I publish the following story especially for the enjoyment of old baseball chums Bruce Huff, Bob Peters, Jarvis Cook and Floyd McKorkle (all regular readers of Wrights Lane) and my friend Larry Balkwell Sr. of Chatham whose son Larry Jr. will soon break into baseball's professional ranks. We can all relate, for different reasons. This excellent account was written by Bob Fai who is publicity director for the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Team.
By Bob Fai
(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - We are in the business of selling dreams here at the ballpark, it's as simple as that.
We tell you of players like Rich Harden, Kurt Suzuki and Nick Swisher that have gone on to play under the bright lights of a Major League Baseball stadium. It is what we hope makes us a credible summertime destination for passionate fans of baseball here in Vancouver.
Sure we have hot dogs that are as long as your child's arm, we have a grounds crew that breaks out in dance on a nightly basis - but we also try and sell you on the 'future' as well - the future of our players who maybe, just maybe, will one day go on to become the stars that you'll find on TV playing for the Toronto Blue Jays.
|Canadian's pitcher Zack Breault |
moments after winning the NWL
Championship in Boise, ID.
That's okay to admit because what we are actually selling isn't the assurance that you are watching future Major League Baseball players - but that you are watching players 'try' to become Major League Baseball stars.
That to me is what makes our players' journeys so wonderful each summer.
Let me tell you the story of a player who chose this week to stop his pursuit of wearing a Blue Jays jersey - or any Major League jersey for that matter.
I became friends with now 'former' Canadians pitcher Zack Breault in the summer of 2011 shortly after he was assigned to Vancouver to play for our hometown team.
Our brand seemed fitting as Zack was one of five Canadian-born players to make the roster two summers ago and was named Opening Day starter just hours before we began the pursuit of what would be the first of two straight Northwest League Championships.
At 6'4", I looked up to Zack in stature but as I got to know him, eventually, I looked up to him as a person as well.
You couldn't 'not' appreciate his demeanour.
His razor sharp sarcasm, his desire to win were all traits that I enjoyed being around much like his teammates.
It's not easy for every pitcher in the Minor Leagues to simply go out and win, but Breault would work through the highs and lows and always find a way to balance the cheques and balances of his statistics finishing his professional career at .500.
Four wins and four losses.
Sitting just behind me on our many bus rides together back in 2011, Zack and I would constantly go back and forth with me trying my best to pull off an impersonation of him while he could do nothing more than shake his head.
It might have bothered him, but you'd never know it - that was just Zack.
We would talk about baseball, life in Amherstburg, Ontario (his hometown) and his housing family here in Vancouver.
Shortly after announcing his retirement recently to a local newspaper back east, Zack went out of his way to thank Bill and Jana Maclagan as well as their children Konnerand Keegan.
"They were great people," said Breault to the Amherstburg River Times.
"They did everything in their power to make me feel as comfortable as possible. They were a pretty big part of my pro career."
A pretty classy move to thank those who waited up late and woke up early to ensure his progression on and off the diamond.
The Maclagan's have housed Canadians players for years now and Zack would likely rank right near the top of players whom they hold near and dear to their hearts.
This past summer, his second with the Canadians, Breault would find his way into Clayton McCullough's bullpen as the rotation from our Championship squad of 2011 looked completely different a year later.
Admittedly, it would take Zack a few outings before his game finally 'clicked' and at times you could see his frustration building.
A rough night in Everett back in late-July seemed to be the 'moment of truth' for Zack as his one inning of relief was anything but with the Aquasox torching him for a pair of runs, on a trio of hits en route to a Canadians loss, one that fell squarely on his shoulders.
Zack was as quiet as I had ever seen him after that outing as his 'slow burn' could be felt by everyone sitting near him on the bus. It would be a night where I chose wisely not to say a word. We knew he needed the silence to figure things out - and he did.
That rough night in Everett would mark the last time any team in the Northwest League could manage a run off of his arm.
As he began to steer his season back onto the rails and toward overall success in August, I would watch him in the clubhouse, on the bus, at the field and around town - I think he knew even before we did that it was his time. He had reached as far into the professional game of baseball as his ability could take him.
I hope as you read this that you see there is absolutely no shame in this statement.
If anything, a sense of pride should be felt when you realize that even if your road doesn't end up in the Major Leagues, you have still gone further than 99% of those who dared to dream about a career in professional baseball.
Sometimes it's that peace and understanding that helps you do something you might not have done since you first signed a pro contract - breathe.
Once he exhaled, Zack was unbelievable down the stretch for Vancouver in 2012.
Not one run crossed home plate on his watch as his 14 1/3 innings of 'lights out' relief helped the Canadians chase down a playoff spot on the final day of the season.
If you can still remember, Vancouver needed every single one of those 46 wins in 2012 just to punch their ticket into the playoffs, and in reflection, it almost seems fitting that on a warm summer evening in Yakima, it would be Breault who would find the final victory of his career to help the C's clinch.
A week earlier, Breault was also at the center of another key moment in our season.
Those offensively-gifted Boise Hawks had been crushing LHP Kyle Anderson over his 1 2/3 innings of work here at Scotiabank Field as they put six runs up on the board in the top of the 2nd inning, forcing manager Clayton McCullough to summon Zack from the bullpen much earlier than expected to try and stop the bleeding.
Wouldn't you know it might have ended up being Breault's best outing as a professional.
Four and 1/3 innings of two-hit baseball holding the Hawks off the scoreboard until he turned the ball over to LHP Colton Turner who also slammed the door on the Hawks bats. This as the Canadians would somehow erase a six-run deficit to top Boise 7-6.
Had Vancouver not won that game, had Breault not come in and silenced the free swinging Boise bats, we would not be gearing up to slip on our second straight Northwest League Championship ring.
Simply put, Zack Breault can retire knowing that he finished his professional career as strong as anyone around him. Even more beautiful, he leaves on his terms. No pink slip hanging in his locker. No injury that prevents him from taking to the field.
Zack simply gets to look his loved ones in the face and say 'I gave the best I had and this is as far as my abilities ended up taking me".
Every year we get to see upwards of 40 players try and reach for the stars. Every year I find myself just as enamoured with those who choose to step aside from the game as I do those players who continue to push through.
I hope Zack will hold his head high, remembering the long bus rides full of laughter and learning, always looking at both of his Championship rings with the same pride that I look at mine - knowing that the only reason I have either of them - is because of players like Zack Breault.