By Oren Weisfeld
Baseball is America’s favourite pastime, so it is no wonder that Major League Baseball, the most competitive league in the world, is composed of 70.2 per cent Americans. The remaining third is composed of players from 19 other countries including Canada, which currently has only 11 players on MLB rosters, a tiny fraction.
A Canadian in the MLB is like a Brazilian in the NHL: You just don’t know how they got there.
So how did they get there? Let’s look at the top three Canadians in the MLB and trace their journeys from igloos and apologizing to the big leagues.
#3. LHP James Paxton, Seattle Mariners
Paxton was born in Ladner, B.C., where he attended Delta Secondary School and played baseball for the North Delta Blue Jays of the British Columbia Premier Baseball League (PBL) and for Team Canada at the Junior National level. Paxton was named the top pitcher of the PBL and a first-team All-Star, and the Blue Jays won the league title his junior and senior seasons.
After high school in 2006, Paxton followed the route of most Canadian baseball players and left for America. He played college baseball for the prestigious Kentucky Wildcats, leading the team with 25 appearances in his freshman season. In 2009, as a junior, Paxton started 13 games with a 5-3 record and a 115 strikeouts, good for fifth best in school history. He was drafted by Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 but decided not to sign with the team. A year later, in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, the Seattle Mariners took a chance on the Ladner product.
Despite injuries and faulty mechanics leading to an average start to his career, Paxton had a breakthrough season in 2017 after undergoing some mechanical adjustments that gave him more velocity and command. He went 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 136 innings pitched with 156 strikeouts, all career-highs for the 29-year-old. Paxton hopes to continue riding the wave into the 2018 season, and so do the Canadians who have been searching for a legitimate pitcher to round out the nation’s big three.
#2. C Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays
Martin was born in East York, Ont., but spent his early childhood sharing time between Ottawa and Paris before landing in Montreal, Que., with his father. There, Martin attended Polyvalente Édouard-Montpetit High School and, after being heavily recruited, accepted a scholarship to Chipola College in Marianna, Fla.
After two years of college, Martin was drafted in the 17th round of the 2002 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. There, he would go on to play five seasons and make a name for himself as one of the best catchers in baseball; but that was after he was converted to a catcher, of course. Martin was drafted as a third baseman, but after his first season in the minors, the Canadian was converted to a catcher where he went on to destroy the minor leagues and pave his way to the majors.
On May 5, 2006, after starting catcher Dioner Navarro suffered a wrist injury, Martin was called up to the Dodgers, marking the beginning of a stellar career in the majors. For the past decade, Martin has been one of the best catchers in the game, boasting a .993 career fielding percentage to go along with his 2007 Gold Glove Award. His ability to frame pitches and communicate with pitchers makes him one of the most indispensable players on the Blue Jays’ roster. Not to mention his hitting, which has fallen off recently, but his 1,314 hits, 175 homers, and 726 RBIs have been an integral part of his MLB tenure.
#1. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Votto, an Etobicoke, Ont., native, attended high school at Richview Collegiate Institute where he played baseball, basketball, and hockey. Votto also played for the Etobicoke Rangers baseball program and was drafted by the Reds out of high school with the 44th pick in the 2002 draft.
After making his way up the minor leagues, Votto experienced the best season of his minor league career in 2006 with double-A Chattanooga. His .319 batting average led the Southern League and his 46 doubles and 22 home runs placed him first in total bases and third in home runs and RBI, earning him the Southern League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
On September 1, 2007, Votto was called up to the Reds where he hit his first career home run in his second major league at-bat. In his 10 years with the Reds, the first baseman has been a legitimate two-way threat boasting one of the best career on-base percentages (.428) and defensive fielding percentages (.993) in the league. His resume speaks for itself: a five-time all-star, 2010 National League Most Valuable Player and Lou Marsh Trophy recipient, and 2011 Gold Glove Award winner with 1,586 hits and 257 home runs. When it comes to Canadian baseball, Votto is the pinnacle of success.