British Columbia: Baseball Hotbed

British Columbia: Baseball Hotbed

Jeff Francis

With Colorado Rockies’ pitcher Jeff Francis currently in the post-season spotlight, it got me to thinking of another stud Canadian Rockies (former)ballplayer – Larry Walker – and why all these new studs (Jason Bay, Adam Loewen, Rich Harden, Justin Morneau) are coming from beautiful British Columbia.

Jeff Francis

First off, let’s talk about the aforementioned Jeff Francis. To give you loyal MUD readers a sense of just how scarce it has been for Canadian pitchers participating in baseball’s post season, here is something for you tothink about.

With the Rockies’ win in Game 1 against Arizona, Jeff Francis posted his second consecutive playoff victory of the current season as a starter for the Colorado Rockies.

It also made him the all-time leader in post season wins by a Canadian.

With his first playoff win last week against the Philadelphia Phillies, the 26-year-old southpaw pulled into a tie for all-time post-season wins by a Canadian with Toronto-born Ron Taylor (1969 Mets) and John Hiller (1972 Tigers), Victoria’s Rich Harden (2003 A’s) and Port Hope, Ontario’s Paul Quantrill (2004 Yankees).

With his 4 punchouts against the Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the NLCS, Francis became the all time canadian leader in post-season strikeouts with 12, trailed by Ontario’s Kirk McCaskill (10), Moncton, New Brunswick’s Rheal Cormier (10), and Ron Taylor (9).

British Columbia is producing a bumper crop of baseball talent. Justin Morneau of New Westminster was the most valuable player in the American League last year. Jason Bay of Trail was the rookie of the year in the National League in 2004.

The Colorado Rockies’ ace was born in Vancouver and raised in suburban Delta.

To say that it’s opened a lot of eyes that hockey is not the only sport that Canadians can play is an understatement.
A generation ago, the province currently referred to as “BC – Baseball Country” remained a backwater of the summer game. Even obviously skilled players such as Larry Walker, who could hit, catch, throw and run, missed being culled by an army of scouts.

Larry Walker

Walker was eventually signed as a free agent by the Montreal Expos. The signing bonus was $1,500 (U.S.), chump change in baseball’s high rolling world, especially by today’s standards.

The outfielder soon established himself as the greatest position player in Canadian history. That his athletic talent went unnoticed convinced baseball to include Canadians in the annual entry draft, according to Walt Burrows, the Canadian supervisor for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau.

“The thinking was: ‘How could we have missed this guy? You’d better get up there and cover the territory.’ “

Larry Walker

Burrows, who is based in suburban Victoria, says Canadians were overlooked because it was assumed they would be, at best, raw talent in need of tutoring. Not so any more.

“They’re not filler players,” he said. “They’re impact players. They’re all-stars.”

That was not always the case.

The first athlete born in British Columbia to play in the major leagues was a miner’s son from the gold-rush town of Barkerville. Bert Sincock pitched one game (42/3 innings) in 1908 before being demoted.

Forty-seven years passed before another B.C. player would get the chance.

Bob Alexander of Vancouver lasted all of nine games, recording a 1-1 pitching record.

Left-hander Ted Bowsfield of Vernon was the first to enjoy a real career, spending seven seasons in the American League with four clubs. Dave McKay of Vancouver became the first full-time position player from the province, spending eight seasons in the majors, beginning in 1975.

Most others, includingBurrows’ son, Cody, have stayed long enough for just a cup of coffee. They include right-handed pitchers Tom Harrison of Trail (one earned run in one inning pitched for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965) and Ken Crosby of New Denver (1-0 and no saves in 16 games with the Chicago Cubs).

The current crop of athletes from the province will enjoy more substantial careers, barring injury. Burrows gives credit to the B.C. Premier League, a circuit for the province’s top teenaged players, for nurturing talent.

BC Premier Baseball League

The league was launched on a shoestring budget in 1995 by two amateur baseball coaches on Vancouver Island. Dave Wallace and Clyde Inouye wanted their high-school sons, Chris and Fraser, respectively, to continue playing baseball, which at that time would have meant moving to the Lower Mainland. A five-team league on the Island has expanded to 25 teams, including junior and college squads.

About 500 graduates of the league have gone on to postsecondary studies. Morneau, Francis and Harden honed their skills in this league.

Perhaps if a similar idea was adopted nation-wide then we would see more MLB players from Canada having more of an impact? Only time will tell.

has written for Mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Callum on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram (@callumhughson)

  • http://NA Early

    I think with most Canadian sports (other than hockey) the good talent is diluted from coast to coast. The central sporting schools for teenagers require high tuitons and moving across the country. If a Newfoundlander wants to be a bobsledder he has to move to Calgary. It used to be that way in baseball. The baseball academy in Montreal was successful and popular in the 70s and 80s. Still if a young amatuer athlete isn’t willing to move to Van Isl to the lower mainland for a chance a NCAA scholarships the idea of any national amatuer non-collegiate competition (other than hockey or lacrosse) in Canada is a pipedream.

  • Canuckiwi

    Watch for another Vancouver area product to show up on the MLB baseball radar next season.
    The Toronto Blue Jays recently signed RHP Scott Richmond, after 3 impressive seasons in the NL.
    Here’s big game performer, a guy with a proven track record of consistency, durabilty, and perserverence, who until now had been overlooked by affiliated clubs.
    He played 2 seasons at Oklahoma State for the Cowboys, where in 2004, they won the Big XII Championship; Richmond pitching 81/3 innings for the 8-2 win over the #1 ranked, [and eventual #1 in the nation,] Texas Longhorns in the semi final game.
    Although he was courted by over a dozen MLB organizations in his senior year, [most had assumed that he was a US citizen,] the confusion & fallout from 9/11, plus the drastic drop in the number of visas available to foreign born players, resulted in him having to pursue his baseball career in the Independent [bush,] Leagues.
    He won back to back Pitcher of the Year awards for his team, [2006 as a reliever, and 2007 as starter,] was named starting pitcher in the Northern League All Star game, and rumor has it that the Blue Jays evaluation team were mightily impressed with his performance at their tryout in Dunedin, in September of 2007.
    At 28 yrs old, 6’5” and 225, with 4 excellent pitches in his arsenal, including a mid 90′s fastball, Richmond is exactly the mature and proven, prototypical type of power pitcher that the Blue Jays could use in their starting lineup. Look for him to move through the farm system quickly in 2008.
    Meanwhile, he will be showcasing his talent in Taiwan, as a member of the Canadian team, as they compete in the IBAF World Cup in November.

  • http://www.mopupduty.com Kman

    Low risk play as I said in my other Richmond comment. I have no problem with this particular move but I think the Jays brass needs to focus on obtaining some upside. The prospect pitchers in recent times are lower ceiling College or even low ceiling HS picks. They need to go out and try to obtain McGowan types in the draft & through trades. It goes against many of the moneyball principals for sure, yet I feel that in the East they need as many star arms as possible, not a handful of serviceable back end starters.