching stars Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma, Hiroki Kuroda and Koji Uehara.
The Netherlands (Didi Gregorius) had one player.
He spoke about a Wall Street Journal report which said baseball registration had gone down in the USA and despite concussions enrollment in football had increased.
And then he got to Canada, which had 25 Canadians on major-league rosters: Jim Adduci, Andrew Albers, Phillippe Aumont, John Axford, Jason Bay, Erik Bedard, Jesse Crain, Ryan Dempster, Scott Diamond, Jeff Francis, Jim Henderson, Taylor Green, George Kottaras, Brett Lawrie, Chris Leroux, Russell Martin, Justin Morneau, Mike Nickeas, Pete Orr, James Paxton, Chris Robinson, Michael Saunders, Joey Votto, including WBC eligibles like Freddie Freeman and Josh Johnson.
“You guys have three former MVPs (Larry Walker, Morneau, Votto), you guys had a lot of guys in the big leagues last year, 760 kids playing college ball south of the border, over 100 in the minors, 19 all-stars over the years (Jason Bay, Eric Gagne, Fergie Jenkins, Russell Martin, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Heath, George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk, Jason Dickson, John Hiller, Oscar Judd, Terry Puhl, Paul Quantrill, Claude Raymond, Goody Rosen, Jeff Zimmerman, Crain, Votto, Morneau and Walker) and one Hall of Famer (Jenkins),” said Lefebvre.
“You guys ... you guys are the world model. I hear that everywhere I go and I go a lot of places. You guys have a plan. I like your coaching certification program a lot. I applaud your coaching certification program. I like the enthusiasm of the kids I worked with here this weekend.”
And they liked Lefebvre too.
When the lights went out in one area of the facility -- closing time -- Lefebvre moved his group into a hallway and gave them another drill.
* * *
Lefebvre was asked in 2004 to take on the assignment of preparing China’s entry into the 2008 Bejing Olympics. He declined.
After a couple of more calls he changed his mind raising a Spockian eye brow over his glasses and rubbing his thumb and fore finger together as if he was had imaginary hundred dollar bills in his hand.
Then, he agreed.
“I asked what’s the political climate, I was told ‘don’t know,” he said. “I asked what is the baseball IQ, I was told ‘don’t know.’ But they told me there are 1.4 billion people over there ... but it would be real nice if you could find us a Yao Ming.”
What was supposed to be three months in China and a training session in Peoria turned into a five-year commitment.
For a week Lefebvre watched his team work out without saying a word.
Then, he told them that the uniform that they wore was going to have an identity and character.
“They would stand there solemn in military fashion with one arm folded by across their chests, I told them they were going to come to the field with a smile on their face and they were going to leave with a smile on their face.”
There was no a lot of power on his roster, saying the average exit speed of the bat off the ball in the majors was 95 MPH, while his new team was clocked at 81. His pitchers averaged 82 MPH.
They practiced on stone dust infields.
And then they headed to Peoria, where his players were leery of stepping onto the Mariners’ beautiful practice diamonds.
“We didn’t have a lot of power in China even in during batting practice, it was 380 down the lines, 400 to the power alleys and a $5 cab to straightaway centre, plus were using old mushy balls,” explained Lefebvre. “First BP session in Peoria we hit 29 balls out.”
A woman from the sports ministry came to me with tears in her eyes thanking me “29 homers, thank you, thank you.”
The best team doctors from big-league clubs performed arm surgeries on four of Lefebvre’s players (one said they shouldn’t have been playing they were that banged up.)
President George Bush attended a pre-Olympic exhibition game between China and USA.
Lefebvre watched Terry Puhl’s Canada team in Holland, prior to the Olympics.
“I told our guys before we played Canada in the Bejing you watch ... Terry Puhl was a professional hitter,” said Lefebvre. “They are going to take pitches the first time through the order ... and second time around they are going to come right out of their shoes.
“Well after we set Canada down first time through the order you guys put on one of the most awesome displays of power that I have ever, ever seen.”
Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.) hit a three-run homer in the fourth, Jimmy Van Ostrand (Richmond, BC) singled in a run, Adam Stern (London, Ont.) smashed a two-run triple and Mike Saunders (Victoria, BC) went deep as Canada thumped China 10-0 with Chris Begg (Uxbridge, Ont.) getting the win.
Lefebvre stuck up for his players in a 9-1 loss to Team USA as there were six hit batsmen, two injured players requiring medical care, and three ejections, including Lefebvre.
Catcher Yang Yang, who took over after Wei Wang was bowled over by Matt LaPorta was knocked “practically into the stands” by Nate Schierholtz after blocking the plate on a fly ball, according to MLB.com. That’s when Lefebvre was toss.
“We not only lost our catcher for the game, but maybe for the rest of the tournament,” Lefebvre said. “When you come in and have a collision at home, you never hit someone in the chest. They should have thrown [LaPorta] out.”
* * *
Lefebrve played in Japan the Lotte Orions and manager Masaichi Kaneda.
“When I came off the plane there were so many flash bulbs I got a sun tan from the media,” he recalled. “I landed in Bejing and there is one guy holding a sign -- and my name is spelled wrong.”
Spring training in Japan was different than Vero Beach with the Dodgers.
Lefebvre went through the daily schedule: 7 AM get up and eat dead fish and soup, 9 AM meeting, 10 AM practice, then run for an hour, lunch 2 PM two hours of batting practice and 5 PM they’d eat and drink beer then a massage and then a meeting.
“Man those could those drink beer, those nightly meeting had a lot of guys dozing off a the manager or coach had his back to us writing on the black board. They have a funny way of training their athletes. We did that for six weeks of spring training before our first game.”
The games were different too.
Lefebvre was told he had the day off. Manager Kaneda said he’d be used as the first pinch hitter in a key part of the game.
“I’m in the dugout, we’ve got bases loaded, first inning, our guy pop up and I hear ‘Lefebvre get a bat.’ Heck I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet.”
Lefebvre gets to the plate and out charges his own manager with the translator who told him -- get this -- “if you think you are going to hit into a double play, strike out.”
Lefebvre said “what?”
“Next thing you know I’m arguing face-to-face at home plate -- with my own manager,” Lefebvre said. “Well, how am I going to know if I’m going to hit into a double play?”
He struck out and after he tossed his bat in the back rack was asked what happened?
“Didn’t want to hit into a double play.”
The same thing happened a week later leading off an inning,
Put his bat away.
The what happened question from Kaneda?
“I didn’t want to hit into a double play.”
“Yeah, but there is no one on base.”
“Didn’t want to be the first to hit into a double play with no one on ... so I struck out.”
The night and the weekend were filled with stories like that. Roberto Clemente giving him a drill, standing on second base watching Juan Marichal take a bat to John Roseboro.
Lefebvre was humorous, passionate and a wonderful story teller.
* * *
The clinic, one of the best in Canada, featured speakers:
-- Joe Newton is in his fourth year advocating Tom House’s Velocity + Arm Care program. The program created by House is the one endorsed Blue Jays reliever Steve Delebar as he returned to 100% and more. For 15 years Newton coached high school ball and is in his 17th year running the Players Dugout in Elizabetown, Ky.
-- Pete Caliendo, president of Caliendo Sports, who has presented before 14 different high school associations and in 20 different countries. For 11 years he’s been technical director of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). He coached the Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks and was director baseball operations for the independent Schaumberg Flyers and put together the North Shore Spirit, Can-Am champions.
-- Jim Murphy, who teaches mental skills as a performance coach to athletes. Murphy played five years in the minors and wrote Dugout Wisdom: Ten Principles of Championship Teams.
-- Jim Jones, who lived in Edmonton during his high school years, before going on to coach Wyoming and St. Mary’s as well as coaching in Czech Republic, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal and France. Jones is past president of International Sports Group.
-- Bill Green (Comox, BC), father of Milwaukee Brewers infielder Taylor Green, spoke to the 80 players from the high performance clinic on the best way for youngsters to obtain a college scholarship.
-- Jeremy Trach (Coquitlam, BC) strength and conditioning coach of the class-A Vancouver Canadians after serving two years at Waldorf College, where he was assistant strength and conditioning coach and two more at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he was sports performance graduate assistant strength coach.
-- Chris Johnson (White Rock, BC), who recently retired as an educator after 38 years, and now speaks on laughter and humour. With three grand children and two great grand children he knows the meaning of the bumper sticker “if I had known that grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first.”
-- Cav Whitely (Prince George, BC), head coach Douglas College. Whitely took the Royals to their first post-season berth in the NWAACC regionals while sending players to four-year schools.
-- Nutrionalist Nilo Ghajar-Williams (Vancouver, BC) of Twist Conditioning, who also took lessons and were put through drills on the turf field in the adjoining field house of the Langely Event Centre. And it can hold a few events with a junior hockey rink, another rink and a hoops court.
-- Baseball Canada executives Jim Baba and Kelsey McIntosh.
* * *
Flight of the weekend: Caliendo watched the women’s gold medal hockey game on TV at the gate in O’Hare Airport in Chicago and headed for the plane. When he reached his seat someone was in his seat. The flight attendant looked at the two tickets and said “Ah, Mr. Caliendo you’re on the wrong plane ... this plane is going to Tampa.” Had he sat down in an empty seat Caliendo could have starred in Home Alone V.
Line of the banquet: Rob Fai (Scarborough, Ont.) said “for our American guests one thing about U.S. hockey team when they are coming home from the Olympics, they won’t set off the metal detectors because their medals won’t set it off.”
John Main tournament MVP: Liam Vulcano, Cloverdale Minor Baseball
Outstading female: Courtney Desjardins, BC Selectes, Okanagan Halos, Kelowna Minor Baseball
Elitzabeth Brampton Memorial unsung hero award: Helen Terry, White Rock
Team of the year: Nanaimo Pirates bantams.
Association of the year: Mission Minor Baseball
Meritorious service award: Rob Fai, Vancouver Canadians announcer, 1040-AM, for promoting amateur baseball in BC and promoting the game in general.
Cloverdale Minor 18U midget provincial champs, silver medals at Western Canada championships, 15U bantam provincial champs, silver medallists at nationals; 13U peewee provincial champs, John Main Memorial torueny champs, Western Canada champs.
Ryan Andrews, Cloverdale
Liam Muir, Coquitlan-Moody Minor Baseball
Steven Rintoul, Richmond City Baseball
Michael Yamaguchi, Richmond City Baseball
Roll of Honour awards
Sonya Jefferies-Ellen and John Ellen, Burnaby Minor Basebal.
Danny Jones, Byron Miki, Ed and Nicole Desjardins, Kelowna Minor Baseball.
Felise Talia, Vancouver Minor Baseball
Brian Davis, Surrey Minor Baseball
Carol Ogborne, Victoria Minor Baseball
Darren Rock, Aldergrove Minor Baseball