Gretzky + 3 Canucks = singing of O Canada in Cubs war room

*Trevor Gretzky, son of the Great One, was the second over-all Canadian drafted, going in the seventh round to the Chicago Cubs/Photo Baseball Beginnings. Letters of Intent

2011 Canadians in College

2011 Canadians in the Minors


By Bob Elliott

Time and again, four times in all, the Chicago Cubs choral association broke into “O Canada” inside their draft room in Mesa, Az.

Usually it was Cubs crosschecker Sam Hughes, son of the scouting legend Gary Hughes and Steve Hinton serenading Canadian scouts Ron Tostenson (Kelowna, BC) and former Cubs lefty Steve WIlson (Victoria, BC) the first Canadian ever drafted when Canadians attending schools south of the border became eligible in 1985.

The cause was scouting director Tim Wilken drafting another Canadian.

After taking Trevor Gretzky in the seventh round, the second Canadian selected, the Cubs chose C Justin Marra (Toronto, Ont.) of the Ontario Blue Jays in the seventh, RHP Ethan Elias (Entwistle, Alta). in the 22nd and LHP Sheldon McDonald (Spruce Grove, Alta.) in the 33rd.

The Cubs were the most active club on the Canadian scene next to the Blue Jays as scouting director Andrew Tinnish (Ottawa, Ont.) along with Canadian scouts Jamie Lehman (Brampton, Ont.) and Don Cowan (Vancouver, BC) chose seven players.

A total of 35 players were selected, three more than a year ago, the second highest total since 2006 in what was considered a down year after five first rounders the previous four years.

The big name on the Cubs draft board was the same name on the wall at the Hockey Hall of Fame: Gretzky.

“A lot of people said last year ‘you’ll never sign this guy, he’s going to San Diego State University, he’s a quarterback,’ I think we have a chance,” said Wilken.

It’s all due to west coast crosschecker Tim Kissner striking up a relationship with the teenager and his family. Kissner was a familiar face at games in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Gretzky worked out for the Cubs in Mesa.

“He’s really talented, a good low ball hitter,” said Wilken the former Jays scouting director. “He’s a lot taller than Wayne, about 6-foot-4 1/2 180, he’ll probably wind up being 210 pounds.”

Wilken said Gretzky was a “step above an average runner” and while Gretzky was a DH and played first in high school, he took ground balls at third during the workout.

“I wouldn’t hold him to a position, he could play third, first or right, we’ll let him tell us with his actions where he’s best suited.”

Gretzky hit “five or six balls out” of the minor league complex which is “not a 330 cookie-cutter field, it’s 370 down the line, he hit a couple over a 20-foot screen atop the fence.”

Kissner and Wilken saw Gretzky last fall and again this spring. Wilken a Tampa Bay Lightening fan is asked if he saw Wayne Gretzky play and who was the best hockey player ever.

“Not, even close, it’s No. 99, the best in my lifetime,” Wilken said. “Bobby Orr would be next, then ... Steven Stamkos.”

Wilken compared Marra to former Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere and described McDonald as “feisty.”

Wayne Gretzky has always been around the game of baseball.

I'm no hockey expert, but I did cover his 500th goal of the season as a peewee at the RMC Constantine Arena in Kingston a long time ago.

Gretzky played for Brantford in the junior Intercounty Baseball League when he spent his summers as a teenager.

Wayne’s father, Walter, was part owner of the Brantford Red Sox of the IBL.

And Wayne was in Atlanta, as guest of Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, the night Canada won it’s first World Series.

Beeston and Gretzky left the box at Fulton-County Stadium and headed to the clubhouse for the bottom of the ninth with the Jays holding a 2-1 over the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves tied the score in the ninth and it wasn’t until the 11th that first baseman Joe Carter caught Mike Timlin’s toss and the Jays had finally beaten the Braves ending the four hour and seven minute game to win the Series.

Now, after his son Trevor, 18, was drafted by Chicago Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken in the seventh round Tuesday on Day II of the Major League Baseball draft, Gretzky may be seen around ball yards more often.

Not Wrigley Field mind you, not for a few years anyway.

Trevor Gretzky and his family will have to decide the better path: accept a scholarship to play at San Diego State University for coachTony Gwynn, a Hall of Famer, or sign with the Cubs by the Aug. 15 deadline.

Signing with the Cubs usually means the rookie-Class Arizona League to start, with pit stops in minor league towns like rookie-class Boise, Id. of the Northwest League, which also includes Vancouver.

Other necessary steps along the Cubs ladder to Wrigley would include class-A Peoria, class-A Daytona, double-A Tennessee and triple-A Iowa.

Gretzky, who attends Oaks Christian High School, in Westlake Village, Calif., worked out at Dodgers Stadium for the Los Angeles Dodgers scouting staff and also travelled to Mesa, Az. to take batting practice for Wilken and the Cubs scouts.

Whether he takes the pro route or the university road, Gretzky is expected to wear No. 99 ... just like pops. He should not have any trouble obtaining the jersey ... few players want high numbers in baseball, lower numbers are like a security blankets.

The first baseman was chosen 219th overall in North America. The high schooler who went in the exact same spot a year ago -- Windsor right-hander Joel Pierce was given a $175,000 US signing bonus to join the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Perfect Game USA scouting service rated Gretzky 79th on its list of top 89 prospects in the state of California this way:

79. TREVOR GRETZKY, 1b, Oaks Christian HS, Westlake Village

Son of the Great One; 6-4/190 LH bat, needs to add strength; smooth swing, but long; athletic,

A shoulder injury restricted the natural first baseman to DH duties this spring but he had a school record nine RBIs in April.

Still, he was the second of 17 Canadians selected Tuesday, behind right-hander Tom Robson (Ladner, BC) of the Langley Blaze and the Canadian Junior National Team, who went in the fourth round to the Blue Jays.

Trevor Gretzky has already chosen baseball over hockey and football.

Now, he and his family will have to decide between San Diego or minor-league bus trips.

And about that 500th goal his pop scored ... well Ken Linseman, father of NHL forward Kenny Linseman, phoned the Kingston Whig-Standard, Canada's oldest newspaper, to ask if we'd write a few lines about the upcoming hockey tournament on the weekend.

"We've got a kid from Brantford who is going to score his 500 goal this weekend," Linseman said.

Oh, Ok, how many away is he ... four, five, six?

"Twenty six," said Linseman.

TWENTY-SIX? What is he a machine.

Gretzky scored the 500th ... in the semi-final and I recall the losing coach saying "wait until he gets to bantam, they'll catch him and they'll hit him."

They never ever did catch him.

The Cubs will try to catch Trevor Gretzky before Aug. 15.

Canada’s team leads: After picking RHP Tom Robson (Ladner, BC) in the fourth round as the top Canuck, the Jays took INF Justin Atkinson (North Surrey, BC) in the 13th; RHP Leslie Williams (Scarborough, Ont.) of Northeastern University in the 25th; RP Chris Cox (St. George, Ont.) and Canisius College in the 39th; Canisius LHP Shane Davis (Belmont, Ont.) in the 42nd; LHP Jake Eliopoulos (Newmarket, Ont.) in the 43rd and RHP Eric Brown (Thunder Bay, Ont.) from the University of British Columbia in the 50th.

Blue Jays II: It was a good draft for Dan Bleiwas and his Ontario Blue Jays. Besides Marra, Jays graduate INF Steven Wickens (Whitby, Ont.) went to the Twins, who saw him at of Florida Gulf Coast University, in the 33rd; 3B Eric Wood (Oshawa, Ont.) to the Oakland A’s in the 37th and infielder Joey Hawkins (Whitby, Ont.) in the 42nd to the Kansas City Royals.