By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· The most heartwarming moment of the 2018 MLB Draft for me came when the Seattle Mariners dedicated their final pick to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Wayne Norton (Port Moody, B.C.), who was a longtime scout with the club who passed in away in January at age 75 after battling ALS. With their last pick, the M’s fittingly selected Canadian right-hander David Rhodes (White Rock, B.C.). Earlier in the draft, the M’s had chosen southpaw Ben Onyshko (Winnipeg, Man.) in the 24th round. Onyshko’s mom shared on Twitter that Norton, who had a long history of coaching and scouting in Canada, had also helped in her son’s development.
· When I was listening to the 2018 MLB Draft, there were a couple of moments that I thought I had closed my eyes and woken up in the 1980s. George Bell, the son of the former Toronto Blue Jays great and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer with the same name, was selected in the 13th round by the San Francisco Giants. The 20-year-old Bell is an outfielder out of Connors State junior college. Twenty-one rounds later (34th round), Benito Santiago was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals. A catcher like his former Blue Jay dad, Santiago is 23 years old and has just finished his senior season at University of Tennessee.
· Last week, I noted that Adam Loewen (Surrey, B.C.) has been selected the highest of any player born in Canada in the MLB Draft (Jameson Taillon, who maintains a Canadian citizen but was born in Lakeland, Fla., was selected second overall in 2010). Loewen was taken fourth overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2002. Unfortunately, per George Farelli of the Canadian Baseball Network, Loewen was released by the Texas Rangers’ triple-A Round Rock Express this week. The 34-year-old Canuck lefty had posted a 3.60 ERA in five relief appearances this season, his second in the Rangers organization. The 6-foot-6 southpaw last pitched in the big leagues in 2016 when he made eight appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had previous major league pitching stints with the Baltimore Orioles (2006 to 2008) and Philadelphia Phillies (2015) and played outfield for the Blue Jays in 2011.
· The Toronto Blue Jays selected Griffin Conine in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2018 MLB Draft. The left-handed hitting outfielder is the son of former Miami Marlins slugger Jeff Conine and is yet another “legacy” player that will suit up for the organization. In three years at Duke, the now-20-year-old Conine registered a .276/.399/.516 slash line and socked 28 home runs in his final two years. And I’ll say this again, if the Blue Jays ever host an organizational father/son game, I’m not betting against the fathers. In addition to Conine, the sons of the following ex-big leaguers are in the Blue Jays organization: Vladimir Guerrero, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Dante Bichette and Dwight Smith. Also, former Expos infielder Mark Grudzielanek’s nephew, Brandon, is toiling for low-A Lansing.
· Happy 34th Birthday to Canadian national team alum and Maple Creek, Sask., native James Avery! After being selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 29th round of the 2002 MLB Draft, he elected not to sign and to attend Niagara University. Following his senior year, he was chosen in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2005. The 6-foot right-hander would pitch parts of seven seasons in the Reds’ organization, making it as high as triple-A, before joining the Detroit Tigers organization in 2012. He’d finish out his professional career by pitching in the Mexican League in 2013 and 2014. Along the way, he also toed the rubber for the Canadian national team on several occasions, including at the 2008 Olympics.
· It was 20 years ago today that Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tim Raines registered his 800th career stolen base. As you’ll see in the video (below), Raines recorded the milestone swipe playing for the New York Yankees against his old squad, the Montreal Expos, in the top of the eighth inning off reliever Shayne Bennett at Olympic Stadium. The Bombers won the game 6-2. With that stolen base, Raines became the fifth player in major league history to have 800 stolen bases. The other four are Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb.
· Today would’ve been Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Graney’s 132nd birthday. Graney’s road to the big leagues began in St. Thomas, Ont., where he was discovered and recommended to the Chicago Cubs by fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Emslie. After a season in the Cubs organization, Graney was sold to the Cleveland Indians, where he would evolve into a steady, dependable outfielder. His big league resume boasts a number of firsts. When Graney walked to the plate in a game against the Red Sox on July 11, 1914, he became the first batter to face Babe Ruth. Almost two years later, on June 26, 1916, he would be the first major leaguer to bat wearing a number on his uniform. A scrappy leadoff hitter, Graney led the American League in walks twice (1917 and 1919) and in doubles once (1916). The speedy Canuck also finished in the top 10 in triples in 1913 and 1916, with 12 and 14 three-baggers respectively. He was also a member of the World Series-winning Indians squad in 1920. After his playing career, Graney became the first ex-player to make the transition to the broadcast booth, performing radio play-by-play for the Indians from 1932 to 1953. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame now presents an award named in his honour to a media member who has made a significant contribution to the game of baseball in Canada through their life’s work.