By Bob Elliott
AJAX _ Two out, man on third, facing an 0-2 count?
Not a tough assignment.
A ball taking a tricky hop off the lip of the infield grass?
Canada’s second baseman Skyler Stromsmoe has tougher assignments than being either being behind to an opposing pitcher or seeing a one hopper suddenly chance directions.
Stromsmoe grew up on his family farm in Alberta hamlet of Etzikom.
The Canadian rosters has players from big cities like Vancouver, Victoria, London, Windsor and Toronto where a difficult work load for a teenager might be remembering to take out the garbage.
Or in bedroom communities like Langley, Delta, Maple Ridge and Port Coquitlam, B.C. or Mississauga, Richmond Hill and Brampton the toughest job might be mowing the lawn.
Growing up on the cattle ranch run by his father Nyle and uncle Clint with anywhere from 200 to 500 head of cattle, counting calfs, Stromsmoe actually worked.
And toughest job on the farm?
“Cleaning out a grain bin when it’s 30 degrees outside, 40 degrees inside and you can hardly breath, while ducking mouse manure,” said Stomsmoe this week at the President’s Choice Field.
Sounds like the next edition of Mike Rowe: Somebody’s Gotta Do It on CNN.
And the second toughest.
“Rock picking ... anything bigger than a fist we have to pick up after we till the field,” said the second baseman. “I once asked by father why not buy a rock picker and he said ‘why would I buy one when I have three: your sisters Tara and Susan and you?’”
Now that is cowboy logic, as Michael Martin Murphy used to sing.
Rocks have to be picked before planting since according to Stromsmoe _ farming is not my background _ you can’t have the family combine making a run at amber waves of grain only to run into a rock the size of a softball.
Such is the make-up of Canada’s team players from big cities, the burbs and one from a hamlet Stromsmoe guesses Etzikom has a total population of 50.
He proudly points out it also home the Etzikom Windmill Museum. The town was founded when the Canadian and Pacific Railroad pushed west in 1914 and named it Etzikom. The 1918 influenza epidemic killed many residents. Next a drought, blizzards, dust storms, rabbit and grasshopper plagues hit the area.
When he calls it the family farm he really means the family farm.
The land has been in the family for 103 years. His father and uncle have roughly 100 head of Herfords and 100 head of Angus cattle, plus their offspring. Each year on the first Tuesday in December they have their own private sale selling around 60 bulls and 90 bred females. Stromsmoe Herefords and Angus sales have been staged for the last 30 years.
They rank among the top purebred bulls in North America, including one that sold for $12,000 last year.
The future farmer says “it was a good year,” since prices were up.
“And when I get done with baseball, I’ll move back,” said the infielder, who now resides in Phoenix with his wife, Rachel, who was on a tennis scholarship when they met at Southern Arkansas. They are expecting their first child in late September.
He knew all about bus trips before signing: busing 20 miles to grade school in Foremost, a town of about 600, travelling 35 miles to Bow Island (pop: 1,500) for high school with a graduating class of 16 and 60 miles in the summer to Medicine Hat for American Legion ball.
Stromsmoe headed south to play for the Longview Community College in Missouri and then transferred to the Southern Arkansas University Muleriders.
He was signed as a fifth year senior two weeks before the 2007 draft as a free agent by a San Francisco Giants scout. The first club he belonged to was the 4-H when he was feeding calves every day. Daily chores would include feeding the cows.
“Some of the older cows could get bossy,” he said. He’s bedded cows and fed them. And he fired up the John Deere to clear drifting snow so cattle could find their way and wouldn’t climb a fence.
He broke in with the rookie-class Arizona League Giants, then moved on to class-A Salem-Keizer, class-A Augusta, class-A San Jose, triple-A Fresno, double-A Richmond and this season triple-A Sacramento, where he’s hitting .244 with two doubles and four RBIs in 20 games.
“This is my ninth year with the Giants and playing in the Pan Am Games is as big as it gets,” said Stromsmoe, 31. “When I started playing my No. 1 goal was to make the big leagues. And my No. 1-A goal was to play for my country.”
Four years ago Stromsmoe was in Mexico when Scott Richmond picked up Andrew Albers to get the final outs to edged Team USA 2-1.
Through the six games of pool play Stromsmoe hit .278 (5-for-18) with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs, as well as a 1.036 OPS. He’s tied as Canada’s third leading hitter behind Tim Smith hitting .455 (5-for-11) and Rene Tosoni .435 (10-for-23).
“He makes all the plays, some tremendous plays in the field,” said manager Ernie Whitt. “He’s done anything and everything right for us.”
Heck he’d probably even clean Baseball Canada president Ray Carter grain bin ... if he had one.