Bob Elliott's Baseball: Calgary's Mike Soroka dazzles family, former coach in Braves debut

Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Soroka was not only impressive in his major-league debut against the New York Mets, but the Calgary native did it in front of a very ecstatic support group.

‘We knew Mike is not the type of kid who would get rattled,’ says Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos

Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Soroka is very deserving of his chance in the big leagues, according to his former Calgary coach. (Curtis Compton/Associated Press)

Alex Anthopoulos was asked Tuesday night if he remembered the first time he saw Mike Soroka pitch.

Anthopoulos, the former Jays GM and now Atlanta Braves GM, recalled watching the Calgary right-hander in a red and white Canada uniform pitch for the junior national team against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 15, 2015 in Dunedin, Fla.

"I remember the spring game, but we had seen him the fall before at the Mattick Complex and we were pretty excited," whispered Anthopoulos into his cell phone as the Braves bus chugged its way through traffic. Soroka had just pitched six innings in his major-league debut and gained the victory in a 3-2 decision over the first-place New York Mets.

That spring afternoon in 2015 the grandstand resembled the lobby at the winter meetings. Scouts were on hand to see Mississauga, Ont., slugger Josh Naylor of the Ontario Blue Jays, Oakville outfielder Miles Gordon of the Great Lake Canadians, Orleans outfielder Demi Orimoloye of the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians and Soroka — all of whom would be drafted in the first four rounds of the MLB draft.

Soroka was in good shape that day. He'd given up one run with two outs in his second inning of work when he induced what looked like an inning-ending ground ball.

Not so fast. Error.

There were a couple of other hits, two more infield errors and by the time Soroka left he had allowed seven runs — one of which was earned. He headed upstairs to the press box to do an in-game interview with The Fan's Mike Wilner.

And the next stop was the booth next door. He was invited into Anthopoulos' box to meet with Blue Jays executives Andrew Tinnish, Perry Minasian and Dana Brown. The line of questioning was, as with all young prospects, "Will you sign if we draft you?" As Soroka was about to depart, Brown added jokingly, "Look, if we draft you we promise we get some people who can catch the ball."

"There were an awful lot of errors behind him and his pitch count got pretty high," Anthopoulos said as the Braves charter moved from Citi Field in Queens toward the team's Manhattan hotel.

A lot of fuss was made when Soroka was given his first start against the Mets' Noah Syndergaard.

"We knew Mike is not the type of kid who would get rattled," Anthopoulos said. "We had no concern, he looked so good in the spring. He doesn't get caught up in his emotions of making his debut. He was up here to win the game, that's why he was here. It's early but we're playing well and he put us in a position to win."

Anthopoulos passed first baseman Freddie Freeman in the clubhouse before the game. With a Canadian on the mound, "It's a guaranteed win night," one said to the other. Freeman was born in California, but his parents were born in Toronto and Windsor and he played for Canada in last year's World Baseball Classic as a tribute to his mom's memory.

"We knew [Soroka's] makeup would handle the situation," Anthopoulos said. "And we knew he would throw strikes and we field the ball well."

Soroka allowed three hits to Yoenis Cespedes, including a homer, a double to Tomaas Nido and singles to Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier

He struck out five: Adrian Gonzalez, who was in Grade 10 when Soroka was born in 1997, Nido, Syndergaard and Asdrúbal Cabrera (twice).

Calgary's Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves pitches 6 innings with 5 strikeouts. 0:17

Seated down the third-base line was Jim Lawson, Soroka's coach with the Calgary PBF Redbirds, his wife Trudy, waving a Canadian flag, and about 20 others from Calgary, who had made the last-minute trek to see Soroka make his first major-league start. A lot of people were wearing Calgary Redbirds garb. Soroka's former pitching coach, Chris Reitsma, who works for the Baltimore Orioles, was there too, wearing a Baseball Canada jacket.

"How funny was that, he gets to hit before he gets to pitch," Lawson said. The Braves managed five first-inning hits off Syndergaard, including a two-run double by Freeman. Atlanta had two runners aboard when Soroka bounced to first for the final out.

"When I coached him he pitched and played first, his swing is still the same, even though he had not hit in four years," said Lawson, adding, "That's the swing I know from the cages."

Last week Soroka was 2-0 for the triple-A Gwinnett Stripers with a 1.99 ERA in four starts, plus 24 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings. All those gaudy numbers despite the fact he's six-and-a-half years younger than the average player's age.

"I was so proud to see him, words can't describe it," Lawson said. "I remember him as 14-year-old with the Redbirds. He hit clean up and was our ace."

"They all should take pride in where Mikey's come from and how far he has gone," Lawson said. "It is fantastic. He is so deserving."

Lawson also recalled Soroka's final start, at a tournament in Kalispell, Mont., before the Braves selected him 28th overall in the 2015 draft.

"There must have been 20 scouts in the stands, Mikey was trying to get his velocity as high as he could to impress," Lawson said. "The Kalispell team was using aluminum bats and with aluminum it doesn't matter how hard you throw. They were gunning for him."

Two of Soroka's former teammates are playing college ball: infielder Josh Trybuch, with the Wheaton University Lyons in Massachusetts and Trent Lawson of the Huntington University Foresters.

After Tuesday's game, Braves manager Brian Snitker heaped plenty of praise on Soroka. Yet he would not commit to Soroka making more than a spot start. Anibal Sanchez could be ready to come off the DL to start Sunday at home against San Francisco.

Everyone knows it's best to buy a plane tickets a couple of weeks in advance.

The Calgary crew did not have that much notice. The calls came Sunday that Soroka would pitch Tuesday.

"Trudy and myself took the last two seats, it was expensive," Lawson said. "You know what. I'm not even thinking about dollars and cents right now."

Watching a player you coached for four years make his major-league debut? Priceless.

Quick hits

Unanswered questions: So who will it be as the top Canuck on draft day? Perfect Game and MLB.Pipeline like Mississauga's Noah Naylor of the Ontario Blue Jays to go in the first round. Meanwhile, Baseball America has Mississauga outfielder Tristan Pompey of the Kentucky Wildcats as the top Canuck.

Flashback: Remember when Jordan Gibbons, the talented singing daughter of the Blue Jays manager, and her band Southtown played at the Rogers Centre and the historic Horseshoe Tavern? Jordan has a new group called The Barrens. They are based out of Austin, Tex. They are booked to play at the same convention later this summer with Charlie Daniels and Travis Tritt among others.

Joseph: Joey Votto is turning into Mr. Canada. He first wrote "Humboldt Strong" on his cleats and then he was spotted in the Minnesota dugout wearing a Humboldt Strong shirt. The green shirt was made by 22Fresh, a clothing company started by Kip Simon who played at University of Evansville and who used to play with Team Saskatchewan. His father, Doug Simon, played outfield for Team Canada at eight international events … Votto also wore the name of police Constable Ken Lam on his cleats as a tribute to the officer hailed as a hero for his calm takedown of the man alleged to have deliberately struck pedestrians during the Toronto van attack.

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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