By JOE McFARLAND and IAN WILSON
Major League Baseball (MLB) may feel like it is far removed from the ball diamonds of Alberta, but if you play a quick game of six dugouts of separation you’ll discover there are plenty of coaching connections between the majors and our province.
In our first of a two-part series exploring those connections, we look at the American League squads who have former Alberta players on the payroll.
We scoured websites like Baseball Reference and Baseball Cube to cross-reference with each team’s coaching staff and find all of the stats. We only went so deep as the coaching staffs and didn’t get into other personnel positions or minor league affiliates, only because there are so many connections out there.
And if a team isn’t listed (like the Toronto Blue Jays), it’s because they don’t have any Alberta connections in their respective dugouts.
Enjoy waxing a little nostalgic!
Many will remember Orioles’ bullpen coach John Wasdin as being part of the up-and-coming pitching rotation for the Oakland Athletics in the mid-1990s.
Given that the A’s had their Triple-A affiliate in Edmonton, it’s no surprise that the right-hander was bound to make a few appearances with the Trappers. In 1995, Wasdin went 12-8 with a 5.52 ERA in 28 games. The following year, he pitched in another nine games for the Trappers, going 2-1 with a 4.14 ERA.
During the 1995 season, Wasdin lead the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in a stat that no pitcher wants to be tops in: home runs allowed. But the then 23-year-old didn’t lose any sleep over surrendering so many long balls. Instead, the former first-round draft pick told Calgary Herald reporter Gyle Kontopetz: “Well, somebody has to lead the league in home runs allowed and, heck, it might as well be me. If I’m going to get my brains beat out, I’ll learn something from it.”
Given his current coaching gig, we think he did learn a thing or two from his experience with the Trappers.
Boston Red Sox
Fresh off their World Series championship, the Red Sox will once again be looking to Tim Hyers as their hitting coach. The club, including reigning American League MVP Mookie Betts, definitely benefited from his aggressive approach to swinging the bat.
As a player, Hyers made two appearances in Alberta. His professional career started with the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 1990 after being Toronto’s second-round draft choice that summer. In 61 games for Medicine Hat, he hit just .219 with two home runs and 19 RBIs. Then Hyers spent the 1999 campaign with the Calgary Cannons, where he bumped his average up to .268 with four home runs and 20 RBIs over 51 games.
Chicago White Sox
We would be curious to know if White Sox manager Rick Renteria became friends with third base coach Nick Capra while they were in Alberta together for a short time. We’ll get to that in a second. For Renteria, he began his adventure here as a member of the Calgary Cannons during 158 games between 1987 and 1989. He hit 10 home runs and 78 RBIs in that stretch.
His attention to detail was evident with the Cannons and it was something the infielder discussed with Calgary Herald reporter Daryl Slade in 1989.
“The desire to want to go out to practise and do things properly is something I’ve always done, from high school and even before that,” Renteria told Slade.
“I knew the only way I’d get ahead was to perfect the abilities I have. A lot of guys have God-given ability and go with what they have. But if you want to be the best, you have to work at it. I may not be the best and may never be the best, but I’m working at it.”
Sounds like managerial material to us.
Renteria returned to Alberta and joined the Edmonton Trappers for 10 games in 1994, which is where the connection with Capra comes in. Capra spent the majority of the 1993-1994 seasons with the Trappers, hitting 14 home runs and 85 RBIs in 215 games, while stealing 45 bases.
A trio of faces in the Cleveland dugout have ties to Alberta. It starts with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo, who was dynamite for the Edmonton Trappers in his 135 games in 1992. The first baseman hit .273 with 19 home runs, 88 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases.
His assistant is Victor Rodriguez, who visited the provincial capital two years later and the infielder hit .278 with six home runs and 46 RBIs in 84 contests.
The Trappers were also the short-term home for pitching coach Carl Willis, who pitched in 36 games for them in 1989. He was a starter for 10 games and the closer for 12, compiling a total record of 5-7 with five saves and a 3.69 ERA.
While bench coach Steven Liddle didn’t see any time in the big leagues as a player, he did have an eight-year pro baseball career. That included parts of three seasons with the Edmonton Trappers. Over that 1984 through 1986 stretch as a catcher and first baseman, Liddle played in 180 games, hit 12 home runs and drove in 91 runs.
Manager A.J. Hinch skyrocketed up the ranks in baseball quickly as a player. After being drafted in the third round of the 1996 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics, the catcher split the following season between the High-A Modesto A’s and the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers, helping the club win the 1997 PCL championship. He hit .376 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 39 games for the Trappers.
In the postseason, Hinch delivered the knockout blow to the Vancouver Canadians when he hit an eighth-inning grand slam at Nat Bailey Stadium in the third game of the 1997 Northern Division championship, allowing the Trappers to win the game 7-6 and sweep the series. That set up a rematch with the Phoenix Firebirds in the PCL final.
“It’s the highlight of my year,” said Hinch at the time. “It was just a great feeling all around.”
More highlights followed for Hinch, including a World Series title with the Astros in 2017.
Houston’s third base coach Gary Pettis shared in that World Series victory and, like Hinch, also spent time at John Ducey Park. The majority of his 1983 season was played with the Trappers, where he hit .285 with 11 home runs, 52 RBIs and nabbed 52 stolen bases in 132 games. Pettis, who returned to the Trappers for a short eight-game stint in 1987, was also a defensive whiz in the outfield.
Meanwhile, Astros’ bench coach Joe Espada – a recent finalist for the Toronto Blue Jays’ manager job – didn’t make it to the majors as a player, but he came close several times in Triple-A. One of those stops came with the Calgary Cannons in 2001. In 79 games, Espada hit .300 with three home runs, 30 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
And hitting coach Alex Cintron was one of the few who went on to see MLB action after a stint with the Lethbridge Black Diamonds. He went 1-for-3 in one game in 1997, then came back the following season to hit .264 with three home runs and 34 RBIs in 67 games.
Kansas City Royals
Dale Sveum is a name Calgary Cannons fans will remember fondly. The infielder, now the bench coach for the Royals, played a total of 354 games for the Cannons between 1993 and 1996.
He saved his best season here for last. In 1996, Sveum hit .300 with 23 home runs and 84 RBIs in 101 games, and was named the team’s most valuable player at the age of 32.
“Anything Dale gets he deserves,” said Calgary manager Trent Jewett, following the MVP announcement.
“He’s a pure baseball player and there aren’t many pure baseball players around.”
What’s fascinating about his stay in Calgary was that it spanned two different affiliations.
The Cannons were the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners in 1993-1994, then switched over to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1995-1996. We can thank free agency for his extended visit, as he signed with the Pirates in 1994.
Los Angeles Angels
Mike Gallego didn’t stay long in Alberta, but it was still enough to make this list. The Angels’ third base coach came to the Edmonton Trappers for six games in 1995, where he hit .278 with one run batted in.
Assistant hitting coach Shawn Wooten stayed a bit longer. In 66 games for the Trappers in 2000, the utility man (who played catcher, first base and third base) hit an excellent .353 with 11 home runs and 42 runs batted in.
New York Yankees
Bronx Bombers catching coach Jason Brown became the king of cameo appearances in Alberta during his 12-year pro baseball career. It started in 2001 with the Calgary Cannons, where he hit .308 with one dinger in 12 games. Two years later, Brown hit .400 in four games for the Edmonton Trappers. The catcher returned to the capital in 2004 for a six-game stint, where he hit just .143 with a couple of runs batted in.
Not only was Ryan Christenson celebrating Opening Day 2019 on March 28th – he was also marking his 45th birthday. The Athletics’ bench coach played in 38 games for the Edmonton Trappers during the 1997-1998 campaigns. He racked up three home runs and 12 RBIs in those two stints.
A few years earlier, first base coach Al Pedrique also spent two seasons with the Trappers. In 185 games during the 1993-1994 seasons, the infielder hit two home runs, 59 RBIs and he also stole five bases in what would turn out to be his final stop as a player in pro baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays
Rays’ hitting coach Chad Mottola put on a hitting clinic with the Calgary Cannons during his extended stay in the 2001 campaign. In 119 games, the outfielder hit .295 with 15 home runs, 66 RBI and 11 stolen bases. He also put together a 14-game hit streak for Calgary in July of that season.
And new field coordinator Paul Hoover also played some baseball here in Alberta. After a lengthy stay with the Rays as a player, he signed as a free agent with the Montreal Expos and ended up as a member of the Edmonton Trappers in their final season in 2004. He hit .289 with one home run and 20 RBIs in 69 games as the club waved goodbye.
This marks the first season at the helm of the Texas Rangers for Chris Woodward. A name familiar to many Toronto Blue Jays fans, the infielder made his pro baseball debut with the Baby Jays in Medicine Hat in 1995. He hit .232 with three home runs and 21 runs batted in, adding nine stolen bases.
Texas third base coach Tony Beasley, meanwhile, had a nine-year minor league career that included a 75-game stop with the Calgary Cannons in 1997. He hit .273 with 11 stolen bases and 28 RBIs.
Hitting coach Luis Ortiz joined Hoover as a member of the final Edmonton Trappers squad. His first visit was actually in 2003 for 59 games, and then he came back for another 22 games in the swan song 2004 campaign, which was also his final year as a player in professional baseball.