Saunders as Canadian as maple syrup

July 9, 2007  

By Bob Elliott

Is it possible to be more Canadian than Mike Saunders?

His grandfather, Calvin, owns the Minnehaha commercial hunting and fishing lodge in Gander, Nfld.

His father, Dr. Derek Saunders, moved to Victoria, B.C., in 1981.

His mom Jane Saunders is from Mississauga. They met when Jane was a respiratory therapist in Victoria as Derek was interning.

The 20-year-old outfielder has seen the country from coast to coast.

Major-league scouting directors, general managers and a crowd of 40,269 saw Saunders display his talents at the ninth annual FuturesGame at AT@T Park yesterday afternoon.

Saunders stole two bases, scoring twice, Etobicoke’s Joey Votto and Jimmy Van Ostrand, of Richmond, B.C., each hit solo homers as prospects from the World beat USA 7-2.

“We haven’t been east in a while, but in the summer we’d fish on the Gander River,” Saunders said before yesterday’s game.

“I’m the only one in my family to never, ever catch a single fish. My mom, father and sister Johanna caught salmon. Only thing I ever caught was my eye.”

His eye?

Saunders then tells a horrifying tale about a day in 1997 when he was 10.

It is not for the faint of heart. When it’s done you can’t help but have admiration for the Seattle Mariners prospect.

On the river during a summer visit east, the Saunders family was fishing from a canoe.

It was the final cast of the night.

The sun was setting so he took off his sunglasses.

In fly fishing, according to fisherman Saunders, you cast, pull the line back into your hand and cast again.

The wind blew the hook back and caught Saunders in his left eye.

“I freaked and dropped the line,” said Saunders.

“We were worried the current would take the rod downstream, pulling the hook from my eye.

Dr. Derek Saunders was calm and cool, as he was yesterday, on the phone from Victoria, after he and his wife Jane returned from watching the game at Sticky Wicket, a Victoria pub.

“Michael was in front of me, when he said that the hook caught his eye, I thought he meant the corner,” Dr. Saunders said.

“It was right in the iris. Fortunately the barb of the hook did not engage.”

Dr. Saunders grabbed the line and kept it from getting tight. Grandpa pulled out a pen knife, leaned over the side of the canoe to snip the line.

The family made a rushed two-hour trip to the hospital and by the time an ophthalmologist examined Saunders it was almost midnight.

“He had a tiny pin hole around the iris,” Dr. Saunders said of the incident.

“On the drive I worried about a flat. No one would have been around.”

Saunders was given ointment and the family prayed the eye would not get infected. It didn’t.

How close was Saunders to not being here after that day on the Gander River?

Saunders said: “Oh, I could have been blind, a fraction of a millimetre, it’s a different story.”

Dr. Saunders said: “If you look close you can see the mark. He was very, lucky. Next day the truck had a flat.”

Maybe it’s because my father lost his sight when he was hit in the left eye with mud after a Queen’s University Golden Gaels football practice.

He had to be strapped to a chair to have a needle injected into his right eye to prevent an infection from spreading.

This was the 1930s. But eye stories give me the shivers -- worse than snakes.

An 11th-round pick of the Mariners and scout Wayne Norton in 2004, Saunders played for Victoria and

coach Mike Chewpoy. 

He’s hitting .302 for class-A High Desert with 12 homers and 60 RBIs.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has 22 steals.

Leading off yesterday he reached on an error and stole second.

As for Votto, a repeat performer at the Futures, he won’t be back again.

The Cincinnati Reds will make him a September callup.

“Last year in Pittsburgh I had jitters,” Votto said. “This was more like a regular-season game.”

Votto, who flew in his mom Wendy Votto in for the game, had the longest bolt of the day, a homer to deep left off Red Sox prospect Clay Buchholz, 7-2 with a 1.77 ERA.

He had given up four homers in 86 2/3 innings.

Votto is hitting .315 with triple-A Louisville, with 11 homers and knocking in 50 runs.

Van Ostrand went deep to left off Dodgers former No. 1 pick Clayton Kershaw. 

Van Ostrand owns a .300 mark with eight homers and 44 RBIs for class-A Lexington in the Houston Astros system. The Blue Jays entrant, catcher Robinzon Diaz, started for the World team and had a pair of singles.

But the World domination continued, led by the Canadians.

Saunders played lacrosse, soccer, bantam triple-A hockey and was scouted by the junior Seattle Thunderbirds.

He gave up other sports to concentrate on baseball.

When he dabbled in basketball for two seasons in high school, he lit up the scoreboard with 37 points and produced a 360-degree dunk.

He has a future with the game he stuck with.