ICYMI; Orr and Pan Am Picture something to recall from 2015
Team Canada hero Pete Orr looks back on The Picture
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Yes, that newspaper/online picture shown around Canada and maybe the world that shows Pete Orr raising his fists into the air in sheer bedlam and excitement to end what some say is one of the most memorable moments in Canadian baseball history, certainly in 2015 at the very least, as we come close to ending another year.
The date was July 20 late in the championship game of the Pan-Am Games tournament held at President’s Choice Park in the Toronto suburb of Ajax. Orr had gone from first to home to spark a 7-6 win for Team Canada.
“It’s a great picture, it’s great to have that opportunity to be in the picture but the important thing is that we won the game and we won the gold medal,’’ said Orr, a humble, modest man, who would rather talk ‘team’ than ‘I’ or ‘me’.
Orr and Team Canada were deadlocked 4-4 in the 10th inning against the U.S. and a wacky tie-breaker rule had been put into place. The rule was that each team started an inning with men on first and second with nobody out. Strange and quirky but true. And the offensive team could have anyone in the lineup at the plate.
In this situation, the U.S. scored two runs in the top of the 10 to take a 6-4 lead. In the bottom of the inning with men on base, Orr drilled a single to drive in one run to make it 6-5.
“Being an older player and there being a left-hander pitching for them, I needed to be on the lookout for a pick-off at first,’’ Orr recalled. “I was saying to myself, ‘Don’t get picked off.’ And that’s exactly what they tried to do.’’
U.S. pitcher David Huff didn’t fare that good with his pick-off attempt. He threw wild past first baseman Casey Kotchman and Canada tied the score. Orr took off, hit second, headed to third and dashed home when Kotchman’s throw sailed past third. The play at the plate was reasonably close but U.S. catcher Thomas Murphy couldn’t tag Orr in time.
On his knees, alone, Orr looked into the sky, thrust his arms into the air and shouted as teammates swarmed around him. That’s where The Picture came into play. Cameras snapped that moment of solitude for him as U.S. players walked away downtrodden.
“It’s right up there,’’ Orr said, trying to figure out where this zany, exciting moment ranked in his lifetime of baseball memories enriched by playing in eight different world-class tournaments and umpteen number of games in the minors and majors (443 in the majors, 1,320 in the minors). “I don’t like ranking things against others but that was a great feeling.
“The biggest thing is that we won the gold medal,” he said. “It was weird. It might be a good rule for the round-robin but not the medal round. It was good for us but they need to do something to fix that rule up.’’
Orr, an under appreciated underdog if there was one, spent 2015 with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A farm squad, the Colorado Sky Sox, batting .303 and stealing 15 bases. What he did this year prompted the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. to mention him as a candidate for the Tip O’Neill Award for top Canadian this year.
What comes for the 2016 season, Orr doesn’t know. He’s hoping for another shot at the majors, at least a minor-league contract with the customary invite to spring training. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Blue Jays brought the suburban Toronto player from Newmarket into the fold and gave him a chance as a backup middle infielder?
If there ever was a candidate out of the Pan-Am Games to get a corporate-endorsement contract, it would be the little known Orr, just because of his mad dash around the bases, culminating in the safe play at the plate.
Although Orr isn’t one to toot his horn, he does admit his major-league debut April 5, 2005 at age 25 with the Atlanta Braves is his favorite moment in the bigs. He entered the game in the sixth inning as a replacement for the injured Marcus Giles and in his one plate appearance that game, bounced back to pitcher Todd Jones of the Florida Marlins. As retrosheet.org tells us in research findings, there were 57,405 on hand at old Dolphins Stadium in Miami and the Marlins won 9-0.
“That’s a memory that will stay with me forever,’’ Orr said. “To be honest, when Giles got hurt, I was thinking ‘Oh man, that looks painful.’ And not a thought ran through my head that I was the back-up middle infielder. Then it hit me, ‘Holy shoot! I’m the guy. I’m gonna go in. Then it just happened so fast and I was playing in the big leagues. It was great. The best part of playing in the big leagues is the people that you get to be around and the relationships you make with them. I will cherish that forever.’’
Orr posted 150 at-bats that season as a backup with the Braves, collecting eight doubles, 32 runs, a homer, eight RBIs and a dead-even .300 average. In what has worked out to be one full season of 689 at-bats in his career so far with the Braves, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, he has hit .257 with three homers and 46 RBIs.
At 36, Orr still pines to play but he knows his time is short. He’s not sure when he will pack it in.
“As I get older, the end is coming. I think about it all the time,’’ Orr said.
What he will do when his playing days are over is not locked in just yet. Coaching in baseball is one thought for sure. Outside the game for an occupation, it’s something he will have to think about.
“When I was younger over the years, being a firefighter or a teacher would have been something I would have done but those opportunities don’t seem realistic anymore,’’ he said. “When I know I’m 100% done playing, I will have to sit down with my family and figure things out.’’
In the meantime, he will cherish all the time he has spent playing around the world. He has taken planes, buses and the odd train to get around. There were the three major-league teams he played for. There were all of the stops as a member of Team Canada in places such as Panama, Italy, Greece, Puerto Rico and Taiwan. There were three winter-ball sessions in Venezuela.
There was his tenure with the Galveston College in Texas and minor-league venues like Jamestown, N.Y., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Greenville, N.C., Richmond, Va., Columbus, Ohio, Syracuse, N.Y., Lehigh, Pa., Colorado Springs and good-ole Nashville, Tenn. Not to mention all of the cities he visited where opposing teams played and wherever else he went.
“Corny as it sounds, the biggest memory I have is the relationships I have made over the years,’’ Orr said.
It can’t get any better than that.
And The Picture will be a keep sake to cherish.