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Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
There were awards like most baseball banquets.
There were zingers like most winter get togethers.
And most of all there were words of advice.
Former infielder turned pitcher turned scout Jamie Lehman, former infielder turned pitcher Shawn Hill and Gary Wilson were inducted into the Ontario Blue Jays Hall of Fame banquet at Fontana Primavera in Woodbridge before a crowd of 600.
The words of advice call from Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar as well as guest speaker Jack Morris, a Hall of Fame candidate again when the veteran’s committee assembles its next ballot for 2017.
RHP Shawn Hill (Mississauga, Ont.)
Played: 1998-99 Ontario Blue Jays.
Coaches: Bob Smyth and Gary Wilson.
Drafted: By the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round and scout Tim Harkness in 1999; drafted in the sixth round by Montreal Expos scout Alex Agostino in 2000.
Major-league debut: June 29, 2004 pitching for the Expos at Citizen Bark Park he retired Jimmy Rollins on a ground ball, struck out Placido Polanco and Bobby Abreu in the first; up 3-0 in the second he struck out Jim Thome, allowed a double to Pat Burrell, walked David Bell, Mike Lieberthal and Jason Michaels, retired Eric Milton on a fly ball and Rollins on grounder to end the inning; and leading 3-2 he allowed a homer to Polanco, walked Abreu, allowed singles to Burrell, Bell, retired Lieberthal, allowed a single to Michaels, Milton and a double to Rollins in a 17-7 loss to the Phillies.
First win: July 4, Estadio Hiram Bithorn, San Juan, Puerto Rico, he retired Frank Menechino on a fly ball, allowed a single to Orlando Hudson, who was thrown out attempting to steal second and retired Reed Johnson on a grounder to end the first; allowed a single to Eric Hinske, struck out Chris Gomez and struck out Alex Rios, as Hinske was thrown out to end the second; struck out Dave Berg, retired Kevin Cash on a ground ball and struck out Ted Lilly to end the third; popped up Menechino, then retired Hudson and Johnson on ground ball outs to end the fourth; allowed a single to Hinske, struck out Gomez, allowed a single to Rios and a scoring fly ball to Berg, walked Cash and struck out Lilly to end the fifth in a 6-4 Expos win over the Blue Jays.
Majors: 10-18 with a 4.69 ERA in 44 starts with Montreal, Washington, San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays, 242 IPs, 76 walks, 151 strikeouts.
Minors: In the Expos system in 2000 with the rookie-class Gulf Coast Expos, 2001 with class-A Vermont, 2002 with class-A Clinton; 2003 with class-A Brevard, double-A Harrisburg; 2004 with Harrisburg; in the Nationals system in 2006 with Harrisburg and triple-A New Orleans; 2007 with class-A Potomac and triple-A Coumbus; 2008 with Potomac and Columbus; in the Jays system in 2010 with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays, class-A Dunedin, double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Las Vegas; 2012 with York (IND) and Las Vegas; in the Tigers system in 2013 with triple-A Toledo; in 2014 with the Blue Jays at New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo; with the White Sox with triple-A Charlotte and with the Tigers with triple-A Toledo.
Numbers in minors: 64-55, 3.69 ERA, 180 G, 174 GS, 975.1 IP, 1023, 235 walks, 576 strikeouts.
Internationally: 2004 Athens Olympics started semi-final game vs. Cuba; 2011 World Cup beat USA; 2011 Pan Ams, beat Mexico in semi-finals; 2012 World Baseball Classic Qualifier beat Great Britain and 2013 WBC.
RHP Jamie Lehman (Brampton, Ont.)
Played: 2002-03 Ontario Blue Jays.
Coach: Dan Bleiwas.
Drafted: By the Expos in the 29th round and scout Alex Anthopoulos in 2003.
Minors: In the Expos system in 2003 with the rookie-class Gulf Coast Expos, in 2004 with the Gulf Coast; In the Nationals system in 2005 with class-A Vermont; in 2006 with class-A Savannah; in 2008 with class-A Hagerstown; in 2009 with Potomac; in the Jays system with class-A Aubrun.
Numbers in minors: 7-12, 5.70 ERA, 115 Games, 3 Starts, 195.2 Innings, 65 walks, 119 strikeouts.
Organizational instructor: with the Ontario Blue Jays during the off seasons.
Hired: by the Toronto Blue Jays: After the 2009 season as Canadian director of scouting. Also covers Northeastern United States.
First sign:Nick Purdy.
First draft: Dalton Pompey.
Lehman said he was both humbled and honored to be sitting at the head table alongside both Jack Morris and Robbie Alomar, who he had watched star for the 1992-93 Blue Jays.
“I’d mimic Jack’s delivery in my back yard and slice through American League lineups — just the way he did,” Lehman told the crowd. “And I’d try to make that jump throw and spin to first just like Robbie … it turned out that I wasn’t Robbie.”
Lehman said for the past two years he had the privilege of working closely with Alomar organizing Tournament 12 and found out first-hand Alomar’s dedication and passion towards promoting baseball in Canada.
“Shawn Hill proved that an infielder can make the majors as a pitcher and I have found my niche,” said Lehman, who recalled his first day on the job driving to the SkyDome, describing it as “surreal” when he swiped his security card to enter the building on his own. No ticket required.
Lehman praised Danny Bleiwas for building the best amateur program in Canada.
He thanked his mother Monica, who gave up her nights, her weekends to get her son to games and practices on time.
“This honor is as much yours as it is mine,” he said speaking to an audience of one.
He thanked former coach Sean Travers for teaching him so much about the game.
“Shawn took an awkward, skinny kid with a love of the game,” and showed him how to get better even if when things were going poorly Travers became displeased and would “drop a few misplaced adjectives.” Lehman’s voice changed to more serious tone as he said to Travers: “everything I’ve accomplished I owe to you.”
Next up on the thank you list was Lehman’s wife Amanda as he said “every baseball person in here has a good woman with him.”
The message from Lehman to the Ontario Blue Jays 18s, 17s and 16s was straight forward:
“Look at Robbie. Look at Jack. Look at Brett Lawrie and Dalton Pompey. They had the exact same dream you had at your age. They are all proof that it can be done. That’s what makes this game so special, so believe in it.”
Coach Gary Wilson
Coach: First coach of the Ontario Blue Jays from 1996-99.
Wilson’s first two teams made the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M.
Drafts: 1996: 32nd Tigers LHP John Ogiltree (Mississauga, Ont.); 1997: 7th Cubs RHP Paul Vracar (Stoney Creek, Ont.), 35th Twins RHP Craig Hawkins (Burlington, Ont.), 39th Rangers SS Peter Orr (Newmarket, Ont.) 1998: 9th Blue Jays LHP Steve Murray(Ennismore, Ont.), 10th Expos RHP Ryan Grantham (Burlington, Ont.), 18th Orioles RHP Denis Gratton (Kitchener, Ont.), 22nd Blue Jays OF Adam Stern (Port Stanley, Ont.), 28th Giants RHP Chad Ertel (St. Clements, Ont.), 43rd Blue Jays RHP Travis Beckham (Port Dover, Ont.) 1999: 32nd Orioles OF Kevin Virtue(London, Ont.); 37th Blue Jays RHP Robert Findlay(Etobicoke, Ont.); 38th Blue Jays RHP Mike Tisdale (Peterborough, Ont.); 43rd Mets C Ryan Hay (Niagara Falls, Ont.); 46th Orioles C-1B Pat Tobin (Pickering, Ont.); 48th Orioles RHP Mike Roga (Pickering, Ont.).
Honor: Wilson was selected coach of the year by American Amateur Baseball Congress.
More than once Wilson, 64, who last coached in 1999, looked around the room and asked “how did it get this big?” He started with Gene Bartolizzi’s Hamilton Blue Jays in 1995 with 14 players.
Soon the Toronto Blue Jays Canadian scouting director Bill Byckowski sponsored the team, which was an all-star team of the best players in the province (from Ottawa to Chatham). Like Bartolzzi the Ontario Blue Jays were soon banned by the OBA.
“That first year we didn’t have anyone to play so we’d play Stoney Creek Little League and we’d win 20-0, 25-0, but Pat Gillick and Wayne Norton (Baltimore Orioles) would show to scout our kids,” said Wilson.
Wilson was emotional and appreciative of the honor telling about breaking down when seeing former players Peter Orr and Matt Logan.
He did lead the dais in zings — no easy feat with Morris on the stage.
“We didn’t have anyone to play, we didn’t have a park to practice — we had the SkyDome,” Wilson said, who credited former Blue Jays Canadian scouting director Byckowski for getting the Ontario Blue Jays into the Four Nations Cup along with Team Australia, Team USA and the Canadian Junior Team.
“We played Team USA and beat them,” Wilson stated.
Reliever Gratton came on in relief of starter Tim Goheen (Proctor Station) with two out in the fifth, the score tied at three and the bases loaded, to face Ankiel, who the Cardinals had selected in the second round that June. Gratton got Ankiel to ground out ending the threat. Mike Hook scored the winning run in a 4-3 victory. Wilson’s win came without Peter Orr, a Texas Rangers draft pick out with a swollen foot.
Not that this was serious business but right-fielder Chris Green make his return from a broken bone in his right hand, cutting the cast off before the game.
Then, the Ontario Blue Jays played the Canadian Junior National team.
Now, along about here facts mesh with fiction and memories.
“Our guys couldn’t make the Canadian team … so they said,” Wilson said. “We played them at the SkyDome and beat them … beat them easy.”
(Fact is since the Ontario Blue Jays were an outlaws in the eyes of the OBA and Baseball Canada, the players were not eligible. Scott Thorman was the first Ontario Blue Jay to play for Team Canada in 1999.)
Wilson’s team won 8-4.
“Matt Logan hit a home run and rounding first base he yelled at Justin Morneau, gave him what for,” Wilson said.
(Logan homered and hit a two-run double, but it was Trent Kitsch playing first for Canada, while Morneau did not play until 1999. We don’t have any doubt Logan hooted.)
Darin Wahl (Waterloo, Ont.) drove in three runs too with a single, double and a fly ball as Sean Light (Kingston, Ont. — Canada’s first capital) worked 5 2/3 innings for the win. Reggie Laplante(Beauport, Que.) took the loss. Doug Vandecaveye (Tillbury, Ont.) hit a two-run triple, while Mike Eskilden (Maple Ridge, BC) doubled.
The win bumped the Ontario Blue Jays record to 57-14.
Murray pitched a five-hitter to defeat Detroit Concealed Concrete 4-2 for a return trip to Farmington, N.M. Quinn Peel (Manotick, Ont.) homered while Jon McGinn (Burlington, Ont.) and Chatham’s Paul Brown (Chatham, Ont.) had two hits apiece in the final of the North Central regionals at Kalamazoo, Mich., on the weekend. Adam Brayson (Burlington) and McGinn were the leading hitters as both batted .700 in the six-game tournament.
Murray also beat Ottawa, Ill., 9-1, Light had a pair of victories in the tournament as well, beating Mills, Ohio, 11-1 in the opener and Cleveland 9-1 in the semi-final. Kris Ehmke (Peterborough, Ont.) beat Battle Creek, Mich., 9-8 as Logan had three hits and Hook two. Goheen beat Detroit 11-1.
Craig Hawkins (Brampton) was tagged with the loss against Kalamazoo.
“I really shouldn’t be sitting up here, Bill Byckowski had a vision for this, he deserves the credit — but I’m not giving him this honor,” said Wilson. “I guess you guys are back in good with the OBA. If I was still running this you wouldn’t be in the OBA.”
Guest speaker Jack Morrisgave an excellent speech.
He began by explaining how he awoke that morning in Hartford, Conn. where he was at Pete Walker’s coach’s clinic along with Morris flew into Toronto from Hartford where he spoke at a coaching clinic for Jays pitching coach. Also on hand were former Jays coaches Torey Lovullo(now with the Boston Red Sox) and Kevin Seitzer (now with the Atlanta Braves).
And how he flew into Toronto only to suddenly realize it was his wedding anniversary?
He called home and it went like this:
“Honey I have this commitment, I can’t get out of, I’ll make it up to you, is there anything … anything at all I can pick up for you?”
“Yes. A divorce.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on spending that much money.”
As the laughter died down Morris said he heard the joke once before and explained although it wasn’t true, it was too good a story not to tell.
Morris told the young players that should be more appreciative towards their parents. Hand out a few more thank yous to Ma and Pa. And your coaches.
“I didn’t do it enough as a child,” Morris said. “I’d hug my mom and say “I’m going to be a star,’ and she’s say ‘that’s nice, keep working.’ Think about this … coaches are giving their time. They’re not benefitting themselves by any of this — so listen to this.”
The Blue Jays first 20-game winner said that young players should aim to be the best teammate they can be.
He asked do they want to be a bad guy who was a great player who fizzled out at the next level?
“Or do you want to be remembered as a guy who was a great teammate for the rest of your life?” Morris asked. “Some of you are going to go on and play pro ball. Some of you are going to go on and play college and some are not going to go anywhere. But everyone has the chance to be a great teammate.”
Morris said he is impressed at how much the game has grown in Canada to the point where Canuck players are getting the same chance as “kids in the states” and asked “where is it going to be in 20 years?”
Having played alongside Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Alomar, Morris said “God-given talent” can only get a player so far … and all the great ones are smart players, students of the game.
“You know the guy who is a little better than you … watch him, watch the best players on the other team, great players,” said Morris, “have the capacity to learn.”
Morris said he knew he was in Toronto when he saw a Wayne Gretzky jersey being auctioned off at a baseball banquet and said “your son has a better future in baseball than he does in hockey. He said if a player can do two things of run, hit, field and throw and do them well, he has a chance.
After pitching two seasons for the Jays, he was back in 2013 to partner with Jerry Howarth in the broadcast booth.
“Everyone would ask ‘so how did you get along with Jerry?’ Jerry and I got along well to the point we are friends,” Morris said. He returned to the Twins booth last season. This year he will be doing some Twins games as well as Detroit Tigers and maybe even fill-in with the Jays.
Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar fielded the Q@A’s from coach Dino Roumel, MC and coach of the year.
Alomar said he came to Toronto for the home opener 1991 “and I’m still here,” with his wife Kim and new baby.
It wasn’t an easy path for Alomar even if he was a son of Sandy Alomar, who played 15 years in the majors and grew up with his older brother Sandy Alomar, Jr.hanging around major-league clubhouse in the summer.
“I came to the U.S. when I was 17, I didn’t know how to speak English, I was afraid, I was earning $600 a month, barely enough to pay the rent and eat,” Alomar told the crowd. “But if you want to pursue your dream … you know your dream is not coming to you — you have to go where your dream is.”
“I phoned my father to ask for advice,” Alomar said.
Poppy Alomar replied: “It’s a great city, an excellent team, you are going to love it.”
And father knew best.
“It helped,” said Alomar with an impish smile, “that I played good.”
And in 2011 the Hall of Famers sat behind Alomar as he gave his induction speech.
“I was so proud to look out see my mother, my father, sister and brother in the crowd and all the people from Canada and Puerto Rico,” Alomar said. “I was so happy I chose a Blue Jays cap for my plaque.”
Roumel asked if Alomar had seen Dennis Eckersley in Cooperstown. Eckersley struck out pinch hitter Ed Sprague to end the eighth with a man on second and then fired an imaginary six-shooter into the Blue Jays dugout. After Mike Timlin worked a scoreless eighth, Eckersley allowed a lead-off single to Devon White and Alomar launched a no doubter on a 2-2 pitch to right. Alomar flung both hands over his head in celebration ,.. perhaps you’ve seen it on the highlight reels.
“Dennis asked me ‘why did you do what you did? You showed me up,’” related Alomar. “So I asked him ‘why did you do what you did? You showed our team up.’”
Alumni pro player of the year
2B Malik Collymore (Mississauga, Ont.)
Drafted by: St. Louis Cardinals, 10th round, 2013.
Scout: Charles Peterson.
Coached by: Dan Bleiwas, Sean Travers.
2014: Rookie-Class Gulf Coast Cardinals (.333 59-for-177, seven doubles, eight triples, one homer, 34 RBIs, 9-for-14 stealing bases .883 OPS).
Alumni college player of the year
SS Daniel Pinero (Toronto, Ont.)
Drafted by: Houston Astros 20th round, 2013.
Coached by: Dan Bleiwas, Sean Travers.
2014: Earned third-Team All-ACC honoree at shortstop, Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, All-ACC Academic Baseball Team and Second Team Canadian Baseball Network Second Team honors.
Started 68 of UVa’s 69 games at shortstop, made nine errors in 274 chances (.967 fielding percentage) and was the first UVa freshman to start season opener at shortstop since Mark Reynolds in 2002, hit .250 (13-for-52) in NCAA tournament; was 6-for-12 with team-high six runs scored in super regional vs. Maryland and was 4-for-14 in CWS Finals against Vanderbilt, including three-hit day in Game 1. Hit .261 with six doubles, 22 RBIs, was 10-for-13 stealing bases.
RHP Brandon Catena (Mississauga, Ont.).
Coached by: Dan Bleiwas.
Finished the season with 28 scoreless innings.
Has committed to Garrett College in McHenry, Md.
Pitcher of the year
LHP Riley Hoover (Newmarket, Ont.) Ontario Blue Jays 17s.
Coached by: Dino Roumel.
Went 13-0 with a sub 3.00 ERA.
Player of the year
INF Zachary Orchard (Cambridge, Ont.) Ontario Blue Jays 18s.
Started as a catcher before coming a second baseman.
Batted .414 with two homers, 57 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.
Attending Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles.
Coach of the year
Dino Roumel (Guelph, Ont.) Ontario Blue Jays 17s.
Team went 41-14 and came within an out of making the AAU nationals.
Dan Bleiwas, Mike Steed, Kevin Mitchell, Milt Nikkel, Taylor Fredrick.
Colin Tyler, Brock Wilimek, Paul McKeegan, Steve Wilson.
Dino Roumel, Doug Dimma, Joe DaCosta, Lawrence Collymore.
Sean Travers, Mike Siena, Pat Visca Richard Clemons
Joey Ellison, Adam Cholewka, Brandon Dhue, Todd Simmons.