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By Bob Elliott
LANGLEY, BC _ Reggie Smith was with Team USA for the first two World Baseball Classics in 2006 and 2009.
He was the hitting coach at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg in 1999.
He saw Canada up close around the world.
He knew which hitters to fear.
“Yeah we used to think start a lefty against Canada … and we’d be OK,” said Smith, one of the guest instructors at the BC coaching convention. “Didn’t matter. Their left-handers could hit our left-handers. We could handle Cuba, but we had trouble with Canada.”
Smith played 17 years in the majors with the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers before becoming a hitting coach, first with LA and then with USA Baseball.
And Smith saw some tough left-handed hitters over the years wearing red and white from 1999 to 2009: like Ryan Radmanovich, Aaron Guiel, Pete LaForest, Joey Votto, Justin Morneau, Matt Stairs, Jason Bay, Michael Saunders, Nick Weglarz and Jimmy Van Ostrand.
“We had tremendous respect for all their big guys, but the toughest out for us?” Smith repeated. “Stubby Clapp.
“He was a real blue-collar player. We spent more time talking about how to get him out than anyone else in their lineup. We treated Clapp the way other teams treated Willie Mays with the San Francisco Giants or Ernie Banks with the Chicago Cubs.”
And it all started in Winnipeg.
Clapp (Windsor, Ont.), a St. Louis minor-leaguer with triple-A Memphis, a 36th-round draft pick, had the game-winning hit in the 11th inning as Canada upset Team USA 7-6.
Clapp stood 5-foot-8 when he stepped into the batter’s box, but “felt a little bit bigger,” after hit base hit. Canada lost 3-2 to Cuba but then beat Mexico 9-2 to win bronze.
Smith was speaking during a break in the action at the annual BC Coaches convention at the Langley Events Centre.
Former Blue Jays Lloyd Moseby and Rance Mulliniks were teaching and instructing, along with Smith Baseball Canada’s director of national teams Greg Hamilton, Chicago’s Peter Caliendo of USA Baseball; Ron Davini of Tempe, Az., former Team USA Coach; Seattle’s Pete Wilkinson; Rick Johnston of The Baseball Zone in Mississauga; Randy Town, a college coach in California and born in Vancouver; Marty Lehn former team Canada coach, who runs Big League Experience camp in Canada; Vancouver’s Matt Holtzman and Dave Empey, who coached the likes of Ryan Dempster, James Paxton and Simon Pond were on the rosterMike Kelly rounded up.
Besides the game winner against USA in Winnipeg, Clapp hit .348 in Winnipeg
Canada lost 5-2 to Team USA at the 2005 Regional Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Phoenix, Az.
Clapp hit .267 with a triple, an RBI as Canada beat Team USA 8-6 in the first WBC in 2006. Team USA sent lefty Dontrelle Willis to the mound against Canada. Left-handed hitters Adam Stern, Aaron Guiel and Clapp all tripled off Willis.
The Canucks scored five runs on six hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings on the way to an 8-0 lead and an 8-6 upset victory over a USA lineup consisting of Michael Young, Derek Jeter, Chase Utley, Ken Griffey, Dereck Lee, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Vernon Wells, Jason Varitek and Matt Holliday,
“Willis was never the same after that,” said Smith.
At the 2006 Americas Olympic qualifying tournament Clapp hit .270 (going 10-for-37) with seven walks and two stolen bases as Team USA beat Canada 9-3.
And in Bejing, USA edged Canada 5-4. Clapp hit .286 and scored five times at the Olympic Games.
“He was a hard-nosed player. Players loved him. He did not make it easy on us and I respect that.”
Clapp was a hitting coach at class-A Dunedin last year and this season will be at double-A New Hampshire.
“The thing about the baseball — the ball doesn’t know how big the hitter is, or how tall the pitcher is,” Smith said.