Happy (Luke) Easter!

March 31, 2024

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Some Canadian baseball news and notes:

-It has become an Easter tradition on this blog to pay tribute to ex-big league slugger Luke Easter on Easter Sunday. “Luscious Luke” was a hulking, 6-foot-4, 240-pound slugger who became the 11th Black player to compete in the big leagues when he debuted with Cleveland on August 11, 1949. Known for clubbing tape-measure homers – including a 477-foot blast that was the longest ever recorded at Municipal Stadium – Easter, due to segregation, didn’t make his big league debut until he was 34. After three seasons in which he never socked less than 27 homers for Cleveland, Easter, hobbled by knee and ankle injuries, was released, but he continued to belt moonshot round-trippers in the International League (IL) for the Ottawa Athletics in 1954. Later he starred with the IL’s Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings. A jovial, easygoing man who rarely refused an autograph request, Easter was once approached by a fan who told him that he saw him hit his longest home run, to which Easter responded, “If it came down, it wasn’t my longest.” Easter died on March 29, 1979 at the age of 63.

-Congratulations to Cade Smith (Abbotsford, B.C.) who became the first Canadian to make their major league debut in 2024 when he struck out five batters in two scoreless innings in relief for the Cleveland Guardians in their 12-3 win over the Oakland A’s on Saturday. “To see somebody make their major league debut just like that and dominate, it was great,” A’s manager Stephen Vogt told reporters after the game. “I couldn’t be more thrilled for him and his family today.” His proud father, Tim, was in attendance. He had just been cleared to travel after undergoing open heart surgery in December. Mandy Bell, of MLB.com, has written a wonderful story about Smith and his family that you should read. In eight Grapefruit League appearances this spring, Smith posted a 2.25 ERA and had 11 strikeouts in eight innings. This earned him one of the final spots in the Guardians’ bullpen. Last season, the 24-year-old right-hander struck out 95 batters in 62 2/3 innings in 47 appearances between the double-A Akron RubberDucks and the triple-A Columbus Clippers. Signed by the Guardians as a free agent in 2020 out of the University of Hawaii, the Junior National Team and Abbotsford Cardinals grad topped all Canuck minor league pitchers in 2023 in appearances, saves (15) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.6).

–Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings in his first regular season start for the Chicago White Sox on Saturday afternoon against the Detroit Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field. The Tigers eventually won 7-6 in 10 innings. In four Cactus League starts this spring, Soroka posted a 1.38 ERA and fanned 17 batters in 13 innings. It was enough for White Sox manager Pedro Grifol to anoint Soroka as his No. 2 starter. Soroka was traded to the Sox by the Atlanta Braves on November 16 after posting a 6.40 ERA in seven big league games last season. Those were his first major league appearances since he tore his right Achilles tendon for the first time on August 3, 2020. Soroka spent the bulk of 2023 with the triple-A Gwinnett Stripers, going 4-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 17 starts. A graduate of the Calgary Redbirds and Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in 2015. In 2019, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

-It was a tough-luck loss for Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) in his first start of the season for the Boston Red Sox on Friday. The 6-foot-5 right-hander allowed just one run on four hits, while striking out 10, in the Red Sox 1-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. It was the 14th double-digit strikeout performance of Pivetta’s big league career and his seventh 10-strikeout game. Pivetta, who had been in contention for the Opening Day nod for the Red Sox, started their second game. The Junior National Team alum is in his eighth big league campaign and his fourth with the Sox.

–James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) will start for the Los Angeles Dodgers tomorrow against the San Francisco Giants. This will be the first regular season start he has made in the month of April since 2021 when he was with the Mariners. The veteran left-hander made the Dodgers’ rotation despite making just two Cactus League starts this spring. In February, Paxton signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers that guarantees him $7 million. After missing nearly two full seasons due to Tommy John surgery and other injuries, Paxton went 7-5 with a 4.50 ERA, while striking out 101 batters in 96 innings, in 19 starts for the Red Sox last season. A North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum, the 35-year-old Paxton is in his 11th major league season.

-I’m old enough to say that almost everything about Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Brady Williams – the way he walks, his mannerisms, his physique – reminds me of his dad, former Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams. Watch him closely in the third base box when the Rays take on the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field today and if you’re as old as me, you’ll know what I mean. His dad passed away on January 26 at the age of 80.

-Congratulations to Brett Siddall (Windsor, Ont.) on his induction into the Lakeshore Chinooks Hall of Fame. The Chinooks are a collegiate summer team in the Northwoods League. Siddall, who is Joe’s son, played 59 games for the Chinooks in 2014 and batted .313 with a .409 on-base percentage (OBP). He also belted nine home runs and had 43 RBIs. For his efforts, he was named the team’s MVP and a league All-Star. The following summer Siddall was selected in the 13th round by the Oakland A’s. He played parts of four seasons in the A’s organization, rising as high as double-A.

-Outfielder Jared Young (Prince George, B.C.) cleared waivers on Friday and has been outrighted to the St. Louis Cardinals’ triple-A Memphis Redbirds. The left-handed hitting outfielder/first baseman was one of Cardinals’ final cuts this spring. The Cardinals placed him on waivers on Wednesday to clear a roster spot for outfielder Victor Scott II. In 22 Grapefruit League games for the Cards this spring, the 28-year-old Young was 3-for-37 with a double and two runs. The Cardinals claimed him off waivers from the Chicago Cubs on November 6. In two stints with the Cubs in 2023, Young had eight hits – including three triples and two home runs – while scoring eight runs. His final promotion came on the heels of his excellent triple-A campaign with the Iowa Cubs that saw him bat .310 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs in 90 games. Selected in the 15th round of the 2017 MLB draft by the Cubs, the Okanagan Athletics alum played parts of six seasons in the minors before he made his MLB debut with the Cubs in 2022, going 5-for-19 in six games in September.

-While we watch the Rays conclude their season-opening series against the Blue Jays today, it should be noted that there are two Canadians in their organization knocking on the big-league door. Right-hander Trevor Brigden (North York, Ont.) and Tristan Peters (Winkler, Man.) are starting 2024 with the Rays’ triple-A Durham Bulls. The 29-year-old Brigden struck out eight in 4 1/3 scoreless innings in four appearances in Grapefruit League action for the Rays this spring. An Ontario Terriers and Okanagan College alum, Brigden was taken in the 17th round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Rays. The 6-foot-3 right-hander also spent the 2023 season with the Bulls, posting a 3.46 ERA, while recording 95 strikeouts in 78 innings, in 44 relief appearances. Peters, an Okotoks Dawgs alum, spent 2023 in double-A with the Montgomery Biscuits. In 93 contests, he hit .276 and had a .361 OBP. The 23-year-old outfielder had 100 hits, including seven home runs and five triples. He was originally chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB draft.

-Here’s something I didn’t know until I was reading Patrick Montgomery’s new book called Baseball’s Great Expectations: Candid Stories of Ballplayers Who Didn’t Live Up to the Hype this week. In December 1986, the Montreal Expos and New York Yankees had a deal worked out that would’ve sent Andre Dawson and Bill Gullickson to the Yankees for a package that included pitchers Joe Cowley, Rich Bordi and Dennis Rasmussen, but the Yankees balked when the Expos asked for outfielder Dan Pasqua to be included rather than Henry Cotto. This is in Montgomery’s book, as well as in this article written by New York Times scribe Murray Chass.

-Speaking of Expos’ trades, it was 44 years ago today that the Expos traded Rusty Staub, then in the twilight of his career, to the Texas Rangers for infielders Chris Smith and LaRue Washington. Staub, 35 at the time, proceeded to bat .300 and belt nine home runs in 109 games with the Rangers in 1980 before serving primarily as a pinch-hitter in five more seasons with the New York Mets. Smith would play just nine games and not register a hit with the Expos in 1981 and 1982, while Washington suited up for the Expos’ double-A Denver Bears for parts of two seasons.

Some lucky Texas Rangers fans were able to get an autograph from Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, prior to yesterday’s game. Thank you to Darrell Winch for sending me this photo.

-This week’s trivia question: Six different left-handed pitchers have started for the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day. Name three of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.

-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who has made the most Opening Day starts at shortstop for the Blue Jays? (Hint: It’s not who think.)) was Alex Gonzalez with eight.

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