Bob Elliott's Baseball: James Paxton's no-hitter thrills family and friends
Mariners pitcher becomes first Canadian to toss a no-no in Canada
A month before last Christmas, James Paxton's mom walked into The Sport Gallery on Granville Island in Vancouver looking to buy a picture of her son's favourite pitcher, Andy Pettitte.
How many mothers of Canadian youngsters will enter stores this shopping season seeking pictures of Paxton? The native of Ladner, B.C., nicknamed The Big Maple, became the first Canadian to pitch a no-hitter on Canadian soil, blanking the Toronto Blue Jays 5-0 on 99 pitches at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.
Toronto's Dick Fowler is the only other Canadian to throw a no-no. Pitching for the Philadelphia A's on Sept. 9, 1945, Fowler held the St. Louis Browns hitless for nine innings. Yet, he wasn't a winner until Hal Peck tripled and Irv Hall singled for the 1-0, walk-off win.
Here's a look at Paxton and his no-hitter from the point of view of different people in his orbit:
Paxton's parents, Barbara and Ted, invited the latter's brother, Lindsay, and his wife, Lisa, over to watch the Mariners-Blue Jays game.
"As the game progressed, no one was saying anything, you know how it goes," said Ted. "You talk about it, you jinx it. We didn't mention it."
The Paxtons knew proper etiquette during a no-no because this was not the first time their son had hung a zero in the opponents' hit column. James was pitching in Ridge Meadows, B.C., when he dispatched the other 12-year-olds in the summer of 2000. Time of game, according to Ted Paxton: 58 minutes.
"James has the ball at his house in Seattle," said the pitcher's father.
After the final out of the eighth inning on Tuesday, someone said "this is looking a lot like 'you know what.'"
The 6-foot-4 Paxton threw an 0-2 pitch to Josh Donaldson, who bounced sharply to third baseman Kyle Seager. With already one five-star play in the book (robbing Kevin Pillar) he fired to first baseman Ryon Healy for the 27th and final out. You know, the one they say is the toughest to get, as it always was for Dave Stieb.
"We were all out of our seats with tears in our eyes," Ted Paxton said. "There was a lot of hooting and hollering going on."
Was there so much noise that the neighbours phoned to complain?
"No, they all phoned to congratulate," he explained, as emails, text messages and phone calls flooded in, many from the town of Ladner (population: 22,193).
Some knew of James Paxton, some had played on the same teams with him on the way up, and some figured things out on their own from knowing Ted. He heard from people he had not spoken to in 33 years, but the corker was a phone call.
"A man phoned and said, 'I don't know if you remember me but we worked together at Victoria Station.' [a railway car restaurant]. It was at the corner of Pacific and Hornby in Vancouver," Ted said. "That was when I was 18 years old, over 40 years ago." The caller extended his congratulations.
The national team coach
Greg Hamilton, coach of the Canadian junior national team, remembers the first time he saw Paxton pitch for the North Delta Blue Jays as a 16-year-old in a B.C. Premier League game.
"The velocity was not there, but the arm really worked, he really got out front," Hamilton said. "He stood out compared to the other pitchers. You didn't know he was going to strike out 16 and throw a no-hitter in back-to-back starts, but you knew there was a chance."
Paxton was with the juniors in 2005 and the next year he was Canada's ace at the world juniors in Cuba. Paxton had Canada leading Team USA 2-1 in the seventh inning when a misplay allowed the tying run to score. Team USA won eventually.
"James should have won that game. He deserved to beat Team USA," Hamilton said.
The North Delta assistant
Former North Delta assistant coach Mike Kelly recalls a trip his team made to Disney's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Kelly was sitting with head coach Ari Mellios when a University of Kentucky recruiter came by to talk about Paxton.
"I remember Ari saying, 'Now don't foul this up, the way you fouled up the scholarship for Jeff Francis,'" said Kelly.
Francis was recruited by the University of Portland out of high school. Portland decided not to make the scholarship offer. And now the recruiter had moved from Portland to Kentucky.
Things worked out fine for Francis, who attended the University of British Columbia, went ninth overall in the 2002 draft and won 17 games for the 2007 Colorado Rockies on the way to the World Series.
Kelly didn't watch the game as he'd gone to the movies. He watched the Blue Jays in 30 highlight show — or as it could have been renamed under Paxton, Blue Jays Offence in 30 Seconds.
Kelly said he read on Facebook that Cam Mace, one of Paxton's catchers with North Delta, had posted that he was at the game.
"What are the odds of Cam being in Toronto? He lives in Cloverdale, B.C," Kelly said.
Paxton is represented by Scott Boras, baseball's smartest man with an iron-clad memory for the game's history.
Boras was asked if he could recall a starter on a white-hot streak to strike out 16 and then pitch a no-hitter in his next start, as Paxton has. He pointed to the Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer, who no-hit the New York Mets while striking out 17 in 2015.
Five of the last six hurlers to pitch complete-game no hitters are Boras clients: the Cubs' Jake Arrieta against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Scherzer, Arrieta facing the Cincinnati Reds in 2016, Oakland A's Sean Manaea against the Boston Red Sox and Paxton.
The North Delta head coach
Mellios, who coached Justin Morneau, Jeff Francis and Paxton, watched the first five innings of the Paxton start on TV and then headed to his son Jimmy's practice. Jimmy, named after his grandfather, plays for the New Westminster Little League Yankees.
"I got to the park in the sixth and he still had it. My brother, Peter, sent me a text in the eighth that he still had it going," Mellios said. "I told my brother to keep me posted."
About 10 minutes later, the text came from Peter: "He got it!!!"
Last year when the Blue Jays visited Safeco Field, Mellios took Jimmy onto the field to see Paxton. They had pictures taken with Paxton and some Jays on their way for early hitting. It is Mellios that Ted Paxton credits for giving his son the work ethic his possesses.
"How about that? A no-hitter against the team that drafted him, and in Canada?" said Mellios. "Hopefully he'll be getting the contract he deserves. He'll be turning 30 in November. But he hasn't logged the innings most 30-year-olds have."
The little brother
Thomas Paxton, James's younger brother, had been working his construction shift in Ladner.
"He walked in the back door all bug eyed, he had not seen it," said Ted Paxton. "He was in the same bewildered state as the rest of us. This was absolutely so exciting.
"When you think of everything, going back to his injuries, the ups, the downs, James working so hard at his craft. It's nice."
What if the Blue Jays had signed Paxton, who they selected in the first round (37th overall) in the 2009 draft from the Kentucky Wildcats? Imagine the noise the 20,513 fans at Rogers Centre would have made if he was wearing a Jays uniform.
The Jays selected Chad Jenkins 20th overall from the Kennesaw State Owls. Jenkins pitched 100 2/3 innings in parts of four seasons. Paxton has had two 100-plus inning seasons.
Then-Jays president Paul Beeston was supposed to handle negotiations with Boras, at the time Paxton's advisor. Then-general manager J.P. Ricciardi phoned Boras to say the Jays would pay a $1 million US signing bonus (above the assigned slot money). An agreement could not be reached and Paxton returned to Kentucky as a senior.
Meanwhile, in a rehash of the draft, Beeston was quoted in a Toronto newspaper as saying that they lost Paxton because Boras would not allow him to talk to the pitcher.
When Paxton returned to campus he was asked to fill out a form with a myriad of questions. Then, he was told to go out the door, turn right and talk to NCAA officials, with the instructions "do not turn left, do not phone your parents or your lawyer."
Did a Kentucky rival subscribing to a Toronto paper turn Paxton into the NCAA, or did the NCAA see the story on its own?
Paxton, 21, turned left and phoned his parents as we would hope all our sons would do. The NCAA demanded an eligibility hearing. It never came, so Paxton headed to pitch for the Grand Prairie AirHogs in the independent American Association. Paxton went back into the draft and was picked by the Mariners in the fourth round the next June.
What we never really understood was why former Blue Jays executives seemed happy that, after turning down $1 million from the Jays, Paxton received less ($942,500) from the Mariners. One reason: it's tough to impress in four starts of indie ball compared to pitching Friday nights in the NCAA, even if Pete Incaviglia is your manager.
Mariners scouts Brian Williams and Jesse Kapellusch signed Paxton. Wayne Norton of Port Moody, B.C, had wanted Paxton as a high schooler.
The Jays did receive an extra pick for their failure to sign Paxton. And with the 38th overall selection, scouting director Andrew Tinnish chose high schooler Noah Syndergaard of Mansfield, Tex., giving him a a $600,000 bonus.
Best Mother's Day gift
When Paxton re-emerged from the clubhouse to wave to the fans after his no-hitter, it was to the Jays fans who rooted him home in general — and to his cousins Graeme and Amy McIntyre, who live in Toronto and were at the game, in particular.
"I loved it when he showed his Maple Leaf [tattoo on his forearm] to the crowd," said his father. "And it was really neat the way the fans turned and began to cheer for him late in the game. It was very patriotic."
So to recap:
Paxton struck out 16 Oakland A's while pitching seven scoreless in a 105-pitch effort at Safeco.
And Tuesday night he fanned seven as he pitched the first no-hitter on Canadian soil with an economical 99 pitches. His final three pitches of the game were 98, 100 and 99 mph: his highest three velocities of the game. That's a Justin Verlander finish with flare.
His next start is Sunday in Detroit. Mother's Day.
On a Mother's Day a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away, we recall watching Charlie Lea of the Expos no-hit the San Francisco Giants 4-0 in 1981 in the second game of a doubleheader. We phoned Lea's mother in Memphis. She told us how her daughter and elder son gave her flowers and chocolates, but "the best gift of all was from Charles."
Consider this early Happy Mother's Day wishes to Barb Paxton.
Canadian content: The highly-respected Baseball America has Mississauga's Noah Naylor of the Ontario Blue Jays going 12th overall to the Toronto Blue Jays in its latest mock draft. The Blue Jays sit 11th when it comes to paying six-figure signing bonuses to Canadians since 1991. The Pittsburgh Pirates are No. 1 at $6,905,000 US, followed by the Mariners at $5,557,500 and the San Diego Padres are at $5,327,045. The Jays have spent $2,202,500 on Canadian talent.
Unanswered questions: Is it true that Tony LaCava, who the new regime raved about during the process between Alex Anthopoulos's departure and Ross Atkins's arrival, no longer has an office at the Rogers Centre? ... Think that the Blue Jays' long-time security man Ron Sandelli was missed this week? ... Is that three starters or four or five on the disabled list? Aledmys Diaz, who took over for Troy Tulowitzki, Randal Grichuk, along with the platoon of Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce, are all injured.
Hit the button: OK, Ben Wagner is good. Very good. Imagine how good he would be if he had one partner in the Blue Jays' radio booth rather than learning to work with a different partner nearly every series. Put Wagner in the booth with Mike Wilner and call it two, as a Jays broadcasting great used to say.