TORONTO - Adam Stern roomed with Brett Lawrie in the springs of 2009 and ’10.
“Brett’s father, Russ, thought it would be a good idea, a 30-year-old living with a 19-year-old,” said Stern before the 10th annual Baseball Canada awards banquet and fundraiser at the Renaissance Toronto Downtown on Saturday night.
The two Milwaukee Brewers minor leaguers shared a house with Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que., and Tyson Gillies of Langley, B.C., then both with the Seattle Mariners.
“I’d come home after being in that heat and be asleep by 8 p.m.,” said Stern. “Those guys would be up to all hours.”
“Playing video games, usually MLB, or ping pong,” said Stern, who has seen a young, brash Lawrie and now a highly charged major-league third baseman for the Blue Jays.
“He’d never played a season of pro ball and he’d say: ‘Hitting .300 shouldn’t be too hard my first year, should it?’ ” said Stern. “I told him no way. He may have hit .500 in high school or with his elite team, but the daily grind wears you down. We all told him no way he could hit .300.”
Lawrie hit .274 at class-A Wisconsin Rapids his first full season in the pro ranks.
In August of 2011, the now retired Stern took a night off from his Centre Field Sports hitting facility in London to made the trip to Toronto to see former Boston Red Sox teammates and Lawrie.
“Right out of the chute you could tell he’d changed,” Stern said.
“He gets it now. He has a great spirit and loves to play. He’ll always be an in-your-face type guy. In Arizona at spring training, he was a typical first-year high school kid. Now he’s a major leaguer.”
Lawrie acknowledges the maturity.
“I don’t know if it’s being around one certain guy, but being in a major-league clubhouse every day talking baseball every day has helped me mature,” Lawrie said. “I was never in the major-league clubhouse on a daily basis in Milwaukee.”
Lawrie was a regular at the Baseball Canada banquet, long before he became a Jays regular. Twice he won the ESPN Wide World of Sports Junior National team MVP honours in 2006-07.
We remember his mom Cheryl standing, cell phone held high, as master of ceremonies Jerry Howarth interviewed her son so her daughter Danielle could hear the proceedings in 2006.
“I’m still the same player now, it’s just that I’ve been around major leaguers longer,” said Lawrie, who grew up wanting to emulate Derek Jeter.
Lawrie was presented with a special recognition award, without a cell phone held high.
The Jays gave Baseball Canada a cheque for $25,000 and the Royal Bank handed out $15,000. A $50,000 cheque is coming from Major League Baseball, all needed since the Olympics dropped baseball, cutting funding.
Stern said that some nights in Arizona he would pull out his ping pong pandle out of its travelling case: “Wipe the dust off and then wipe the floor with whomever I played.”
“Ah that was a long time ago,” said the Langley, B.C. infielder.
This week J.P. Arencibia and Lawrie took on junior player Max Xia and national team player Xavier Therien at the Rogers Centre in a promotional shoot for the London Olympics.
“We lost one game 11-4, that was probably the best we did,” said Lawrie. “What can I say? J.P. is a real good guy and I know he’s not here tonight ... but I need a better partner.”
Stern then make a proclamation:
“The official, just released Baseball Canada ping pong ratings are ... 1. Myself, 2. Peter Orr and 3. Jamie Romak and Lawrie in a tie.”
Lawrie didn’t argue.
No one could argue with manager Erie Whitt, who guided Canada to a gold- medal finish in the Pan Ams and a bronze in the World Cup, being named to the RBC Wall of Excellence where he joins Larry Walker, Justin Morneau and Joey Votto.
The two medals moved Canada to No. 6 in the world rankings.
And that’s more official than Stern’s ping pong ratings.
HILL CAPTURES CLAPP AWARD
Shawn Hill didn’t throw a pitch between opening day and the end of the season.
Yet the Georgetown right-hander was busy helping Canada win two medals last fall and Saturday night he was presented the Stubby Clapp Award by Mizuno Canada at the Baseball Canada awards dinner.
Hill made five starts and posted a 4-1 record as he worked 28 innings.
Shortstop Jonathan Malo of Laval, Que., earned senior team MVP honours, while Whitby lefty Ryan Kellogg won the MVP award on the junior team which won silver.
Adam Loewen had won special achievement awards from Baseball Canada before — for his arm. After hitting 46 doubles and 17 homers at triple-A Las Vegas, he was given one Saturday night for his progress with the bat.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Rene Tosoni of Port Coquitlam, B.C., was presented a alumni award by the Pearson Foundation.