By IAN WILSON
The World Series is set. After an exciting 7-game series victory over the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros will represent the American League, while Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers will fly the National League flag.
Before the MLB postseason started, we examined the links between former Alberta players and all the playoff teams. Now, we’re taking a look at the Top 5 Alberta alums who we expect to have the biggest influence on the 2017 World Series.
Here, in no particular order, is our list:
A.J. HINCH, HOUSTON ASTROS MANAGER
It’s been a dream season for Hinch, who took over as the Astros manager in 2014. While he’s now one of the frontrunners for this year’s AL Manager of the Year award, 20 years ago Hinch was playing Triple-A baseball for the Trappers in Edmonton.
He was 23 years old at that time and showed signs of being a quick study, jumping from High-A in Modesto to the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in Alberta’s capital.
The catcher played 39 games for the Trappers in 1997, hitting .376 with 24 RBI and 23 runs. Next season, Hinch broke through to the majors with the Oakland A’s. He played seven MLB seasons with the Athletics, Royals, Tigers and Phillies in between several more Triple-A stints.
One coach Hinch will be leaning on will be Alonzo Powell. If we had an honourable mention to hand out, it would be to Powell, who serves as the assistant hitting coach under Dave Hudgens. The San Francisco product visited Alberta in 1991, where he hit .375 in 53 games with the Calgary Cannons. Powell followed that up with ten more games in 1992, where he hit .343.
TURNER WARD, L.A. DODGERS HITTING COACH
No one gets more public displays of affection from Yasiel Puig than Turner Ward – not even Puig’s bat.
Ward and assistant hitting coach Tim Hyers (who played in Medicine Hat and Calgary in the 1990s) have been given a lot of credit for turning the volatile and talented Puig into a steady performer throughout the season and into the postseason.
The coaching duo has done excellent work with the entire Dodger lineup, which has displayed clutch plate discipline on their way to the World Series.
When he played 59 games for the Calgary Cannons in 1997, Ward was very productive, batting .340, hitting nine home runs, scoring 44 runs and driving in 44 RBI. The outfielder played 626 MLB games and another 886 games in the minors.
LANCE McCULLERS SR., FATHER OF LANCE McCULLERS JR.
Lance McCullers Sr. was poised for a lengthy and productive pitching career in the majors until a blood clot put the brakes on things.
He tried to bounce back, but in 1993 – at the age of 29 – McCullers pitched in the final 33 games of his pro career with the Cannons. Over 10 starts, he went 4-5 with a 5.67 ERA. He also managed a save for Calgary, but it was clear his best throwing days were behind him by then.
“I was never the same,” he recently told the New York Times.
But what was lost for the father has been rekindled in the son. McCullers Jr. and his devastating curveball have been magnificent for the Astros during the playoffs. Over 13 postseason innings, the 24-year-old has struck out 13 batters and posted an ERA of just 2.08.
“My dad taught me to be a bulldog. This game was, in a way, kind of stolen from him. He got hurt a lot toward the end of his career, and he had a lot left to give,” said McCullers Jr. in the Oct. 22 Times article.
“When I was growing up, he gave that love that he had for this game to me and my brothers, and he said: ‘When you’re out there on that field, you show what you’re made of. You show them.'”
GARY PETTIS, ASTROS THIRD BASE COACH
When he closes his eyes at night, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez still probably has nightmares about Pettis windmilling Astros runners his way.
“We joke in our clubhouse about Gary Pettis being the most aggressive third-base coach in the league,” said Houston manager A.J. Hinch in a Mike Petriello column for MLB.com.
“I think he still lives as the most aggressive third-base coach in the league, because he wants to put pressure on the opponent.”
The highly aggressive approach of Pettis definitely paid off against New York – we’ll see if it continues against the Dodgers.
For his part, the 59-year-old native of Oakland, California knows a thing or two about baserunning. Pettis stole 354 bases over 11 MLB seasons.
When he patrolled the outfield of John Ducey Park in Edmonton in 1983, the speedster stole 52 bases and scored 138 runs over 132 games for the Trappers.
CHRIS WOODWARD, DODGERS THIRD BASE COACH
Manning the turnstile at third base for the Dodgers is Chris Woodward. The 41-year-old’s red light, green light approach has not received as much attention as his Houston counterpart, but at this time of year the decisions made by third base coaches are magnified and intensely scrutinized.
Woodward started his playing career as a fresh-faced, 19-year-old shortstop for the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 1995. What he lacked in power and hitting acumen (he batted just .232, with only three home runs in 72 games) he made up for when he did get on base. Woodward stole nine bases that season and scored 44 runs.
The product of Covina, California went on to play 12 major league seasons for seven different teams before he ended his playing career in 2012.