The best hitter on the Team Canada Olympic baseball roster?
Well, Justin Morneau had 22 homers at triple-A before being promoted by the Minnesota Twins. Whether he stays with the Twins or returns to triple-A Rochester -- making him eligible for the Olympics -- will play out before the end of the month.
Yet, while Morneau fanned 47 times at Rochester, Canada's designated hitter hasn't struck out once. Not one whiff.
Of course, Cambridge's Rob Ducey hasn't had an at-bat. Ducey, who helped Canada beat Puerto Rico in Windsor last summer to qualify for the World Cup and hit .400 at the Olympic qualifier in Panama, is the hitting coach for the double-A Harrisburg Senators in the Montreal Expos system.
"I'm well rested, those young guys will be tired," Ducey, 39, said from Harrisburg after his team's 10-4 win over the Blue Jays' New Hampshire affiliate.
"It's like riding a bike, I know how I'll see off-speed, off-speed, off-speed. When I was younger I couldn't keep my weight back," he said. "Now my bat speed is so slow, I stay back naturally."
Ducey was at his self-deprecating best. He played parts of 13 seasons in the bigs appearing in 703 games. Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C., leads the Canadian list with 1,826 games.
Only seven Ontario players were in more than Ducey: Jack Graney of St. Thomas (1,402); Jeff Heath of Fort William (1,383); London's George Gibson (1,213); Hamilton's Frank O'Rourke (1,131); Tip O'Neill of Woodstock (1,042); Toronto's Arthur Irwin (1,010) and George (Twinkletoes) Selkirk of Huntsville (846).
Ducey takes regular batting practice with the Sens.
"I've taken more batting practice this season than prior to Panama," Ducey said.
His Tarpon Springs, Fla., neighbour, Darnell Coles, also an ex-Jay, threw him batting practice in 2003.
"Darnell's like a young Jesus Figueroa from the right side," Ducey said. "I got tired before he did."
Ducey often eats at a Greek restaurant.
"The owner teases me how Greece will whip our butts," Ducey said. "One night he asked seriously: 'Does Greece have a chance?' I said 'Yes, they're in, unlike the US.' "
Markham's George Kottaras is one of four catchers on the Greek team. Kottaras is hitting .310 with five homers and 37 RBIs in the San Diego Padres chain at class-A Fort Wayne.
Guelph righty Mel Melehes also has been chosen to play for Greece.
"My only regret is our whole team from Panama isn't going," Ducey said. "We knew there'd be changes. I feel bad for guys, who got us there (but) aren't going."
Brett Gray of Wyoming, Ont., a member of the Canadian team in Panama, underwent arm surgery.
Roster changes meant Brampton's Matt Logan, Tillsonburg's Mike Meyers, Phil Devey of Lachute, Que., Montreal's Russ Martin, Cambridge's Scott Thorman and Georgetown's Shawn Hill are not going to Athens.
Demoted by the Expos on Thursday, Hill could be added before the July 31 deadline.
ZAUN DOUBTS HALLADAY HURT
BLUE JAYS catcher Gregg Zaun never has thrown a 94-m.p.h. fastball.
But he has caught a few, as he did Friday night from right-hander Roy Halladay, who complained after the loss of having a tired arm.
"I had a torn labrum in 2001 when I was with Kansas City," Zaun said, "so I know a little about that. There is no way Roy Halladay has anything seriously structurally wrong with his shoulder, or he wouldn't be able to throw the ball that hard."
Halladay, 26, is 54-24 since returning from a minor-league stint to work on his mechanics and his confidence in 2001.
"What people have to remember is that he's still a young pitcher," Zaun said. "Even great ones go through flat periods."
Pat Hentgen had shoulder problems in 1998 when he was in his first tour of duty with the Jays.
"I haven't spoken to Roy about it yet," Hentgen said. "But I remember I was so fatigued in 1998, I couldn't lift a one-gallon jug of milk out of the fridge. I'd get tired just brushing my teeth.
THINKING ABOUT SHOULDER
"Sometimes when you get like that, and I'm not saying Roy is like that, you throw a pitch and you are thinking not about location, but about your shoulder."
Halladay said he doesn't have any pain.
We doubt that there is a pitcher in the majors whose elbow and shoulder are both 100%. Some have fraying, some have microscopic tears. All pitch with pain.
It's what makes them good -- beating the opposition and overcoming pain -- but it also leads to time on the disabled list. Former Jays starter Chris Carpenter was hurt in his final spring start of 2001, but didn't tell then-manager Buck Martinez, because the New Englander wanted to start the opener at Fenway Park.
"It was a real big step for Roy on June 1 when he came to us in Seattle and said he had pain," pitching coach Gil Patterson said. "When I see him cock his arm and throw it, it's almost as good as last year. His curveball is almost there on some pitches.
"Usually 80% of Roy is better than anyone else."
SCOUT FEELING WRATH OF BOSS
THE NEW YORK Yankees re-assigned scouting director Lin Garrett this week.
The reason? The Yankees attempted to acquire Seattle Mariners right-hander Freddy Garcia but failed and he was sent to the Chicago White Sox.
The Mariners had told the Yankees during the trade talks that they "didn't have any prospects they liked." When Yankees owner George Steinbrenner heard that, Garrett was blamed.
Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C., the scheduled clean-up hitter for Team Canada before he was recalled this week from triple-A Rochester, homered yesterday as the Minnesota Twins beat the Kansas City Royals 4-1.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire yelled over to Morneau's locker: "The Prime Minister called me and said, 'Don't you know you have two Canadians on your team? We want one for our Olympic team.' "
The Twins also have third baseman Corey Koskie of Anola, Man., on their roster.
SIGNED AND SEALED
Right-hander Adam Hawes of Victoria Harbour, Ont., who received a $118,000 US bonus from the Twins, has been sent to the Twins' Dominican rookie-class summer league team.
With American work visas being impossible to obtain, Canadian players are not able to obtain 2004 visas.
Righty Steven Carter of Windsor was signed by the Oakland Athletics and when he recovers from a sore elbow, will pitch for class-A Vancouver, but only will be allowed to pitch home games.
The Pittsburgh Pirates sent second baseman Issael Gonzalez of Montreal to the Dominican.
The Milwaukee Brewers, who gave righty Craig Langille of Bedford, N.S., a $107,000 bonus, sent him to pitch for Swift Current, Sask., in the Western Major Baseball League.
EX-JAY OF THE WEEK: JOHN OLERUD
WE UNDERSTAND big business.
Well, sort of. But what class did the Seattle Mariners show releasing first baseman John Olerud on Thursday?
Olerud never has caused a team, whether it was the Blue Jays, the New York Mets or the Mariners, an ounce of trouble.
The Jays dealt him to New York in 1996 for the redoubtable Robert Person, because Olerud wouldn't pull the ball in an effort to be more of a home-run hitter.
A year later then-manager Cito Gaston said his only complaint against Olerud "was that he didn't come into the office and complain about reduced playing time."
Why didn't the Mariners announce that Thursday was Olerud's final game, rather than giving him a pink slip before the game, and let the Seattle native leave to an ovation?
Olerud was the only Jay to win a batting title, when he had a .398 average with six weeks remaining in the 1993 season, and finished with a .363 mark.
Olerud entered the season with a career average of .297 and hit .245.