Bob Elliott's Baseball: Boston's J.D. Martinez credits Canada's Clapp for helping his swing
Red Sox star has developed a strong connection with Windsor's Stubby Clapp
Late in March 2014, Houston Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez was summoned into manager Bo Porter's office and given his release.
Windsor's Stubby Clapp had been Martinez's hitting coach with the Greeneville Astros in 2009 and again in 2010 with the class-A Lexington Legends.
"I'd only been coaching for two years, but J.D. was the first right-handed hitter I'd ever seen with such a stroke to right-centre, he could hit the ball to right field the way a left-handed hitter pulls the ball," said Clapp, now manager of the triple-A Memphis Redbirds.
So what did Clapp do on that March morning when he read on the web or Twitter that Martinez had been released?
"Oh, I didn't read it," said Clapp, who was a coach with the class-A Dunedin Blue Jays back then. "I got THE phone call."
That's how close Clapp and Martinez were, and remain.
"Stubby helped me out a lot in Greeneville," Martinez said this week at the Rogers Centre when his first-place Boston Red Sox were in town to play the Blue Jays. "I'd go to him and say, 'Stubby, I feel like I'm going to hit a home run in this at-bat.' And Stubby would say, 'Why not try and hit a line drive over second?'
"He was always able to dial me down a bit."
Martinez was asked if he had ever seen highlights of Clapp play the game. Martinez said he had not. Clapp was Canada's Mr. Baseball on the international stage.
It began in 1999 when he blooped a single into short left to beat Team USA in extras at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. "Looked like a line drive in the paper," Clapp would joke.
Clapp would bust up a double play like a bowling bowl, he'd stay in to turn a double play like he was six-foot-four, and often was spotted sending an opposing catcher tumbling at home plate.
And before an important game he would run onto the field and do an Ozzie Smith like backflip.
Martinez said he last saw Clapp this spring when the Canadian accompanied the St. Louis Cardinals to Fort Myers.
"I didn't know that he won International League manager of the year until later," Martinez said.
Clapp recalls the meeting: "Big hugs, a lot of smiles, laughs and remember whens."
That March day in 2009, after Clapp got off the phone with Martinez, he called Mike Barnett, the Blue Jays' minor-league hitting guru.
"Mike and I both liked J.D., but the Detroit Tigers signed him first," Clapp said.
Boston GM Dave Dombrowski was watching his Red Sox from the second row this week in Toronto, but in 2014 he ran the Tigers.
Martinez had been a 20th-round pick in 2009 from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Tigers had previously tried to trade for Martinez ("back before he was J.D.," Dombrowski said). Houston had called before releasing the outfielder, but there was zero room in the Detroit outfield.
Released on March 22, Martinez signed a minor-league contract with the Tigers' triple-A affiliate in Toledo.
"The second day he hit a homer," said Dombrowski, who gave credit to assistant GM Al Avila and Tigers coach Dave Clark, who both liked Martinez. Avila, a former catcher, had played against Martinez in south Florida. "We needed another outfielder in April and he had 10 homers (in 17 games at Toledo) when we called him up."
In July 2017, the Tigers traded Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 62 games with Arizona, Martinez hit .302 with 29 home runs and 65 RBI. His combined totals for the year: .303, 45 HR, 104 RBI.
"I thought we had a good relationship and he trusted me," Clapp said of their early days. "Watching him take batting practice, I could tell he was a man among boys."
And what did Clapp tell his protege when Martinez phoned with news he was without a job?
"I told him when one door closes a 1,000 more open," Clapp said. "We had a long heart to heart, how other opportunities would open up. Look at him now: one of the best hitters in the game.
And this winter Dombrowski signed Martinez to a five-year, $110 million US contract.
ON THE FARM: Clapp's catcher in Memphis is former Markham Mariner Carson Kelly, who won a Canadian peewee championship in 2007 in Quebec City. Kelly is batting .226 with one homer, seven RBIs and a .689 OPS in 14 games ... The Clapp children — Cooper, 14 and Cannan, 11 — formed a double-play combination last summer. Cooper is a left-handed shortstop. Daughter Crosbie, six, named after Sidney Crosby, also plays. All three want instructions on how to do the backflip.
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: Nice to see the "1992-93 World Series" sweatshirts honouring the Blue Jays back-to-back championships, but where was the 25th anniversary celebration of the 1992 team? ... How much premium seating can a facility hold? The Jays say they will likely eliminate the press box behind home plate for next season. TV and radio booths will remain behind home plate, but writers and radio re[porters will move to the football box, which has a perfect view of the 50-yard line and zero sight lines of the left field corner. Only two other facilities — US Cellular Field in Chicago and Angel Stadium in Anaheim — don't have their press boxes behind home plate ... How valuable was Gregg Zaun to Rogers' Blue Jays broadcasts? In February we read that Joe Siddall was moving from The Fan's radio booth to replace Zaun as an in-studio analyst with Jamie Campbell on the pre-game show. Most games we see Campbell has two sidekicks ... Eliminated from the search to replace Siddal on radio, former Jays catcher Josh Thole accepted a coaching position in the Atlanta Braves organization.
COMMISH SPEAK/SPANKING: Commissioner Rob Manfred was in town Tuesday and like most commissioners, spoke about stadium improvements. However, he also zinged Rogers Communications for the way they handled last week's Facebook game.
Rogers made a decision to bill the game as "radio only."
Said Manfred: "We ... frankly didn't get a lot of help from the rights-holder [Rogers] in terms of publicizing where that game was going to be."
The Jays will have one more game — May 24 — broadcast exclusively on Facebook as part of the league's $35-million deal with the social media company.
"We generate literally tens of millions of dollars per club in central revenue. That revenue is largely generated by selling media rights and many clubs have 10 or more games on national-only platforms in order to generate that revenue.
"Toronto has been very fortunate in terms of its rights-holders. They've given up very few games and received exactly the same revenue for a number of years. Two games as a contribution to receive that national revenue is really a small contribution."
HERE'S TO YOU: Alex Agostino is in good shape, well as good as any amateur scout can be heading into the June draft. Quebec's Saint-Bruno minor baseball association has decided that the 13th edition of its provincial mosquito tournament will now be named after Agostino.
Agostino is well known and respected across the province after scouting for the Montreal Expos, the Florida Marlins and now the Philadelphia Phillies. And for the past five years he has run an academy, Baseball Empire, for Saint-Bruno players.
Said coach Jean-Nicolas Robert: "Alex Agostino is more than just baseball. Thanks to him, I am the man I am today: educated, disciplined and perseverant. I am perfectly bilingual, I have a very good career, a fantastic woman and two beautiful children who are both passionate about sports."