Elliott: James (No-Hit) Paxton stands alone

 James Paxton shows off his maple leaf tattoo -- with memories of the family cabin on Bowen Island inside the giant leaf -- while being interviewed by Sportsnet's Hazel Mae after his no hitter. Photos: Ted Minden Studios.  

James Paxton shows off his maple leaf tattoo -- with memories of the family cabin on Bowen Island inside the giant leaf -- while being interviewed by Sportsnet's Hazel Mae after his no hitter. Photos: Ted Minden Studios.  

By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network

A month before last Christmas, James Paxton’s mom walked into The Sport Gallery on Granville Island in Vancouver looking to buy a picture of her son’s favourite pitcher, Andy Pettitte.

How many mothers of Canadian youngsters will enter stores this shopping season seeking pictures of Paxton? The Ladner, B.C. native, nicknamed "Big Maple," became the first Canadian to pitch a no-hitter on Canadian soil, blanking the Toronto Blue Jays 5-0 on 99 pitches at the Rogers Centre Tuesday.

Toronto’s Dick Fowler was the other Canadian to pitch a no-no on Sept. 9, 1945. Pitching for the Philadelphia A’s, Fowler held the St. Louis Browns hitless for nine innings. Yet, he wasn’t a winner until Hal Peck tripled and Irv Hall singled for the 1-0, walk-off win. 

Paxton faces the Blue Jays in the bottom of the first -- Teoscar Hernandez strikes out swinging. Josh Donaldson strikes out swinging. Yangervis Solarte lines out to Dee Gordon. 
(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

James Paxton’s parents, Barbara and Ted, invited Ted Paxton’s brother, Lindsay, and his wife, Lisa, over to watch the Mariners-Blue Jays game. 

“As the game progressed no one was saying anything, you know how it goes,” said Ted Paxton, “You talk about it, you jinx it. We didn’t mention it.”

The Paxtons knew proper etiquette during a no-no for this was not the first time their son had hung a zero in the opponents’ hit column. James was pitching in Ridge Meadows and dispatched the other 12-year-olds in the summer of 2000. Time of game, according to Ted Paxton: 58 minutes.

“James has the ball at his house in Seattle,” said the pitcher’s father.

After the final out of the eighth on Tuesday someone said, “This is looking a lot like ‘you know what.’”

The 6-foot-4 Paxton threw an 0-2 pitch to Josh Donaldson who bounced sharply to third baseman Kyle Seager. With already one five-star play in the book (robbing Kevin Pillar of a double), he fired to first baseman Ryon Healy for the 27th and final out. You know, the one they say is the toughest to get, as it always was for Dave Stieb.

 Paxton congrats Kyle Seager after he robbed Kevin Pillar of a base hit down the third base line in the seventh inning on Tuesday. 

Paxton congrats Kyle Seager after he robbed Kevin Pillar of a base hit down the third base line in the seventh inning on Tuesday. 

“We were all out of our seats with tears in our eyes, there was a lot of hooting and hollering going on,” Ted Paxton said. 

Was there so much noise that neighbours phoned to complain?

“No, they all phoned to congratulate,” he explained, as emails, text messages and phone calls of congratulations flooded in, many from the town of Ladner (POP: 22,193).

Some knew of James Paxton, some had played on the same teams with him on the way up and some figured things out on their own from knowing Ted. Ted Paxton heard from people he had not spoken to in 33 years but the corker was a phone call. 

“A man phoned and said, ‘I don’t know if you remember me but we worked together at Victoria Station,’ (a railway car restaurant), it was at the corner of Pacific and Hornby in Vancouver,” Ted Paxton said. “That was when I was 18 years old, over 40 years ago.” The caller extended his congratulations. 

Blue Jays second with Paxton pitching: Justin Smoak grounds out, Kevin Pillar pops out, Russell Martin grounds out.
(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

Greg Hamilton, coach of the Canadian Junior National Team, remembers the first time he saw Paxton pitch for the North Delta Blue Jays at 16 years old in a BC Premier League game.

“The velocity was not there, but the arm really worked, he really got out front,” Hamilton said. “He stood out compared to the other pitchers. You didn’t know he was going to strike out 16 and throw a no hitter in back-to-back starts, but you knew there was a chance.”

Paxton was with the Juniors in 2005 and the next year he was Canada’s ace at the World Juniors in Cuba. Paxton had Canada leading Team USA 2-1 in the seventh inning when a misplay allowed the tying run to score. Team USA won eventually.

“James should have won that game, he deserved to beat Team USA,” Hamilton said. 

Blue Jays third, Paxton pitching -- Kendry Morales walks. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. flies out to Dee Gordon. Anthony Alford walks, Hernandez pops out, Donaldson grounds into a force out. 
(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 2 LOB)

Former North Delta assistant coach Mike Kelly recalls a trip his team made to Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Kelly was sitting with head coach Ari Mellios when the University of Kentucky recruiter came by to talk about Paxton.

“I remember Ari saying ‘Now don’t foul this up, the way you fouled up the scholarship for Jeff Francis,” said Kelly. 

Francis was recruited by the University of Portland out of high school. Portland decided not to make the scholarship offer. And now the recruiter had moved from Portland to Kentucky.

Things worked out fine for Francis, who attended the University of British Columbia, went ninth over-all in the 2002 draft, won 17 games for the 2007 Colorado Rockies on the way to the World Series. 

Kelly didn’t watch the game as he’d gone to the movies. He watched the Blue Jays in 30 ... or as it could have been renamed under Paxton: Blue Jays Offence in 30 Seconds.

Kelly said he read on Facebook that Cam Mace, one of Paxton’s catchers with North Delta, had posted that he was at the game. 

“What are the odds of Cam being in Toronto? He lives in Cloverdale, BC,” Kelly said.

Blue Jays fourth, Paxton pitching -- Solarte strikes out swinging. Smoak walks. Pillar grounds into double play.
(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

Paxton is represented by Scott Boras, baseball’s smartest man with an iron-clad memory for the game’s history?

Boras was asked if he could recall a starter on a white-hot streak to strike out 16 and then pitch a no-hitter in next start. He pointed to Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer who no-hit the New York Mets while striking out 17 in 2015.

Five of the last six hurlers to pitch complete-game no hitters are Boras clients: the Cubs Jake Arrieta against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Scherzer, Arrieta facing the Cincinnati Reds in 2016, Oakland A’s Sean Manaea against the Boston Red Sox and Paxton.

Blue Jays fifth, Paxton pitching -- Martin pops out, Morales grounds out, Gurriel grounds out, J. Segura to R. Healy.
(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

Ari Mellios, who coached Justin Morneau, Jeff Francis and Paxton, watched the first five innings of the Paxton start on TV and then headed to his son Jimmy’s practice. Jimmy, named after his grandfather, plays for the New Westminster Little League Yankees. 

“I got to the park in the sixth and he still had it, my brother, Peter, sent me a text in the eighth that he still had it going,” Mellios said. “I told my brother to keep me posted.”

About 10 minutes later, the text came from Peter: “He Got it!!!”

Last year when the Blue Jays visited Safeco Field, Mellios took Jimmy onto the field to see Paxton. They had pictures taken with Paxton and Jays on their way for early hitting. It is Mellios Ted Paxton credits for giving his son the work ethnic his possesses. 

“How about that? A no-hitter against the team that drafted him and in Canada?” said Mellios. “Hopefully he’ll be getting the contract he deserves. He’ll be turning 30 in November. But he hasn’t logged the innings most 30-year-olds have.” 

Mellios, a Montreal native, is a big-time Paxton fan, like any coach who sees a player progress to the top of the heap. But as for the majors?

“My brother and I are still waiting for the Expos to come back to Montreal,” said Mellios, who thought Alex Anthopoulos would be a good choice to run the team.

Morneau, now works in the Minnesota Twins front office and he was keeping tabs on Paxton, like he does on all Canadians. Said Morneau: "I can’t imagine having a moment like that on Canadian soil. There’s a lot of us that grew up on the west coast that were Blue Jays fans when we were younger. What a moment."

Blue Jays sixth, Paxton pitching -- Alford strikes out swinging. Hernandez grounds out, Donaldson strikes out swinging.

(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

Thomas Paxton, James’ younger brother, had been working his construction shift in Ladner.

“He walked in the back door all bug eyed, he had not seen it,” said Ted Paxton. “He was in the same bewildered state as the rest of us. This was absolutely so exciting.

“When you think of everything going back to his injuries, the ups, the downs, James working so hard at his craft. It’s nice.”

Blue Jays seventh, Paxton pitching  -- Solarte grounds out, Smoak lines out, Pillar grounds out, on a five-star play by 3B Kyle Seager.

(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

What if? What if the Blue Jays had signed Paxton, selected in the first round (37th overall) in the 2009 draft from the Kentucky Wildcats. Imagine the noise the 20,513 fans at Rogers Centre would have made if he was wearing a Jays uniform. The Jays selected Chad Jenkins 20th over-all from the Kennesaw State Owls. Jenkins pitched 100 2/3 innings in parts of four seasons. Paxton has had two 100-plus inning seasons.

Back then, president Paul Beeston was supposed to handle negotiations with Paxton’s advisor Scott Boras. General manager J.P. Ricciardi phoned Boras to say that the Jays would pay the $1 Million US (above the assigned slot money) as a signing bonus. An agreement could not be reached and Paxton returned to Kentucky as a senior. 

Meanwhile, in a rehash of the draft -- who signed and who didn’t -- Beeston was quoted in a Toronto newspaper as saying that they lost Paxton because “Boras would not allow him to talk to the pitcher.”

When Paxton returned to campus he was asked to fill out a form with a myriad of questions. Then, he was told him to go out the door, turn right and talk to the NCAA officials with the instructions “Do not turn left, do not phone your parents or your lawyer.”

Did a Kentucky rival subscribing to a Toronto paper turn Paxton in to the NCAA or did the NCAA see the story on its own?

Paxton, 21, turned left and phoned his parents as we would hope all our sons would do. The NCAA demanded an eligibility hearing. It never came so Paxton headed to pitch for the Grand Prairie AirHogs in the independent American Association. After Paxton was drafted by the Mariners in the fourth round the next June.

What we never really understood was why former Blue Jays executives seemed happy that after turning down $1 million from the Jays, Paxton received less ($942,500) from the Mariners. One reason: it’s tough to impress in four starts of indy ball compared to pitching Friday nights in NCAA, even if Pete Incaviglia is your manager.

Mariners scouts Brian Williams and Jesse Kapellusch signing Paxton. Wayne Norton of Port Moody, BC, had wanted Paxton as a high schooler.

The Jays did receive an extra pick for their failure to sign Paxton. And with the 38th overall selection, scouting director Andrew Tinnish chose high schooler Noah Syndergaard of Mansfield, Tex. giving him a $600,000 bonus. 

Blue Jays eighth, Paxton pitching -- Martin flies out to LF Ben Gamel on the warning track. Morales lines out to Gordon. Gurriel strikes out on foul tip.
(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

 Paxton waves to the crowd after being interviewed by Hazel Mae following his no-no. 

Paxton waves to the crowd after being interviewed by Hazel Mae following his no-no. 

When Paxton re-emerged from the clubhouse to wave to the fans, it was to the Jays fans who rooted him home in general and his cousins Graeme and Amy McIntyre who live in Toronto and were at the game.

“I loved it when he showed his maple leaf tattoo to the crowd,” said his father. “And it was really neat the way the fans turned and began to cheer for him late in the game. It was very patriotic.”

Blue Jays ninth, Paxton pitching -- Alford flies out, Hernandez strikes out swinging. Donaldson grounds out, 
(0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors, 0 LOB)

 C Mike Zunino and Paxton celebrate at the Rogers Centre.  

C Mike Zunino and Paxton celebrate at the Rogers Centre.  

So to recap:

Paxton struck out 16 Oakland A’s pitching seven scoreless in a 105-pitch effort at Safeco kast Wednesday.

And Tuesday night he fanned seven as he pitched the first no hitter on Canadian soil with an economical 99 pitches. His final three pitches of the game were 98, 100 and 99 MPH. His highest three velocities of the game. That’s a Justin Verlander finish with flare.

His next start is Sunday in Detroit.

Mother’s Day.

On a Mother’s Day, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away, we recall watching Charlie Lea of the Expos no-hit the San Francisco Giants 4-0 in 1981 in the second game of the doubleheader. We phoned Lea’s mother in Memphis. She told us how her daughter and elder son gave her flowers and chocolates, but “the best gift of all was from Charles.” 

Consider this early Happy Mother’s Day wishes to Barb Paxton.

Canadian Content: The highly-respected Baseball America has Mississauga’s Noah Naylor of the Ontario Blue Jays going 12 over-all to the Toronto Blue Jays in its latest mock draft of the June amateur draft. The Blue Jays sit 11th when it comes to paying six-figures signing bonuses to Canadians since 1991. The Pittsburgh Pirates are No. 1 at $6,905,000 US, followed by the Mariners at $5,557,500 and the San Diego Padres are at $5,327,045. The Jays have spent $2,202,500 on Canadian talent.

Unanswered questions: Is it true that Tony LaCava, who the new regime raved about during the process between Alex Anthopoulos’ departure and Ross Atkins’ arrival, no longer has an office at the Rogers Centre? ... Think that the Blue Jays long-time security man Ron Sandelli was missed this week? ... Is that three starters or four or five on the disabled list? Aledmys Diaz, who took over for Troy Tulowitzki, Randal Grichuk along with the platoon of Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce are all injured.

Hit the play button: OK, Ben Wagner is good. Very good. Imagine how good he would be if he had one partner in the Blue Jays radio booth rather than learning to work with a different partner nearly every series. Put Wagner in the booth with Mike Wilner and call it two as a Jays broadcasting great used to say. 

Good luck: To former Blue Jays crack PR whiz Mal Romanin, who begins teaching this week at Sheridan College.

The first: It wasn’t Fergie Jenkins or Ryan Dempster but rather Toronto native Dick Fowler (66 career wins) who threw the first no hitter by a Canadian. Kevin Glew has a flashback piece to the game in 1945 on the Canadian Baseball Network