For baseball fans in Canada, this past weekend may have been the most exciting series of the year. With the Blue Jays not looking to contend in the tough AL East, baseball fans in Canada must look to the future for excitement. Even though the sub-.500 Blue Jays dropped two of three from the visiting .500-level San Diego Padres, the importance of the series was not found in the games won or lost but in the national pride stemming from the future of Canadian baseball being on full display.
There are only ten players hailing from Canada on a 40-man roster. San Diego is the only team with two of them. The Reds’ Joey Votto and Dodgers’ Russell Martin are clearly in the latter half of their careers. 30-year-old James Paxton (aka “The Big Maple”) threw a no-hitter in Toronto last year and would be an integral part of the Yankees rotation this year if not for his current stint on the IL. Rowan Wick has pitched in one game this year for the Cubs, Nick Pivetta has made four starts on the mound for the Phillies, and Tyler O’Neill has struggled in limited opportunities with the Cardinals. A historic start by the Braves’ 21-year-old right-hander Mike Soroka has provided fans of Canadian players a huge bright spot. His 1.07 ERA through the first 8 starts of a season is the third lowest of all time.
This series alone though featured three of the youngest, most inexperienced, yet polarizing Canadian players. We all know by now that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was manning the hot corner for the Blue Jays and is must watch TV, accounting for one of the three players with Canadian ties.
For the Padres, two Canadians were able to celebrate a homecoming, playing at Rogers Centre as major leaguers for the first time after each of them played there as part of the youth Canadian National team. In addition, each of them recorded significant milestones in their career in their native country.
Friday’s series opener featured the major league debut of the Padres’ number 9 prospect, Josh Naylor, who is from Mississauga, Ontario. In 2015, Naylor became the highest draft pick out of Canada after being selected 12th overall by the the Miami Marlins. After going hitless in his debut, Naylor settled in to collect the first three hits of his career in Saturday’s game. The 21-year-old outfielder/first baseman went 3-for-14 with a double and two RBIs over the weekend. He narrowly missed a homerun for his first career hit as the ball hit off the wall in center field as he pulled into second base for a double.
Saturday’s game featured Port Hope, Ontario native Cal Quantrill getting the start for the Padres. Pitching in Toronto carried additional meaning for Cal since he is the son of former major league relief pitcher Paul Quantrill, who pitched for the Blue Jays from 1996-2001. The offense exploded for seven home runs and 19 runs to give Quantrill plenty of support en route to his first career victory. The 24-year-old rookie right-hander and Padres’ number 10 prospect went six innings, while striking out nine and surrendering only two hits. Not to be outdone by Naylor’s fan club of a couple hundred people, Quantrill supporters were visibly on display throughout the ballpark.
After the Padres took the first two games, the Blue Jays’ offense came alive for ten runs in Sunday’s game. Vladdy Jr. collected three hits and scored a run but was overshadowed by another Hall of Famer’s son. Cavan Biggio, though not Canadian himself, provided the passionate Toronto fans a glimpse into an exciting future. With his father in attendance, Biggio collected his first career major league hit and home run on Sunday.
With Vladdy Jr., Naylor, and Quantrill just beginning their careers – and Soroka having a historic start – baseball fans in Canada have a lot to look forward to in the near future.