Florida Notebook: Atkins, Donaldson, Downes, Gagne, Stairs

By: Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

DUNEDIN, Fla. _ Ross Atkins was interviewed by president Andy MacPhail for the Philadelphia Phillies vacant general manager’s job in 2015.

When Atkins didn’t get the job he called MacPhail to A) thank him for the interview and B) to ask if there is any way he could improve his resume in future. 

At the time Atkins was still the Cleveland Indians vice-president of player personnel while Alex Anthopoulos was still the Blue Jays general manager. 

MacPhail hired Matt Klentak, Los Angeles Angels assistant GM, to be the Phillies new GM on Oct. 28. The same week Anthopoulos rejected the Rogers Communications five-year offer, eventually joining the Los Angeles Dodgers as an assistant GM.

Yet as it turned out Atkins didn’t need any sage advice from MacPhail. Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro hired Atkins as the Jays boss on Dec. 3 from a short list of Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava; Rene Francisco, Kansas City Royals assistant GM and Amiel Sawdaye, Boston Red Sox scouting director.

To replace Ruben Amaro, now first base coach with the Red Sox, the Phillies also interviewed former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, Major League Baseball’s vice president of baseball operations Kim Ng, Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo and a few others.

WBC-ing you: Russell Martin was impressed watching France on the MLB Network in the World Baseball Classic qualifier at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama.

France opened with a 5-3 win over Spain and then was eliminated with a 7-4 loss to host Panama, thanks to three unearned runs. 

Former Cy Young award winner Eric Gagne, of Mascouche, Que., managed France, and had help from coaches Ivan Naccarata of Montreal and Karl Gelinas of Laval, who pitched for the Les Capitales de Quebec of the independent Can-Am League last year.

“If not for a couple of dropped errors they would have been playing for the right to advance to next year,” said Martin, whose best friend is Naccarata.

Columbia edged Panama 2-1 to advance. Australia and Mexico have qualified with the final grouping set for September in Brooklyn with Pakistan, Brazil, Great Britain and Israel meeting for the final spot.

Canada qualified after going 1-2 four years ago in Phoenix. 

Grapefruit rankings: The standings show the Washington Nationals on top this spring with a 16-4 record, a game ahead of the Blue Jays (15-5).

Yet the real ranking are written on a back wall of the clubhouse, right near the ping pong table. No surprise that MVP Josh Donaldson sits No. 1. 

He’s followed by Darwin Barney, Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Tepera rounding out the top five. And the rest of the leader board consists of Marcus Stroman, Ryan Goins, Kevin Pillar and Michael Saunders.

Climbing the Stairs back: Phillies broadcaster Matt Stairs is planning a comeback. No, not with the Phillies or the Blue Jays. Stairs said he hopes to play in the Baseball Canada senior championships Aug. 25-29 in his hometown of Fredericton, NB.

“I’ll DH ... as long as I can see my toes,” Stairs said. The Fredericton Royals have a new recruit in lefty Shane Kraemer, of Chilliwack, B.C. Kraemer went 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA with three walks and 10 strikeouts in 13 innings at Miramichi, N.B. Stairs wanted to know why he did not make the Canadian Baseball Network top 100. A full investigation has begun,.

Briefly: MVP Donaldson is a 60 minute man. No, he doesn’t sing the song like Jerry Lee Lewis, but Donaldson will be featured on 60 Minutes which has visited his home in sweet Alabama, Dunedin and eventually Toronto ... The new regime has all club officials wearing spiffy Blue Jays golf shirts with logos whether they are roaming Florida Auto Exchange Stadium or the Bobby Mattick Centre ... Believe it or else, we spotted at a Jays game someone wearing No. 65, the uniform worn by long-time lefty batting practice pitcher Jesus Figueroa. That is a first ... Brock University Badgers coach Jeff Lounsbury has retired after 20 years. Lounsbury’s university coaching record was 507-234-5 (.683 win mark). Assistant athletic director Chris Critelli is looking for a new coach for this fall. 

Getting together: Larry Downes of Niagara-on-The-Lake is an organizer for Canada’s 1984 Olympic team reunion. New York Yankees coach Rob Thomson was on that club so the event is planned for May 30, when the Yankees are at Rogers Centre. 

Coach Eric Mackenzie had future pros at Dodger Stadium during the Los Angeles Olympics: major leaguers right-hander Mike Gardiner, outfielder Kevin Reimer and lefty Steve Wilson plus minor leaguers Joe Heeney, Scott Maxwell, Alain Patenaude and Thomson.

Chris Colabello’s father Lou Colabello pitched for Italy. 

Impressing: Mississauga right-hander Jordan Balazovic was clocked at 91 mph pitching for the Diamondbacks Scout Team against the Cincinnati Reds minor leaguers in Arizona. He has moved up to fifth on the Canadian Baseball Network rating heading into the June draft.

Stanford right-hander Cal Quantrill of Port Hope, catcher Andrew Yerzy of the Toronto Mets, Toronto infielder Daniel Pinero of the University of Virginia and University of British Columbia right-hander Curtis Taylor of Port Coquitlam, B.C. are ahead of Balazovic.

And next is Dundas right-hander Austin Shields of the Great Lake Canadians, who had two strong outings during March break in St. Pete’s.