2015 a big year in Canadian baseball from Donaldson to Pan Am hot dogs
By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
There was Josh Donaldson’s slide into home plate to beat the throw on a short pop up that ended up as a sacrifice fly.
There was Pete Orr’s slide into home plate in the championship match of the Pan Am Games, after he barrelled all the way home from first, resulting in him thrusting his arms into the air. A borderline major-leaguer became a Canadian hero.
The flip of the bat after a clutch home run in the playoffs against Texas by Jose Bautista.
Those are some of the great memories of a year coming to a close.
How about the loss of former Expos do-it-all executive Jim Fanning? He died in April at age 87 of heart problems.
Donaldson’s effort to catch a part of home plate to beat the tag by Indians catcher Yan Gomes was something to behold, allowing Troy Tulowitzki to pick up a rare sac fly. Orr’s dash home helped give Canada a 7-6 victory over the Americans.
And that bat flip by Bautista followed a series of crazy events. Jays catcher Russell Martin was attempting to throw a ball back to the pitcher when the ball hit the left hand or bat belonging to Shin-Soo Choo of the Rangers. Rougned Odor came home to score on the Martin error, as the official scorer ruled it, and after a series of discussions involving the umpiring crew, the two managers and the people in New York checking replays, the run counted. Martin was thoroughly embarrassed.
Choo was still in the batter’s box, the play was still alive and no time had been called by home-plate umpire Dale Scott, a veteran of decades as an arbiter. Fans started throwing debris everywhere to dispute the call. But the Jays got their vengeance in the bottom half of the seventh. The Rangers made three errors, four, if you count Odor’s puzzling misplay of a seemingly innocent, short flare out his way by Donaldson.
The third error made by shortstop Elvis Andrus came on what was a perfect throw to him at the knees by third baseman Adrian Beltre, who was fielding a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Goins. Beltre walked away, putting his hands on his head, shaking in disbelief because Andrus didn’t/couldn’t handle his catchable throw.
Then Bautista, in the biggest home run in Jays’ franchise history since Joe Carter’s blast on Oct. 23, 1993, shook the earth in Toronto, all of Ontario, Canada and America with a mammoth shot off Sam Dyson to give the Jays a 6-3 cushion which they never gave up. It was one, crazy game for the ages.
If there was a favourite story I wrote this year, it would either be the one I did on Gary Hughes or the one I did on Randy Johnson. Even the one I did on former Expo Doug Frobel of Ottawa was one I gave TLC.
The Johnson story featured a rare interview with Bob Fontaine Jr., one of three scouts who watched Johnson in California in the 1980s, recommended him and eventually signed him to a contract with the Expos. Considering it was a long journey to get Fontaine to the phone, it was worth it. It was a coup. What seemed to seal the deal was that I told Fontaine in a text message that the late Jim Fanning always thought highly of him, which was true.
Minutes later, Fontaine and I were talking. What I didn’t know was that even though Johnson was born in Walnut Creek, Calif., he spent most of his younger days even further north in a gold mining town called Grass Valley. Most people don’t know that tidbit either. I only found that out by talking to Fontaine. Grass Valley is where Fontaine and the late scout Tom Hinkle signed him. The third scout, the late Cliff Ditto, wasn’t able to make it to Grass Valley that day because he was signing players in southern California.
To top it off in Cooperstown, I was able to sneak in a question at a Johnson scrum session with the media, peering under a cameraman’s lens to ask Johnson what he thought of that day when he signed an Expos’ contract. He said he paid off the mortgage of a house his parents owned, bought them a car and he did a few other things with the signing bonus.
To be present in Cooperstown to see former Expos Johnson and Pedro Martinez inducted was cool. Just like it was to be there when Matt Stairs, Felipe Alou, Corey Koskie, Carlos Delgado and Bob Elliott were inducted into the Canadian hall.
It’s always nice to get feedback from people who are subjects of your stories. Take Gary Hughes for example. He’s the former Expos scouting director, who is still scouting for the Red Sox at age 74. I did a full-length story on him in early November to the tune of close to 2,500 words.
“Thanks again for remembering an old scout in such a nice way,’’ Hughes said in an email. “I thought you’d enjoy the following note sent to me from my daughter Blaire. She wrote this after reading the wonderful article that you wrote on her father (that would be me). ‘Poppa, this is by far my all-time favourite article ever written about you, ever. I’m so proud of you.’ Blaire has a very nice job working for the Disney Corp. after working for George Lucas for 12 years.’’
We can’t help but mention hot dogs, some bad, some good that we tasted this year. Hot dogs are associated with baseball as much as peanuts and crackerjack but at the Pan Am Games, they were just plain awful grub. Stale, steam-heated and just sitting there for too long. Levy Restaurants based in Chicago had the concession contract so they need to be better at the product they serve.
I tried to get Levy’s PR guy to call me back and talk about the problem but he never acknowledged me. In an open-air setting like for example at the baseball venue in Ajax, the frankfurters should have been barbequed. If you’re just serving hot dogs and burgers, at least put them on the grill.
In contrast, we also want to say how great the hot dogs were at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in St. Marys, Ont. and the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction event in Cooperstown, N.Y. At both venues, the hot dogs were barbequed and the taste was far superior to the bad stuff at the Pan Ams. Cooperstown had just hotdogs as its only hot food but they were quite tasty. St. Marys had hot dogs, sausages and burgers and they were all fine.
And hot dogs aside, that Pan Am baseball tournament was something to behold as was the whole Games experience. Impressive for a second-fiddle event.
How do the day-to-day beat writers covering the Blue Jays keep up with the U.S. media in breaking stories? Crack ESPN reporter Jerry Crasnick spilled the beans on two recent Blue Jays agreements, the ones involving Brad Penny and Wade Leblanc. Brad Levine of Chicago was first to say the Blue Jays had claimed Junior Lake off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles.
In another first, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported that Team Mexico has asked the Blue Jays for permission to use pitchers Marco Estrada, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez in qualification play for next year’s World Baseball Classic.
Those are just some of the recent examples of American reporters hitting Twitter first to report a signing or whatever. There are more numerous occasions where it has happened. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is very good at breaking Blue Jays’ stories.
Can baseball in Canada in 2016 be as exciting as 2015? I’m not sure if we will see the excitement matching what we saw this year.