By Bob Elliott
Gary Moraes had an excellent view when a tall, lanky 16-year-old arrived on the scene with the Blue Jays.
And Moraes was there Saturday night as his former teammate, who threw his final pitch with the Blue Jays in October, stood even taller in retirement.
Jeff Francis had his name added to the RBC Wall of Excellence at the 14th annual Baseball Canada fund raiser. He joins Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, Ernie Whitt, Ryan Dempster, Jason Bay and Russell Martin who have been previously honored.
“I was two years older and here was this shy, tall, kid throwing 80 mph and getting people out,” said Moraes, who played third base in 1997 with the North Delta Blue Jays. “Jeff played first for us too. He was a solid contact hitter and had real soft hands around the base.”
After pitching 10 years in the majors, mostly with the 2007 World Series bound Colorado Rockies, where he won 17 games, he spent 2014 with the Toronto Blue Jays. He worked 22 innings this year for the Jays between trips to triple-A Buffalo, making his final appearance in Game 162 at Tropicana Field the 1,291st inning of his career.
Playing for coaches Ari Mellios and Mike Kelly North Delta went to Red Deer and the nationals representing British Columbia. Mellious had a pick up from the Vancouver Mounties room Moraes and Francis. His name? Justin Morneau.
“Ari told Gary ‘he’s in your room for five days, make sure be plays for North Delta next year,” said Kelly. Morneau played for North Delta the as Francis and James Paxton did.
That week in Red Deer was costly for Moraes, who lost badly in cribbage to Morneau.
“Justin told me later he could see my cards reflected in the window behind me,” said Moraes. “I learned to never sit in front of a window.”
Francis and Moraes played long toss at practice.
“His ball had so much movement and it would banana into me,” Moraes said. “Once he got 60 feet away and signalled he was going to throw a change up. I nodded OK. The ball cut back narrowly missing some important points.
“I gave the mitt to a catcher.”
While Moraes went onto to the Prairie Baseball Academy, Gonzaga where he roomed with Jason Bay, LSU-Shreveport and now works in Niagara Falls, Francis went to University of British Columbia, was selected ninth over-all by the Colorado Rockies and on April 30 gained the victory as he pitched 2 1/3 innings as Toronto beat the Cleveland Indians 5-1.
It was his 72nd career win, moving him past Erik Bedard and Rheal Cormier for seventh among all time among Canadian pitchers.
He made 14 starts at Buffalo, but his most important was the gold medal game for Canada at the Pan Ams in Ajax. Expected to pitch for Canada at the 2004 Athens Olympics the Rockies did not grant permission.
“Regrettably I didn’t get the chance to pitch, I made it a goal to pitch for Canada again,” said Francis who pitched seven innings striking out seven.
And Francis, 35, found himself sprinting to the plate as Pete Orr scored the game-winning run with one out in the 10th on a wild throw.
Francis returned to London after the win for a few days before returning to Buffalo.
“It was tempting to just stay home,” said Francis. “The Jays gave me another chance in September. It was nice having the whole country behind the team.”
And Francis, who used to ask his father Mike to allow him to stay up late to watch champagne celebrations on TV, was in the midst of another.
Much like the wild ride from Ajax to the Athlete’s Village on a TTC bus after the extra-inning win against Team USA.
Back where it all started with North Delta, Moraes recalled the lefty’s mom Joanne Francis cheering so loudly at BC Premier League games she often stood in centre when Francis pitched.
“I told Jeff I watched his first start on TV against the Atlanta Braves and could hear his mom’s voice when he struck out Andruw Jones,” said Moraes.
Just one of Francis’ 869 career strikeouts in the majors.
Baseball Canada awards
Senior National Team MVP _ Pete Orr.
Junior National Team MVP _ Josh Naylor.
Stubby Clapp award _ Rene Tosoni.
Special Recognition awards _ Tyler O’Neill and Adam Loewen.
Alumni award _ Dalton Pompey.
Canadian Futures award _ Andrew Yerzy.
RBC Wealth Management Wall of Excellence: Jeff Francis.