This Friday, the Colorado Rockies will be honouring their team that won the National League Championship Series when they host the San Diego Padres at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. Among those players who will be remembered is Jeff Francis of Vancouver, British Columbia.
I first watched Jeff pitch at the 1998 Baseball Canada Cup in Stonewall, Manitoba while representing Team British Columbia. I was then down in Tucson with the 1999 Canadian National Junior Team, and was able to see his dominance on the mound in front of impressed Major League Baseball scouts. I remember one scout from the Pittsburgh Pirates turned to me and say that this guy could make it to the big leagues.
In 1999, the Canadian National Junior Team was loaded. It included Justin Morneau and Russell Martin. However Baseball Canada decided to play an eight game exhibition against the United States rather than travel for qualifying in South America and then the 1999 World Junior Baseball Championship in Taiwan. Later that summer, I watched Francis again one more time live at the 1999 Canadian National Baseball Championships in Red Deer.
Unlike most high performance Canadian baseball players, who went the NCAA or American junior college route, Francis stayed in Canada for his schooling and attended the University of British Columbia. He was then selected in the first round, ninth overall, by the Colorado Rockies in the 2002 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Francis’s best season in the Major Leagues happened to be in 2007, the same year the Rockies went to the World Series before losing to the Boston Red Sox. That season, he posted a record of 17 wins and nine losses with a respectable earned run average of 4.22.
During Francis’s six years with the Rockies, his earned run average was never particularly low. It was always in the four to five range. One explanation I have regarding this matter is it would have been interesting to see Francis play that same period of time in a pitcher’s friendly baseball park rather than a hitter’s friendly baseball park like Coors Field. In Denver, it has always been a hitter’s park because of the high altitude.
In 2009, Francis had left shoulder surgery and missed the entire season. The surgery was unfortunate timing for Team Canada, as Francis was expected to anchor the Canadian pitching staff at the second World Baseball Classic.
Francis continued to pitch but unfortunately did not have the same success. In 2010, Francis played for the Kansas City Royals, followed by a second term in Colorado, the Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays from 2011 to 2015. Over the last six years of his Major League Baseball career, Francis never seemed to have the same command with his fastball and was not as dominant as he was when I first saw him pitch.
However before Francis left baseball altogether, he returned to Baseball Canada and lead Canada to a gold medal over the United States at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. The gold medal Francis could not get with Team Canada at the beginning and middle of his career, he got at the end.