Friday, December 13, 2013
August 13- Canada World Baseball Classic
I’ve been to Canada three times in my life. The first time was when I was 19-years-old. My girlfriend at the time and I traveled north to Vancouver, B.C. for a weekend of boozery and gambling. What ended up happening is that I became violently ill after the first night, but still partied through the pain. When we got back to Vancouver, Washington I dropped by the doctors office to see what was wrong with me after my fever of 104 degrees wouldn’t go away and because I was actually pissing orange. At first my doctor thought I had contracted hepatitis, but I lucked out and only had a wicked case of mononucleosis.
The second time I ventured up was in during late August of 2009 when my then-girlfriend took a job teaching German at an immersion school in Anchorage, Alaska. She didn’t have a lot of stuff to move, but we managed to get it all into her Ford Focus and drive all the way from Eugene, Oregon to her new place. It took us four days and close to 3,000 miles to make it through some of the mostly uninhabited, yet strangely beautiful country that I never in my life imagined that I would have ever visited. It took me four-and-a-half hours to fly back to Portland and she promptly broke up with me less than three weeks later. Needless to say, my experiences with Canada were not exactly the most riveting.
My last trip came in late July of 2012 when I flew into Toronto to meet up with my friend, and fellow MLB Fan Cave hopeful Dave Barclay (@DaveBarc). I stayed with him and his wife Krista for about six days and took in four Toronto Blue Jays games, two against my Oakland Athletics and two against my friend, and another Fan Cave hopeful Jay Tuohey’s (@TheRoar_24) Detroit Tigers before I headed east to Montreal to visit my good friend Dave Kaufman (@TheKaufmanShow) for a week. In short, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
My time in Toronto felt like it flew by way faster than it did. The first leg of my journey started at the airport when I was almost not allowed into the country. Due to the fact that I was staying for such a long period of time, leaving the country by car with Dave and looking the way I do made a few people in customs a bit suspicious of my trip. It wasn’t until I fibbed a little bit and said that I worked for Major League Baseball that they started to come around and understand what I was doing. Due to the fact that the Expos no longer play in Montreal it caused a bit of red flag. I had to explain to them that I was writing a book on Olympic Stadium and the culture of baseball in Eastern Canada before they finally understood my purpose for being their. After an hour-and-a-half delay I received my stamp and approval and I made my way to baggage claim and then on out to Dave’s car as we had to then haul ass to the Rogers Centre for that night’s game against the Athletics. Thank God we made it too, as that was the game when Josh Reddick pulled off the Spiderman catch to rob Travis Snyder of a home run and the Blue Jays suffered their biggest home loss (0-16) in franchise history. I was left grinning…
Dave had a bit of sad face.
The next game I went to solo, but met up with a fellow Athletics fan from Canada named Brad Baker (@Beleaf33).
We both managed to score tickets right behind the visiting (Athletics) dugout, but our seats were a ways apart. Oddly enough, a few of the Blue Jays fans in the surrounding seats pointed out that there were two empty seats together and invited us to sit together, because Canadians are too damn nice! I met up with Jonny Gomes before the game started and a few of the other players were shocked to not only see me outside of Oakland, but in another country.
I explained to them that I had it planned out in advance all around catching the last two games of the series which helped their morale quite a bit. As everyone took their place on the field I headed back to my seat where I was stopped by two of the ushers asking me if I was the guy from the Fan Cave. I smiled and said yes and we chatted for a bit about it. To be honest, most of my time in Toronto at Rogers Centre was met with people stopping to take photos with me and to ask about my experience. I don’t say any of this to brag, I honestly am humbled by all of it and was very appreciative of everyone who paid attention to what I had done and all the support they had and still give me. When I got back to my seat it was time for the National Anthems. Because we were in Canada they started with the Star-Spangled Banner, which the singer flew through because, well… it’s Canada. I sang along with it as I usually do and gave a sporting cheer afterward. Then, it was time for Oh Canada. I know this sounds weird coming from someone from the United States, but I actually really enjoy Canada’s anthem. I love it even more because everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, sings along with it. There’s no shame in not singing your anthem, but it’s kind of telling how a culture is based on how many people are involved with something that seems insignificant. And to be honest, I sang along too. I’ve sung for all of my life, believe it or not, and Oh Canada is one of those songs that has a wonderful harmony and movement that is almost irresistible to resist singing to. More important, it’s truly inspiring. Don’t believe me, check out this video from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. Chilling.
One point from this game that I’ll never forget is when I was standing in line for a beer and I met up with one of my now friends Seth Ehrenberg (@SethE19) for the first time. Seth is a marketing rep for New Era and one of the biggest reasons why I’ve developed such a close bond with the company, let alone had the chance to visit their headquarters in Buffalo, New York twice. After our chance meeting I ran into another friend, Jeff Sammut (@JeffSammut590), who is one of the regular sports talk guys on 590 Sportsnet in Toronto who has had me on his show numerous times as a baseball correspondent over the last year. Unfortunately, the Athletics were only able to take two out of the three games in that series, and after the loss in the final game I took to the streets of Toronto with a few random fans I met at the game and got absolutely plastered. Luckily I was able to sober up to meet up with Dave and his friend Matt to help make one of his Fan Cave correspondent videos he had been working on before and after his run. Here it is if you want to check it out. It’s pretty funny, except for me.
The rest of my time was filled with swapping stories with Dave and his wife, checking out a modernized Shakespeare in the Park production of “A Midsummer Night’s Tale” along with Jay before we all headed out to the Tigers/Blue Jays game the next day. I had also happened to catch the first game of the series with a few friends I had made while I was in New York, Kenneth Tan (@ktan09) and Eric Hartman (@EricHartman).
Eric, Kenneth, Me
I also ran into a few others I met through Twitter, Steven P (@stevenact4) and another dude whose name escapes me at the moment.
A few things I do remember from my time with Kenneth and Eric is that we got thoroughly hammered, saw Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hit back-to-back home runs for only the second time that season, Eric won a gift card to Boston Pizza during the game and was shown on the Jumbotron
and I lost my only source of spending (my debit card) at said Boston Pizza after the game. Luckily I found it two days later. As for the game with Dave, Jay and Jay’s dad, shenanigans definitely ensued.
On my final day in the big city before catching the train to Montreal, Dave invited Jay over so that he and I could be guests on his MLB podcast that he does with his friend Paul Frank (@pwgfrank) called Sunday Afternoon Baseball with Paul & Dave (@SABwithPaulDave).
Paul, Me, Dave
Bias aside, it’s one of the best, funniest baseball podcasts available which takes place during every Sunday Blue Jays game and features scores of guests all impersonated perfectly by Paul. I highly recommend it. As soon as we wrapped things up we all said our goodbyes and Jay and I caught the bus to the train station so he could bid me a fond farewell… and also because his hotel was right across the street from the station. Our adventure would continue in a month when I headed to Detroit, but I’ll save those stories for later posts. For now, I was on my way to Montreal.
The train took about four hours to get there, but I was beyond stoked to finally land in a city that I had been wanting to visit since I was kid. Granted, I wanted to see the Expos play, but with that no longer and option I was equally satisfied with being able to spend time with my friend Dave Kaufman on his home turf. And Dave, being the gracious host that he is, kicked things off by taking me to a local pub called Grumpy’s for a few rounds and some pub trivia hosted by his good friend Amy Luft (@amyluft). Normally I’m really good at bar trivia; however, I felt an immediate bias due to the fact that at least two of the rounds focused heavily on landmarks and history around Montreal. I call those rounds my “Ryan Leaf moment.” Other than that, I held my own as Buck Rodgers judged me from above.
Dave took me all over the city and introduced me to a culinary staple of Quebec culture known as poutine at one of the more famous spots called La Banquise. If you don’t know, it’s basically french fries with brown gravy and cheese curds. You can also add various meats like bacon to it like we both did, but I could only woof down about half of mine before the richness of it. One thing that I will never forget about La Banquise in the three trips that we made there (twice whilst intoxicated) is that I was absolutely infatuated with one of the waitresses working there. I don’t speak French, so I was pretty much dead in the water from the start, but she easily could have been a model for Suicide Girls. I am much happier in my current relationship, but this story would have less accurate if I left this detail out. As far as other culinary delights are concerned, the best part of the trip came when Dave took me to Schwartz’s for a smoked meat sandwich which can only be perfectly paired with a black cherry soda. Needless to say, I still have wet dreams about this sandwich.
Dave and I had become acquainted back in February of 2012 when he first had me as a guest on his weekly radio show The Kaufman Show on TSN 990 in Montreal. During my time in the Fan Cave I became his weekly correspondent after we finally met in person when he had paid a visit to New York to catch Bruce Springsteen in concert, a detail that will be brought up again in a not-too-distant post. Our mutual love and sadness for the Expos is what brought us together in the first place and it is definitely what motivated me to go up and visit him.
It took a few days, but we finally made it out to the Big O sometime around midnight on a week night. I wasn’t in any kind of rush, it’s not like it was going anywhere…
Sort of. I found this chunk lying on the ground and definitely held onto it. I had never felt compelled to ever want a piece of a stadium, but I knew this one would carry a lot of significance based on the fact that I never had a chance to see the Expos play inside. Most of our experience that night I wrote about on February 16th for my Gary Carter tribute piece, but what I may have left out is that in that moment, as an Expos fan, I was happiest. I had never grown up or had other friends who were Expos fans, nor could they have ever understood the loss of that team quite like Dave had. Being with someone who had gone through it all could have only been rivaled by the final Expos game played in the Big O on September 29, 2004 which ironically occurred against the Florida Marlins. Just listening to Dave’s stories about the 1994 season, Vladimir Guerrero’s bid for 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases and the moments he shared with his friends and family, good or bad, was all I needed.
One thing that Dave surprised me with (twice) was entrance and media passes to OSHEAGA, a three-day music festival that took place in Montreal. Dave had mentioned it in passing well before I got there, but I didn’t really understand how big of a deal it was until I saw the lineup: Snoop Dogg (his second appearance as Snoop Lion), The Black Keys, the Arkells, Garbage, Fun., Bloc Party, Justice, The Shins and a hell of a lot more. Like I said, three days.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of going to live shows, mostly for he sake of price gouging and so many people “all up in your business;” however, since this was an outdoor event it made things way more tolerable, plus with backstage passes food and drinks are like half the price. I got thoroughly bombed on Day 2.
One of the other really cool aspects of being up in Canada during this time period was because the Olympics had just kicked off. Having been in the US for every Olympics it was interesting to get a different take on the summer games in a different country. And yes, even in Canada things are vastly different. See, during the winter games the Canadians obviously own the US when it comes to medals, but during the summer it’s the other way around. So when the Canadians win anything (mostly bronze) it’s a huge deal. I found it to be way more fulfilling than all the years of watching in the US and how it’s almost a failure if we don’t win gold in a particular event. Not to mention, having the pleasure of Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole as the lead anchors is hands down better than anything that the States could have put together. You can blame Dick Ebersol on the one.
Toward the end of our time together Dave and I took a leisure day and drove south down to the States to take in something that I had never had a chance to experience: the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
We combed every inch of the three story building and even met up with one of the museum’s historians to set up a possible second so that we could go through the archives to check out all the Expos stuff that wasn’t on display. That meeting altogether was interesting because it ended with him saying that I should submit photos of my tattoos to get added to the collection. It’s been a year-and-a-half and I still haven’t done it. Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s not finished. After our tour we took to the street to do some shopping. I of course bought a few hats at one of my favorite shops I routinely purchase from online, Mickey’s Place.
All in all, we had a great time. There are very few people in my life who I could have shared that experience with on the same level, and Dave is certainly one of those people.
The last days I was able to enjoy in Montreal ended on the best note possible. I made my last in studio appearance on The Kaufman Show along with Nick Dika (@NickDika), the bass player for The Arkells and Brad Ferguson (@LeftOffBase), a tour manager and sound engineer who I befriended through Dave and Nick. Brad I wrote about in my Buffalo Bisons post on June 24th as we happened to be at the same game while I was on my New Era trip.
Me, Dave, Brad, Nick
The reason why the four of us were together that night was because we were heading the US the next day to catch the Texas Rangers play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, which turned out to be Nick’s and my first Fenway experience. So, like the responsible people that we are, we hit a bar and got thoroughly toasty on my final night in Canada.
As luck would have it my friend Tarn MacArthur, a graduate student at the University of Oregon from Montreal, happened to be visiting home on the same night.
Seriously, I couldn’t have had a better experience.
We packed up Dave’s car the next morning and drove over to his mother’s place to borrow her SUV for the trip. Dave and Nick were the only two driving back into Canada as Brad was catching a flight out of Boston and I was meeting up with my good friend Neil Beschle at Fenway to which I would be crashing with him in Worchester, Massachusetts for the next week. When we got to Dave’s mom’s place I helped load all of our belongings into the back while Dave talked to his mom and gave her his car keys for the duration. Before we left his mom made mention to one of us forgetting a sleeping bag; however, none of us actually had a sleeping bag so we dismissed it. Little did I know, this moment would come to bite me in the ass hard. But… that story will wait for another post.
Based on my previous two trips to Canada, this particular trip was obviously a million times better. But on a grand scale of life accomplishments, this trip ranks in the top-10. I’ve always done what I could to get out and explore the world and all the people that I met along the way to make it possible are the sole reason why my time up north was so praiseworthy. Canada has produced some fine people, and Dave and Dave are certainly two of the best I have the honor of calling my friends.
On an additional note, as long as I can make it, Dave Kaufman scored me a ticket to the second game of the Blue Jays versus the New York Mets exhibition games at Olympic Stadium. I can finally now make that dream of seeing big league baseball at the Big O a reality. Thank you so much Dave.
And now, the hat…
This cap has been a fixture of the Canadian World Baseball Classic Team since the first tournament in 2006. I had been meaning to pick it up for a number of years, but kept letting it slide until my trip to Buffalo. Derick Chartrand (@lekid26), is one of the #CrewEra13 members who was invited to Buffalo as part of the New Era Fan Appreciation event. Derick is from Montreal and had never left the country, let alone flown on an airplane until that trip. A fellow die-hard Expos fan, we became friends very fast, much like the rest of the group with one another, but with Derick we had a little bit tighter of a bond because of the Expos fanship.
When the time came for us to go on a shopping spree in the Flagship Store I found myself a little befuddled on what caps to get with so many options to choose from. Naturally, Derick suggested the Canadian WBC cap. I didn’t have a good reason not to get it, so… I locked it up, and have very happy with the decision since. All that was left to do was come up with some numbers.
4- Pete Orr was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario, attended high school Newmarket and has the distinction of being the only player to appear on the roster for all three times Canada has played in the WBC. Orr attended Galveston Community College in Galveston, Texas and was a 39th round draft pick of the Rangers in 1998 (1187th overall), spending one year there before signing with the Atlanta Braves on July 3, 1999.
Orr spent his first professional season with Short-Season Jamestown Jammers of the New York-Penn League in 2000, hitting .242 with two homers, 15 RBIs and 40 runs scored in 69 games. He hit .233 with four homers, 23 RBIs and 38 runs scored in 92 games with the Advanced-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Carolina League in 2001. In 2002 he spent most of the season with the Double-A Greenville Braves of the Southern League, hitting .249 with two homers, 36 RBIs and 36 runs scored in 89 games. He also hit .392 with eight RBIs in 17 games with Myrtle Beach. Orr spent the 2003 season with AA Greenville, batting .226 with two homers and 31 RBIs in 98 games. He was named a Southern League Baseball America AA All-Star. He established career highs in average, .320, hits, 147, doubles, 16, triples, 10, stolen bases, 24 and runs scored 69. His .320 batting average and 24 stolen bases led the AAA Richmond Braves in 2004. He was selected to play in the International League All-Star game. He was named International League April Player of the Month, posting a .381 batting average with four doubles, one triple and five RBIs. He ranked fifth in the IL and fourth among Braves Minor Leaguers in average, tied second in the IL and led Braves Minor Leaguers in triples, tied for sixth in the IL and led Braves Minor Leaguers in hits and tied for seventh among Braves Minor Leaguers in stolen bases. Orr won the Bill Lucas Award as the player who best represents the Braves organization on and off the field by the 400 Club. He was also part of Team Canada who finished in fourth place at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Orr made his Major League debut for the Braves on April 5, 2005. He proved to be a versatile player, playing second base, third base, and various outfield positions during the 2005 season. Orr was optioned to AAA Richmond on July 5, 2007, when the Braves called up Jo-Jo Reyes from Triple-A Richmond to make his Major League debut. He was brought up again on August 27. He was designated for assignment by the Braves on November 20, 2007, and was released on November 28, 2007.
In December 2007, Orr signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals and on June 21, 2008, his contract was selected by the Nationals along with right-handed pitcher Steven Shell. On October 30, 2008, Orr rejected his assignment to AAA and became a free agent. However, he returned to the team two weeks later, signing a minor league deal, playing with the Syracuse Chiefs in the International League, with a chance to earn a spot on the team in the spring.
On November 11, 2010, Orr signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. During spring training play, he led the major leagues in triples, with 5, subsequently becoming a member of the team's Opening Day roster. After spending the 2011 season with both the Phillies and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, their AAA affiliate, he became a free agent on October 18. On November 3, Orr re-signed a minor league contract with the Phillies, receiving an invite to spring training. He was again included on the team's Opening Day roster at the onset of the 2012 season.
11- Arguably one of the greatest names in baseball history, Stubby Clapp is a hitting coach with the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays and is a former player who was a member of the 2006 and 2009 WBC teams and the 2004 Olympic team. He played for 11 years, most notably within the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including a brief stint in the Majors with the Cardinals. In his native Canada, he is best remembered for his performance at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, where he slapped a bases-loaded single in the 11th inning to beat a more experienced U.S. team and put Canada in the semifinals. Canada eventually won bronze medal. Clapp graduated from Texas Tech University, where he played for the Red Raiders baseball team. He still holds (or shares) the Red Raiders' records for triples in a season (eight), runs in game (five, three times), strikeouts in a game (four) and walks in a season (66), both set during the 1996 season. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 36th round (1,058th overall) of 1996 amateur entry draft. In 1998, when playing for the AA Arkansas Travelers he led the league with 86 walks and 139 games played. He remains popular among Travelers fans to this day.
In 2000, he led the AAA Memphis Redbirds with 138 hits, 89 runs, 80 walks, eight triples, and six sacrifice hits. He became a popular figure in the City of Memphis during his four-year stint (1999-2002). He was often referred to as the "Mayor of Memphis." During the 2002 season, the 5-foot-8 Clapp was featured on a growth chart for kids, sponsored by a Memphis-area medical group. In 2009, he was named one of the Memphis "Athletes of the Decade." In 2010, the club had "Ode to Clapping Night," which included giving away Clapp bobbleheads. In 911 minor league games, Clapp had a .270 batting average, 48 home runs, 50 triples, 196 doubles, 365 RBI, and 83 steals. Clapp also pitched in three games. In 2.1 innings, Clapp has given up two hits and no earned runs.
His Major League career only lasted 23 games for the Cardinals in 2001 in which he hit right at the Mendoza line (.200) with five hits total, two of which were doubles and he only batted in one run. On April 21, 2007, Clapp's jersey #10 was the first number ever retired by the Redbirds. This is commemorated by a painted "10" on the wall above the Redbirds' bullpen at AutoZone Park. He is second all-time for the Memphis Redbirds for games played (425) and hits (418).
Clapp began his coaching career as a hitting coach for the Lexington Legends, the Houston Astros Class-A team in the South Atlantic League. He came out of retirement to represent Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In November 2010, Clapp became the hitting coach for the Corpus Christi Hooks, Houston's AA affiliate and then managed the Tri-City ValleyCats, another Class-A affiliate of the Astros, during the 2011 and 2012 seasons before taking his current position in Dunedin in January of 2013.
12- If I had to make an assertion on who the greatest Canadian baseball player of all-time is, you better believe that 10 times out of 10 I’m rolling with Matt Stairs.
Growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Stairs showed athletic ability at an early age, playing Beaver League baseball a year before his age eligibility and excelling in hockey. After playing Bantam & Midget baseball, at age 16 and 17, he played for the local Marysville Royals of the New Brunswick Senior Baseball League and was voted "Rookie of The Year" in 1984 and the league's Most Valuable Player in 1985. He was also named Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League MVP in 1987 and '88 while playing for the Fredericton Schooners. He attended the National Baseball Institute (NBI) in Vancouver, British Columbia for one year and played for Canada at the 1987 World Amateur Championships in Italy where he was named to the "World All-Star" team. In 1988, he joined the Canadian Junior National team after graduating from Fredericton High School. From there he went on to play for the Canadian Olympic Team at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. On January 17, 1989, Stairs was signed as an international free agent by the Expos.
Stairs, in all fairness, was a bit of a journeyman. In fact, he holds the record for most teams played for as a position player at 12, but technically 13 as he played for the Expos and the Nationals at different stages of his career. Octavio Dotel holds the record for pitchers at 13 as well. For 19 seasons Stairs “turned many cloaks” with the Expos (1992-1993), Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese League (1994), Red Sox (1995), Athletics (1996-2000), Chicago Cubs (2001), Milwaukee Brewers (2002), Pittsburgh Pirates (2003), Kansas City Royals (2004-2006), Rangers (2006), Tigers (2006), Blue Jays (2007-2008), Phillies (2008-2009), San Diego Padres (2010) and the Nationals (2011).
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember too much from his time with the Expos as I was nine and 10-years-old, but I’ll never forget him crushing dingers with the Athletics. His longest stint with any team happened to come in Oakland when he played in 632 games in five seasons. He hit .268 with 122 home runs and 385 RBI. Tow of those seasons (1998 and 1999) featured him hitting 26 home runs and 106 RBI and 38 home runs with 102 RBI respectively. Both the top home runs and RBI totals are career highs. Stairs finished 17th overall for the American League MVP in 1999. In his July 5, 1996 debut with Oakland, Stairs tied a major league record with six runs batted in during one inning. That first inning performance included a grand slam and a two-run single. This was subsequently broken by Fernando Tatis on April 23, 1999. The only reason why Stairs never stayed with the Athletics is due to cost-cutting. I know, nothing about that is surprising. What is fortunate for Stairs is that he eventually bounced around to a team at the most ideal time, the Phillies in 2008 when they won the World Series. It would be the only time that Stairs would get a ring let alone be on a team in the World Series.
When he retired in 2011 he had a .263 average, 265 home runs and 897 RBI and a World Series and the record for most pinch hit home runs (23) to his name. He was also a member of the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic team, one of only a small handful of guys to be on multiple teams on top of having played in the Olympics in 1988. Noted baseball analysts Bill James and Joe Posnanski have theorized that Stairs is probably a far more talented hitter than his career stats suggest. Stairs didn't have 500 plate appearances until age 29, at which point he recorded 100 RBI seasons and an adjusted OPS of over 130 two years in a row- and never saw 500 at-bats again. James contends, "You put him in the right park, right position early in his career ... he's going to hit a LOT of bombs." Possibly, Posnanski contends, enough to be have been worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.