By Bob Elliott
They spoke with emotion.
They spoke with passion.
On a night of many speeches, most of spoke of red and white — well one was a vivid blue — as were many different answers were given when MC Mike Wilner of The Fan 590 asked those on stage what it meant to play with CANADA across a player’s chest.
Some of the best answers …
Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) … “The older I get the more patriotic I am. I listen to our anthem and I find myself crying. I went to a Leafs game against the Ottawa Senators, when they had Remembrance Day ceremonies, the Canadian Armed Forces there. It never hit me before, but as I get older … I wish I could have played for Canada as a junior. Playing in the World Baseball Classic meant a tremendous amount of patriotism.”
Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) … “We love to play for Canada. We’re all Canadians. We’re all passionate no matter the sport. I’m hoping to be active so I can play for Canada in the 2020 Olympics.”
Stubby Clapp (Windsor, Ont.) star of the 1999 Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg and a coach for this summer’s Pan-Ams in Ajax: “You put the word Canada across your chest … it unifies everyone.”
Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar, a coach with the Canadian Junior National Team this spring: “It’s good to see Joey Votto here and I’m so happy Russell Martin is playing for the Blue Jays this year. Hopefully you Juniors sitting at the back can all make your dreams come true and play in the big leagues.”
The award winners, along with some of their comments from the stage and some words of wisdom from the presenters …
_ Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) earned a special achievement award, by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Romak made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers May 28 at Dodger Stadium as Hall of Famer Vin Scully described his long road through the minors after being drafted by the Atlanta Braves and scout Lonnie Goldberg in 2003 from Mike Lumley’s London Badgers. He appeared in 15 games before being returned to triple-A Albuquerque.
“I really wasn’t keeping track of the years,” Romak said.
Said close friend Chris Robinson: “When I was called up it was a surprise, but Jamie always believed in himself.”
Romak signed as a minor-league free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Whitt predicted Canada would put together a good team to defend its gold medal in Ajax.
“I love being a part of it, with Larry Walker and Tim Leiper … even though they do second guess my lineups all the time,” said Whitt.
“I get goose bumps talking about us standing on the podium after all those second and third-place finishes.”
Whitt gave Leiper credit for Canada’s rally. Down 1-0 in the sixth, Chris Robinson and Tim Smith both singled before Jimmy Van Ostrand doubled into the right field corner. When the outfielder came up throwing the ball into second, Leiper began waving.
“Tim alertly waved the winning run across, a lot of third base coach’s would have held the runner at third,” said Whitt. Andrew Albers was the starter and winner pitching 6 2/3 innings striking out eight strikeouts, while Scott Richmond came on in relief and retired the seven batters he faced with three strikeouts for the save.
It was one of the few times that Leiper was not busy lobbying for a spot on the Canadian Baseball Network’s top 100 list.
_ Justin Morneau was presented the Stubby Clapp award by Mizuno Canada.
The former North Delta Blue Jay added a batting title to his list of accomplishment: four times an all-star, twice a Silver Slugger, an MVP winner, a home run derby winner at Yankee Stadium. Morneau played for the North Delta Blue Jays and coach Ari Mellios, while coach Mike Kelly was on hand as well.
“It would have been a lot more fun had we won a few more games,” Morneau said. “When I was called up to the Twins Corey Koskie looked at me. I did the same when Rene Tosoni, Scott Diamond and Andrew Albers were promoted. You have a duty to help the next Canadian coming along.
Said Stubby Clapp: “We all knew he was hurting, for him to be able to come back and accomplish what he did … he was fun to watch.”
Said Joey Votto: This was my first physically channelling year. Getting in the cage and hitting, going to the weight room to work out … you take all of that for granted until you can’t do it anymore.”
_ Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC) received the Baseball Canada Alumni Award, by the LJ Pearson Foundation.
Francis was a Morneau teammate with the North Delta Blue Jays playing coach coaches Ari Mellios and Mike Kelly. The Jays signed him with an invite to spring training and Alexis Brudnicki provides an update on Francis’ situation.
Francis: “You play a long time, you get old … they give you awards.”
_ Gareth Morgan (Toronto, Ont.) was named Junior National Team MVP, presented by ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Morgan helped Canada win bronze with a two-run single up the middle in the bottom of the eighth scored breaking a 6-6 tie as Canada edged Mexico 9-7 win for a berth in the 18U Pan American championship in Japan. The outfielder the Seattle Mariners gave a $2 million signing bonus to also hit a solo blast over the wall in right-centre in the seventh. The Ontario Blue Jays grad was selected in the second round by the Mariners and received a $2 million US signing bonus. Scouting director Tom McNamara and assistant Kenny Wade.
“It was a relief to get the bronze,” said Morgan, “I was happy to get it.”
Michael Saunders: “after watching Gareth (on video), maybe he’s the reason I might have been traded by Seattle.”
Larry Walker, who hosted Morgan for a week in West Palm Beach leading up to the draft: “Ah, Greg (Hamilton) made me do it. We talked a little baseball. One day we went for a 25-mile bike ride and then a seven-mile kayak … I didn’t see Gareth for the next 24 hours.”
Wilner said Morneau wore Walker’s No. 33 as a tribute “no, he wears it because of Patrick Roy,” interrupted Walker. The ace of self-depreciation Walker, did admit that maybe he played a role for influencing young Canadians “just as Claude Raymond, Terry Puhl and Fergie Jenkins did,” in his day.”
_ Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) of the Ontario Blue Jays, won the Futures Award from the Toronto Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Naylor homered in a four-run third as he drilled a fastball well over the wall in left for an opposite field, two-run homer as Canada scored a 6-4 win over host Mexico in round robin play.
“He had pounded me high and in, I knew it was out,” said Naylor. “I couldn’t feel my legs for a bit.”
_ Robbie Alomar received a special recognition award for his efforts assisting with Baseball Canada’s National Teams.
“I want to thank all the Canadians for allowing me to stay in the game, especially Ray Carter and Greg Hamilton,” said Alomar.
Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick, who traded Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Joe Carter and Alomar at the 1990 winter meetings said: “Our interest in Robbie went back to 1985. Bobby Mattick went to Puerto Rico to scout and came back and told us “I’ve been the best infielder ever.’ We tried to sign Robbie in 1985 but he’d already committed to the San Diego Padres to join his brother Sandy.”
The late Moose Johnson suggested that the Jays acquire Alomar in an effort to break their also-ran status.
“You have to have ability, passion, character and a love of the game. Robbie had all of that.”
Gillick then went reflective saying that his biggest mistake in scouting was in the ball room.
“I was working for the Seattle Mariners and I went over to Bob Smyth’s indoor hitting facility to see this young hitter. You know scouts are supposed to have vision and imagination. I saw a catcher. I missed seeing an immense talent in first baseman Joey Votto.”
Stephen Brooks, Blue Jays CFO was given credit for the successful Tournament 12 after saying it might expand outside Toronto this September (Vancouver anyone?) he passed on the credit to Greg Hamilton, Rob Jack, T.J. Burton, Jake Paddle and Jon Cram. Brooks says that the Rogers Centre will have new turf for opening day 2015 … and grass hopefully by 2018.
Alomar was supposed to be finished at the mike when he asked for another turn.
“When I stood on the stage in Cooperstown and was inducted alongside Mr. Pat Gillick it was the greatest day of my career. I’ve watched Larry Walker for years — and he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
The room exploded in applause.
_ Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) was the seventh player to have his name on Baseball Canada’s Wall of Excellence.
He joins former MVPs Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, JoeyVotto, Jason Bay, Ryan Dempster and manager Ernie Whitt. Martin played three years with the Canadian Junior National Team, helped Canada qualify for the Athens Olympics winning the Panama qualifier and homered in the 2009 WBC at the Rogers Centre.
“Playing here during the WBC was an awesome experience, we had a packed house, all those Canadians cheering for Canada,” Martin said. “We fell a little short.”
He described the chance of playing in Montreal in front of friends and family this April as being “a dream come true.” The Reds and the Jays play a two game exhibition series before the Jays head off to Yankee Stadium to open the season.
Martin and his teams have reached post-season play seven of the previous nine seasons. The catcher pointed out that the goal was to “win the World Series … and he had not done that yet.”
John Axford, pitched to Martin with the Canuck juniors and again this summer with the Pittsburg Pirates: “We played together at age 18 and again at 31. I’ve thrown to Jonathan Lucroy with the Milwaukee Brewers and Yadier Molina with the St. Louis Cardinals. No disrespect to the others, but Russell was the best.”
Axford remains a free agent and the Blue Jays remain in search of bullpen healp.
“When you have a catcher behind the plate like Russell, you feel comfortable within the first few innings
Earlier Martin said he’s hoping to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball.
“I’m preparing that it’s going to be my job. Really, I don’t know why I shouldn’t,” Martin told reporter. “If I can catch the guy and be in the lineup, put me in the lineup. If I’m not good at it when I first try, I’ll work until I am good at it. I’m just going to have to put in the time with R.A. I have to go through the actual physical action of catching the ball, got to do a lot of repetitions. I’m going to put in the work and do the best I can.”
Finally: The evening ended with Wilner thanking Greg Hamilton and the sold-out crowd gave Hamilton a standing ovation.
Heading west: On Thursday Friday and Saturday Jays employees had a convoy of cars to Macomb, Mich. for the visitation and funeral for Pat Hentgen, 71, father of the Blue Jays senior advisor, Pat Hentgen, . After serving under John Farrell as the Blue Jays bullpen coach in 2013, the right-hander took the next year off to spend time with his ailing father
President Paul Beeston and Charlie Wilson director of minor league operations went to pay their respects to the father of the former Cy Young award winner on Thursday. As did asistant GMs Andrew Tinnish and assistant GM Tony LaCava, along with travelling secretary Mike Shaw. Bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulosand Ryan Mittleman, coordinator of advance scouting and video made the trip on Friday.
GM Alex Anthopoulos also drove down Friday and attended the funeral on Saturday, along with equipment boss Jeff Ross, who flew in from Florida. Former Jays teammate Paul Spoljaric was also there on Saturday.