The Legend of Brett Lawrie began in the Dominican

*Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC) hits an RBI single in his major-league debut, the first Canuck to break in with an RBI single since Dave McKay, (Vancouver, BC)/Vancouver Sun. 2011 MLB Scouting Bureau camps sked

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By Bob Elliott

Patrick Guerrero answers the phone Sunday night in Santo Domingo.

“Hey, I saw the kid hit a home run on TV this afternoon in Baltimore.”

If your name is Patrick Guerrero you have seen Brett Lawrie hit home runs before.


Guerrero, son of legendary former Blue Jays scout Epy Guerrero, runs the Seattle Mariners complex at Villa Mella in the Dominican Republic.

He was there that Friday in May, 2008, when his Mariners’ rookie-class Dominican Summer League team faced the Canadian Junior National Team and Lawrie hit five home runs.

“We knew we were in trouble when we saw his batting practice,” Guerrero said. “He was a different cat. Unbelievable. Every one of our guys threw mid-90s. He hit the ball like an MVP.

“Everything we threw, he hit. Our guys couldn’t believe it.”

Guerrero estimates his players are on the field at least 200 days a year.

A Canadian team might play 70 games a season.

The point being ... a Dominican ball player knows who can play, whether he’s from the north end of the island, Canada or Mars.

And that afternoon they saw a player.

After 8-5 and 14-5 Team Canada wins, players from the two teams gathered for a group picture.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Tom McNamara, on the phone from Long Beach, Calif., and the Area Code Games where he’s looking for another Lawrie.

McNamara, scouting that day at Villa Mella couldn’t believe the in-game production or the post-game scene.

“Here’s this high school kid, a kid with a Canadian flag around his shoulders standing there and Dominican pros are elbowing each other out of the way so they can stand beside him. The Dominicans are literally hanging on him, they wanted to be near him.

“Those kinds of things you don’t see. I didn’t believe it.”

You are Team Canada coach Greg Hamilton. You watch the photographer, thinking the only thing that compares with this was when Adam Loewen played first base for Canada after being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles at the Worlds in Sherbrooke, Que. in 2002. Cuba beat Chinese Taipei for gold.

Canada played for bronze. At the awards presentation Hamilton looked up and there were Cuban players waiting to have pictures taken with Loewen.

- - -

Two are out when Lawrie, 21, steps into a major league batter’s box for the first time Friday at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Ball one, ball two, foul ball, foul ball ...

Now, it really is “crazy twos” as they say in the dugout: two out, two on, 2-2 count in the second.

Lawrie lines a run-scoring single to centre against right-hander Tommy Hunter, 24, who is pitching his 268th inning in the majors.

How rare a debut is that as Canuck debuts go?

The last Canadian-born player with an RBI in his first major-league at-bat is current St. Louis Cardinals coach Dave McKay, according to stats maven Rich Rice of the Texas Rangers.

Vancouver’s McKay hit a solo homer for the Minnesota Twins off Detroit Tigers starter Vern Ruhle on Aug. 22, 1975, at Metropolitan Stadium.

No less than 79 Canadians made their debut between McKay’s solo homer and Lawrie’s RBI single.

That includes Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.), Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC), Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.), Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) and Jason Bay (Trail, BC), all with more than 1,000 hits.

Going back to 1950, the only other Canadian with a better debut was Montreal’s Pete Ward. Ward hit a two-run single for Baltimore on Sept. 21, 1962, against Minnesota.

- - -

Lawrie’s legend began in the Dominican on that day.

If you were someone watching highlights on ESPN Deportes or ESPN Sunday night you looked up and said “that’s the guy ... the kid who hit five home runs in the doubleheader.”

Guerrero said Lawrie’s name comes up often when the coaches sit around talking ball.

One day this winter Guerrero was walking around the complex when a Mariners’ minor-leaguer approached.

George Mieses comes up, says ‘remember that Canadian kid who hit the five home runs? Milwaukee traded him to Toronto,’” Guerrero said.

Mieses leads class-A Clinton, a Mariners’ affiliate, in innings pitched.

Mieses, 21, is 48 days younger than Lawrie.

Scouts from 20 teams were there to see Team Canada face the Mariners.

“A full house,” Guerrero recalled. “Most times scouts watch the starter in the second game for an inning or so and leave. I don’t think anyone left. The New York Yankees had a bunch of scouts there.”

The Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds and other teams.

Plus McNamara, working for the Milwaukee Brewers back then.

- - -

Saturday Lawrie steps in against Baltimore’s Chris Tillman in the sixth.

Called strike, swinging strike, ball, ball ... Lawrie, singles on an 89 mph fastball to left from Tillman, 23, working his 177th inning in the majors.

Lawrie is the 24th Canadian to appear in a major-league game this season.

- - -

Imagine your name is Tom McNamara.

You were a pro scout for the San Diego Padres. You scouted the 2004 Athens Olympics. You were hired by Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik at the end of 2007 as an amateur scout.

You are in California when the boss calls and tells you to get to the Dominican ASAP.

You don't know Brett Lawrie from Fox News' Laurie Dhue, and actors Lori Loughlin and Lori Singer.

You get to the hotel where Team Canada is staying at 2 a.m., grab a little sleep and have breakfast with the Canadian coaches.

You watch pre-game infield and think this Canadian team is “in real tough.”

You think of all the high school games since the season began, all the pitchers refusing to throw strikes to prospects on other teams.

You think how difficult it is to judge hitters when you hear the ping off the aluminum bats.

And you watch one Dominican pitcher after another challenge Lawrie “with gas.”

“He’s representing his country, he’s not playing a weak high school team, he’s facing pro pitching, they are bringing it AND he’s using wood,” McNamara said, his voice rising. “He crushed the ball.”

On the drive to the hotel you recall being in Zach Grienke’s house in 2002 and him telling you he’d played his first round of golf the other day. Shot an 83. You believe him.

You remember every time Zduriencik flew into Ontario, Calif., to see Prince Fielder when you were the area scout, how Fielder put on a show in batting practice and the game, how the Brewers selected Fielder in first round in 2002.

“The trip to the Dominican seems like yesterday, that was unique, this kid lit the place up,” McNamara said. “It was almost like when Michael Jordan would look into the crowd as in ‘I can’t miss.’ You rarely see kids do what he did. I won’t forget it ... the force he hit the ball.”

If you are McNamara you can’t wait to phone Zduriencik from the hotel and tell him what you’ve witnessed.

“We ran up a $300 bill on the call to Jack, we spoke for an hour and a half.”

- - -

And in Sunday’s finale at Camden Yards, Lawrie came to the plate in the sixth, with two out.

Ball, swinging strike, ball and ... Lawrie facing Alfredo Simon, 30, pitching his 125th inning in the majors, rips an 94 mph fastball eight rows up in right centre for his first homer.

He also singles and is now hitting .455.

- - -

McNamara watched as Lawrie caught, played third and second in that 2008 doubleheader in the Dominican.

Some say Lawrie’s best spot will eventually be in left field.

“He wasn’t bad behind the plate, but the bat ... the bat will play,” McNamara thought way back then.

Guerrero said scouts had been told the Canadian was a probable first rounder. In nine games in the Dominican against pro pitching, Lawrie hit 12 homers.

“I thought we’d mix in a walk once in a while, but we had hard throwers, they all went after him,” Guerrero said. “We couldn’t get the kid out. He was above the league, above every one on the mound.”

If you are scout Tom McNamara, with 18 years of travelling to dusty diamonds, you admit “you could not have seen a player in a better venue.”

“He was facing good pitching non stop, their manager wasn’t walking him, they were challenging him,” McNamara said.

“Going into the draft meeting, it was like: Wow!”

The Brewers chose Lawrie 16th over-all in the first round and he spent two seasons in the Brewers’ system.

It was 242 days ago Milwaukee dealt Lawrie to the Jays for pitcher Shaun Marcum.

And Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre, Jays fans get to see their northern light for the first time.

Rich Harden (Victoria, BC) of the Oakland A’s welcomes Lawrie to big leagues on Canadian soil.