The Votto who got away

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:04 PM ET

TORONTO - Dick (The Legend) Groch gets credit for signing a shortstop from Central High School in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The high schooler grew up to be Derek Jeter, a guy who won American League rookie of the year, is approaching 3,000 hits and is a shoo-in for Cooperstown.

Groch almost drafted another award winner.

New York Yankees scouts Richard Clemens and Groch spent the morning of June 4, 2002, draft day, in the Etobicoke home of Joey Votto.

That same day Adam Loewen went fourth over-all in North America to the Baltimore Orioles and Jeff Francis went ninth to the Colorado Rockies.

Cincinnati Reds scout John Castleberry phoned Votto in drama class at Richview Collegiate telling him they’d made him the 44th over-all pick. The Yanks were without their first two selections (24th and 65th) since they’d signed free-agents Jason Giambi and Steve Karsay and didn’t pick until No. 71.

“I get plenty of credit for signing Derek Jeter, but none for being right on Joey Votto,” said Groch, now with the Milwaukee Brewers. “That was my biggest disappointment in all my years of scouting. Only the Reds and us were on him.

“Joey had what Jeter had as a high schooler. Joey got through tough times. You’d watch him out there smiling. He played like he was at a family picnic.”

When the Reds called Votto’s name, Groch made the long drive home to Michigan.

“Our paths cross at least once per summer either in Milwaukee or Cincinnati,” said Votto, the defending National League MVP from Philadelphia where his Reds were playing. “We usually reminisce about the draft and all of the craziness surrounding those couple of days.”

Groch credits Yankee scout Fernando Arango for phoning him from a Florida showcase after seeing Votto play. Arango said: “You have to see this guy, he has juice in his bat.”

With Votto gone, the Yanks chose Brandon Weeden, who was gone from the Yanks after two years and out of the game in 2006.

BRIEFLY: White Sox infielder Omar Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves and three times he was selected an all-star. So, he’s more than qualified to evaluate a shortstop. “Yunel Escobar? He’s a pretty good player,” Vizquel said. “He looks a lot bigger than when he was with the Atlanta Braves. He looks like a third baseman. I’m not sure how much longer he can play short. He’s almost as big as Cal Ripken.” ... How long before Rogers Centre replaces the blue padding in the third base dugout? Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Jesse Litsch have all beaten the padding like a rented mule after being hooked this season ... Bullpen coach Pat Hentgen says lefty Marc Rzepczynski has been as effective to date as lefty Al Leiter was for the 1993 Jays ... Ozzie Guillen told the story the other night about asking Carl Everett about his weight gain. When Everett explained it was water retention, Guillen asked: “What did you do, drink a swimming pool?”

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Bridgette Ridley, or Mrs. Ridley as she’s known to her fifth grade class at Indian Hills elementary school in Cincinnati, knows baseball. When Jaret Tabler turned up in her Grade 5 class Mrs. Ridley asked if he was any relation to Pat Tabler, who played for the Blue Jays.

“That’s my dad,” Jaret said.

Jaret’s twin brother Jake attends the same school, but is in a different class.

“Mrs. Ridley put things together, I love talking baseball with her at our parent conferences,” SportsNet broadcaster Pat Tabler said. “Her father-in-law was involved in baseball here, right?”

The late Jim Ridley of Burlington coached Team Canada more summers than not, coached at Medicine Hat and scouted for the Blue Jays from day one until 2002. He then scouted for the Minnesota Twins.

Ridley had twin sons, Jeremy, married to Bridgette, and Shayne. Both played at Ball State and signed, Jeremy with the Jays (2000) and Shayne with the Baltimore Orioles (2000-01).

SCOUTS SAY: That the Jays have more relief pitching than most clubs, so teams looking to upgrade their bullpen will be calling before the July 31 trade deadline ... That third baseman Brett Lawrie won’t be here until some time in June. Don’t look now but June begins Wednesday.

HERE AND THERE: Aaron Hill is the longest serving member of the Jays with Vernon Wells gone. Hill has been with the Jays since 2005. Cory Patterson was in Toronto long before Hill. Patterson played for the Midland Redskins in a sandlot tournament at Connorvale Park in Etobicoke in 1997. Barry Larkin, Jim Leyritz, Jayhawk Owens, Ken Griffey and others were on Joe Hayden’s Redskins on the way to the majors ... Baltimore Orioles scout Keith Connolly tells this one of playing at class-A San Jose in 2000. “Our park had a barbecue down the left field line and they’d cook all afternoon,” Connolly said. “You basically played the game hungry, it smelled so good. Whatever wasn’t sold they’d bring into our clubhouse after the game. Our manager Keith Comstock was upset one night. I don’t remember why, we may have lost our 16th straight. So guys are showering and he throws all the hot dogs and hamburgers into the shower. Someone yelled, ‘Hey I’m hungry!’ He threw in the chicken too.”


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