Bob Elliott's Baseball: Jays' Aaron Sanchez and his Canadian connection

A happenstance meeting before a Blue Jays playoff game has blossomed into a friendship between an Oakville, Ont., family and pitcher Aaron Sanchez and his parents.

When the Toronto ace's parents met an Oakville, Ont., family, a lasting bond was formed

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez has forged a bond with an Oakville, Ont., family. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Mike Hansford answered the phone in Oakville, Ont., Tuesday night.

"Is now a bad time? Can you talk?" we asked.

Hansford replied, "Well, Aaron is pitching … and I am texting back and forth with his father."

After being on and off the phone all night, we glanced at the TV: Sanchez had allowed zero hits to the Baltimore Orioles as your Toronto Blue Jays came to bat in the top of seventh.

"Now is okay," Hansford said.

I suggested we only talk as long as it took for the Jays to hit and we would finish it another day. No way was I breaking the good karma Sanchez's father, Mike Shipley, and Hansford had going for the first 18 outs without a hit.

Hansford sent texts to Shipley like, "The kid is looking good tonight," and "He's getting squeezed." Neither brought up the no-hitter. 

Blue Jays ace Aaron Sanchez, centre, with father Mike Shipley, left, and Oakville, Ont., native Mike Hansford before a game in Anaheim. (Submitted by Mike Hansford)

Sanchez worked a hitless seventh before infielder Tim Beckham led off the eighth with a double — on a questionable scoring call — and Anthony Santander lined a clean single to right in what ended up a 2-1 Toronto win.

Hansford first met Sanchez's mother and father, Lynn and Mike Shipley of Barstow, Calif., at a restaurant near the Rogers Centre hours before Game 1 of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. It was giddy times: the Jays were in the post-season for the first time since 1993 and the proud parents' son, Aaron, had rejoined the Jays' bullpen in July to become a dominant force. 

The Shipleys were wearing Blue Jays gear. So was Hansford, who had no idea their connection to the team.

"We talked for 45 minutes or an hour, they told us where they were sitting and I went over and sat beside them," Hansford said.

No ordinary Jays fans

Hansford asked how they had managed to get such good seats and that is when he found out Aaron Sanchez was their son. These were not ordinary Jays fans.

That night, Jays hired gun starter David Price gave up home runs to the Rangers' Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor as he allowed five runs in seven innings in a 5-3 Jays loss. But Sanchez worked a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Elvis Andrus and retiring Odor and Chirinos.

When the game was over, Hansford said goodbye and passed Mike his business card for Corbett's Source For Sports. Lynn in turn gave her business card as communications officer for the Barstow Police Department.

And Mike Shipley said, "We'll see you tomorrow night for Game 2." 

Hansford replied he only had tickets for Game 1. Mike said something like, "Don't worry, we'll take care of it."
And such was the start of a beautiful friendship between the two families — Sanchez, his parents, Hansford, and his two girls Meghan, 14, and Avery, 13.

"Aaron always gives the girls a hug," Hansford said of the relationship that's developed. "It's not, 'Hey how are you?' He asks how school is going, how softball is going. He makes them feel like they are the important people in the world. And Lynn treats the girls like they are her own."

The Hansford family and the Sanchez group will go for dinner when all are in town. But the real bond is between Mike Shipley and Hansford.

Hansford has a friend who works for Toronto's marine police unit and took Shipley out on Lake Ontario. Two years ago, Shipley and Sanchez flew Hansford to Anaheim for a four-game series. And in 2016, Hansford drove and Shipley, a building inspector in Barstow, flew into Cleveland for the AL Championship Series.

Last year, Hansford drove Shipley to the small town of Hespeler, Ont., to see the old Cooper bat factory, now KR3 Bats, and saw a bat made start to finish. 

"Mike told me it was one of the highlights of his summer. We're very similar, we both have a passion for baseball. He gets me," said Hansford, who lost his father in December 2015. "It's like the Big Guy upstairs sent him into my life. I have a father figure even though Mike is only 12 years older."

"This is a unique and special family," Hansford said. "They are genuine people."

Bob's quick hits

Unanswered questions: It's fine for Blue Jays management to play Russell Martin and Devon Travis two days on, one day off to avoid long-term injury. But why on the same day? Without Josh Donaldson Wednesday it looked like a spring training lineup ... Does charging the mound (Colorado's Nolan Arenado, Yankees' Tyler Austin) count as a mound visit? … Did you know Brad Singer, an unsigned Jays second-round pick in 2015 and now a Florida Gator, is ranked as the top pick for the June draft by Baseball America?

MLB Network line of the week: Chris Russo on Boston's franchise-best 8-1 start: "The Red Sox played Tampa Bay twice and Miami once. They're Florida state champions. That's all."

Quote/unquote: The most accurate forecast of this season came from Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto when asked about teams tearing down: "You could argue you're going to compete with more clubs to get the No. 1 pick in the draft than to win the World Series." Teams are trying to make like the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros — strip down to the bare-down and then rebuild ... The way it is going the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay and the Marlins could be eliminated before they remove their toques this chilly spring. 

Canucks lighting up the minors: Jared Young of Prince George B.C. hit .533 with a homer and three RBI for class-A South Bend. Mississauga slugger Josh Naylor hit .417 with three homers and 10 RBI at double-A San Antonio and Maple Ridge, B.C.'s Tyler O'Neill batted .360 with four homers and 10 RBI at triple-A Memphis ... On the mound, Calgary's Mike Soroka pitched five scoreless for the triple-A Gwinnett Stripers.

Rotating booth: Sportsnet moved Joe Siddall from the booth to the TV studio to replace departed Gregg Zaun, and Ben Wagner took over for Jerry Howarth on radio. So who replaces Windsor's Siddall? Right now the Jays' booth is like the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field. Taking turns have been North Vancouver's Scott Richmond, Vancouver's Rob Fai, Mississauga's Chris Leroux, Montreal native Elliott Price and Toronto's Mike Wilner. Former Jays Josh Thole, Homer Bush, Kevin Barker, as well as triple-A Syracuse announcer Kevin Brown, have also had turns. Wilner is back to do pre- and post-game, but zero innings. Is it too much for Canada's team to hire a Canadian broadcaster? 

Knock-down memory: In the spring of 1999, Yankee Hideki Irabu plunked the Jays' Alex Gonzalez in the helmet. It was a scary sound. Everyone assumed that Roger Clemens would hit the first Yankee hitter. Nope. He waited, and then plunked Derek Jeter in the hip, who went directly to first. And that was that. 

About the Author

Bob Elliott is Canada's preeminent baseball writer, having covered MLB and Canadian baseball for nearly 40 years. He is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and in 2012 became the first Canadian to be awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.


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