By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Baseball is the game that forms bonds for a lifetime.
When Chris Reitsma was working out indoors in the winter of 1995-96, his pitching guru Blair Kubicek had a rule.
If a New York Yankees scout made the trip to see Reitsma pitch, Kubicek gave him a Yankee hat to wear.
If a Seattle Mariners ivory hunter arrived, Kubicek gave Reitsma a Mariners hat.
And so on ...
Way back then, Gary Rajsich was a cross checker for the Boston Red Sox. The way he remembers it, Reitsma didn’t need a Red Sox cap. Rajsich would have been impressed had the young right hander been wearing a construction helmet, or one of those Green Bay Packers cheese heads or a goalie’s mask -- Reitsma’s velocity and composure were that impressive.
Rajsich and Red Sox scouting director Wayne Britton selected Reitsma in the first round (34th overall) in 1996. Reitsma wasn’t the best first rounder, nor was he the worst. 3B Eric Chavez, RHP R.A. Dickey, OF Mark Kotsay, RHP Gil Meche, LHP Eric Milton, RHP Jake Westbrook, RHP Kris Benson, RHP Braden Looper, RHP Jason Marquis, 1B Travis Lee, Blue Jays RP Billy Koch, RHP Adam Eaton, RHP John Patterson and LHP Bobby Seay came out of the same draft.
Reitsma pitched seven seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners. He appeared in 338 games. While he was born in Minneapolis, he lived his whole live in Calgary and would be behind only 11 Canucks for appearances: Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.), Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, NB), Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.), Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC), John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.), Jesse Crain (Toronto, Ont.), John Axford (Simcoe, Ont.), Dr. Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.), Claude Raymond (St.Jean, Que.), Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.), Eric Gagne (Mascouche, Que.) and Kirk McCaskill (Kapuskasing, Ont.).
He had 37 saves serving as both a starter and a reliever. That would put him seventh among Canadians behind Gagne, Axford, Hiller, Dempster, Raymond and Taylor.
Fast forward to 2015: with Rajsich as the Baltimore Orioles scouting director and Reitsma pitching coach for the Canadian National Junior Team.
“We chatted when Chris was pitching coach for Greg Hamilton, and then Chris asked me to point him in the right direction as far as scouting,” Rajsich said. “The last couple of years I’ve had him on the payroll.”
Now Reitsma scouts pitchers for the Orioles, whether they be in Canada, the United States or Puerto Rico. He was in on three of the O’s top pitching picks last June as well as contributing to Rajsich selecting Adam Hall (London, Ont.) from the Great Lake Canadians and giving him a $1.3 million US signing bonus.
The success he had in June earned him the Jim Ridley award as the Canadian Baseball Network Scout of the Year. This is the 24th annual CBN Scout of the Year honour which was renamed after Ridley in 2009.
Like Pat Gillick, Rajsich is a scout who goes by consensus from his trusted scouts when making a draft decision.
“What Chris has to say makes me feel better, he gives you his opinion, tells you what he sees and how he feels,” Rajsich said. “Chris is extremely competitive, incredibly honest and a conscientious worker.
“I have full faith in him ... what he tells me I believe. And he has no agenda.”
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Hall, who played for coach Adam Stern, was selected in the second round (60th overall in North America) and signed for a $1.3 US million bonus.
“We really didn’t ask Chris to break down Adam too much, Chris gave us lots of background on his makeup,” Rajsich.
Hall signed and made his debut July 17 with the rookie-class Gulf Coast Orioles, going 3-for-4 with an RBI in a 12-3 loss to the Red Sox. The next day Hall was 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a stolen base in a 10-7 win over the Red Sox.
As fast as Hall’s start was, he damaged an oblique and did not play the remainder of the season.
“I felt sorry that he didn’t get to play in Thunder Bay for Canada at the World juniors in Thunder Bay (in September),” said Rajsich.
Hall was back in harness during instructional league play in October.
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Reitsma was heavily involved in the selection of LHP D.L. Hall, rated No. 5 prospect in the Orioles system by Baseball America. Selected in the first round in June (21st overall), Hall, a high schooler from Valdosta Ga. -- home of legendary scout Ellis Clary -- was given a $3 million bonus. Hall struck out 12 in 10 1/3 innings for the Gulf Coast Orioles.
The Calgary scout, otherwise known as the Big Prairie Dawg, was also in on LHP Zac Lowther, a second-round pick from Xavier University, who received $779,500 to sign. Lowther was 2-2 with a 1.66 ERA at class-A Aberdeen, striking out 75 and walking 11 in 54 1/3 innings.
And third-round pick RHP Michael Baumann, a high schooler from Jacksonville, Fla., was given $500,000. Baumann made two stops this spring going 4-2 and displaying a 1.29 ERA while walking 19 and striking out 43 in 42 1/3 innings.
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Then, the year before that Reitsma was involved in evaluating and signing Illinois RHP Cody Sedlock, Western Michigan LHP Keegan Akin, John A. Logan Junior College RHP Matthias Dietz and Winter Haven High Schooler RHP Tobias Myers.
Sedlock was a first rounder in 2016 (27th over-all) and he received a $2,097,200 bonus. He is listed as Baseball America’s seventh best prospect. Sedlock was 4-5 with a 5.90 ERA at class-A Frederick as he walked 36 and fanned 69 in 90 innings in 2017.
Akin was selected in the second round and given $1,177,200 to sign. He was 7-8 with a 4.14 ERA at Frederick, walking 46 and fanning 111 in 100 innings.
Third-round pick Dietz received a $1.3 million bonus. He was 3-10 with a 4.93 ERA, walking 50 and fanning 92 in 129 2/3 innings for class-A Delmarva.
Myers was paid $225,000 to sign. He was shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays for infielder Tim Beckham in a deadline deal. So, Myers spent the season between Aberdeen and class-A Hudson Valley with a 4-2 mark as well as a 3.54 ERA with 10 walks and 73 strikeouts in 56 innings.
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And in his first year working for the Orioles, Reitsma was in on West Memphis, Ark. high schooler RHP Gray Fenter, a seventh round pick. The O’s gave Fenter $1 million. This year he made two stops in the O’s system, going 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 12 games. He walked 10 and struck out 34 in 30 1/3 innings.
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Like any scout story there is the one that got away.
“The one Chris liked the best was Mike Soroka. Of course he was from Calgary, but Chris knew everything about him,” Rajsich said going back to 2015 when the Atlanta Braves chose Soroka 28th overall. Reitsma had been Soroka’s pitching coach under Jim Lawson with the Calgary PBF Redbirds and Greg Hamilton with the Canadian Junior National Team.
“Not getting him (Soroka) ... that’s one that still keeps me up at night,” Rajsich said. Soroka pitched at double-A Mississippi more than five years younger than the average age of the Southern League. He went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA walking 34 and fanning 125 in 153 2/3 innings.
At the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista in early this month I ran into Braves Hall of Famers manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz ... and it went like this:
“So Bobby, do you like Soroka?” Cox asked me.
I nodded yes, but before I could answer Schuerholz said, “Yes, he told me likes him, plus he likes all Canadians. He used to send me a note of congratulations when we would draft the top Canadian.”
Well, that was true as the Braves were top selector three in four Junes: 3B Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.) in the first round (30th overall) from Team Ontario, OF Adam Stern (London, Ont.), chosen in the third round of 2001 from the Nebraska Cornhuskers and 3B Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) from the London Badgers in the fourth round in 2003.
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CANADIAN BASEBALL NETWORK
SCOUT OF THE YEAR
RE-NAMED JIM RIDLEY AWARD IN 2009
YEAR WINNER HOMETOWN TEAM
1994 Bill Scherrer, Buffalo, NY, Florida Marlins
1995 Bill MacKenzie, Ottawa, Ont., Colorado Rockies
1996 Tim Harkness, Hampton, Ont., San Diego Padres
1997 Ed Heather, Cambridge, Ont., Toronto Blue Jays
1998 Wayne Norton, Port Moody, BC, Baltimore Orioles
1999 Walt Jefferies, Paris, Ont., Toronto Blue Jays
2000 Claude Pelletier, Ste-Lezare, Que., New York Mets
2001 Jim Kane, Brampton, Ont., Atlanta Braves
2002 Ken Lenihan, Bedford, N.S., MLB Scouting Bureau
2003 Dick (The Legend) Groch, St. Clair, Mich. Milwaukee Brewers
2004 Jim Ridley, Burlington, Ont., Minnesota Twins
2005 Walt Burrows, Brentwood Bay, BC, MLB Scouting Bureau
2006 Alex Agostino, Montreal, Que., Philadelphia Phillies
2007 Howie Norsetter, Sydney, Australia, Minnesota Twins
2008 Greg Hamilton, Ottawa, Ont., Baseball Canada
2009 Jim Ridley, Burlington, Ont., Minnesota Twins
2010 Jay Lapp, London, Ont., Milwaukee Brewers
2011 Doug Mathieson, Langley, BC, Minnesota Twins
2012 Andrew Tinnish, Burlington, Ont., Blue Jays
2013 Murray Zuk, Souris, Man., San Diego Padres
2014 Wayne Norton, Port Moody, BC, Seattle Mariners
2015 Jim Stevenson, Tulsa, Oak., Houston Astros
2016 Doug Mathieson, Langley, BC,, Arizona Diamondbacks
2017 Chris Reitsma, Calgary, Alta., Baltimore Orioles