Bay is better safe than sorry

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Someday soon, Jason Bay will hit it big.

"I realize the position I'm in," the Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder said. "I've gotten so close. I'll admit, I'm a little more jittery."

The Pirates have approached the Trail, B.C., native about a contract extension that would pay him as much as $14 million US over four years.

That part is no sweat. "We'll worry about it after the season," he said. "Nothing really happens for five months in the winter, so I'm just looking to get through the year."

Bay's present fixation is the only Major League Baseball record that should and probably will be held by a Canadian.

The record is obscure but somehow tantalizing -- "most stolen bases in one season without being caught." It belongs to the New York Mets' Kevin McReynolds who swiped 21 bags without an out in 1988.

On Monday at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, Bay stole his 20th in 20 tries. He has the rest of the month to equal McReynolds and set a new standard.

"There's a little more riding on every steal so I really have got to be careful and pick and choose," he said.

I ask you: What could be more Canadian than this? A kid who grew up in a town dominated by the smelter, whose dad went to work there the day he graduated high school, gets passed over by a Canadian organization, the Montreal Expos, and heads south.

Now the kid is chasing a record that isn't about brazen theft and recklessness but unobtrusiveness and minimized risk.

Bay donated his $20,000 rookie of the year cheque to charity last season. He is the first Buc since Barry Bonds to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases. Going into last night's game, he was hitting .306 with 30 homers and 91 RBIs in a lineup that leaves him as naked as Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut.

Media people describe Bay as the best, most thoughtful interview on the club. As the Bucs moved to lock him up long term, general manager Dave Littlefield called Bay "courteous, humble and mature."

Which just goes to show you that Dave Littlefield may know baseball but he doesn't know Canadians.We're all like that, or at least, we try to be.

"Everything reverts back to my background and where I came from, Trail," said Bay who will represent Canada in March at the World Baseball Classic. "I never lose sight of that regardless of what happens. I come from a small, middle-class working town and I consider myself a small-town, middle-class working guy."

And soon, a rich one. Bay makes $355,000, not much more than the league minimum of $316,000. He isn't arbitration-eligible until 2007, but the Pirates, mindful of keeping their best player, surrendered part of their leverage to keep Bay happy long-term.

Stung by a series of bad deals, since 2001 the Bucs have signed just one player for a term longer than two years.

Bay's trail to the big leagues included two different universities, five years in the minors and four different organizations. The winding path he took to the majors made the Pirates offer all the more welcome.

"It means the world to me, especially coming from where I came from," he said.


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