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Gerry and I arrived in the visitor's clubhouse at 4 p.m. on a beautiful Friday afternoon to find only a smattering of players there. One of the players asked us who we were. After introducing ourselves we told him we wanted to talk about how the ballclub was doing. He thought for a moment and replied that we'd better wait for manager Marty Pevey. When we discovered we were talking to the one and only Stubby Clapp, our eyes lit up.

Representing Canada

The roster of the 2004 Canadian Olympic baseball team will be named on July 15th and Stubby Clapp is close to a lock to make it. His first taste of international action with the red maple leaf on his uniform was back in 1991 with the junior Olympic team. That team won the gold medal on home soil in Winnipeg, defeating Chinese Taipei in the final. His next trip was to Nicaragua for the 1994 World Championships, followed by the unforgettable 1999 Pan American Games back in Winnipeg.

Stubby recalls the energy of the home crowd: "We were the underdogs. Canada's got a lot of underrated athletes, in all sports. A lot of people think we just play hockey."

Canada defeated both Cuba and the United States in the round-robin for a perfect 4-0 record. After handling Guatemala with ease, the Canucks lost a heartbreaking 3-2 decision to eventual gold medalists Cuba in the semi-finals. They capped it off by downing Mexico to earn the bronze medal. Clapp hit .348, scored 6 runs and produced 4 extra-base hits in 23 at-bats.

Because Clapp was on a big-league roster, he missed out on the 2000 World Cup. But last year he was back with the national squad; Canada reached the final of the America's Olympic qualifier after defeating Mexico in the semi-finals in Panama. That was enough to punch a ticket for the 2004 Summer Games in Greece.

"(In terms of emotion) it was better last year (at the Olympic qualifier) than in 1999. When we got on that bus after qualifying - I don't even know how many times we sang 'O Canada'. It was one of the most patriotic things that I've ever been a part of."

Clapp has a few harsh words for the Canadian sports media: "The coverage we got in Panama for qualifying last year was kind of upsetting. We don't even have any game footage from last year. Hopefully, they'll send some cameras over this year."

So what might our Athens-bound team look like? Clapp has some ideas:

"Pete LaForest has been doing a lot of DH'ing, but I think he'll be there. Jeff Guiel and Todd Betts will be there, and Simon Pond has a chance if he's not in the big leagues. Mike Johnson will be a part of the team. Johnson was a starter for us last year and now he's in the bullpen. I don't know if he'll have enough time to work up to starting, and I don't know if [his organisation] will let him do that. It's tough to do."

On the subject of pitchers, Clapp is confident that there will be a spot for rising star Jeff Francis. Reflecting on slugging first baseman Justin Morneau, Stubby smiles ..."We call him everyday and try to tell him - slow down a second, dude, you're killing us here. A lot of us get together during the year and hang out when we're playing against each other."

After sounding very much like a manager himself, Clapp describes national team manager Ernie Whitt as the ideal man to lead them into battle. The team will start final preparations together on August 1st. Canada's round-robin opponents are not yet known, but most observers are looking at Japan and Cuba as the favourites to take gold and silver. Playing against the best native players from the Japanese Leagues will be a challenge, something Stubby acknowledges when he refers to them as the 'Dream Team'.

At the mention of recent Cuban defector Maels Rodriguez, Clapp chimes in: "He wasn't part of their team last year. They wouldn't let him go last year because they thought he would defect. Eventually they get on that boat and go. Cuba's a professional team - they play all year round. They are born and bread into baseball - they don't have hockey to distract them."

The Syracuse Skychiefs may lose up to four of their regulars for most of August. In addition to the three Canadians, Australian Glenn Williams is Olympic bound. It will be all business when or if Canada faces Australia:"We have to put on our game faces when we play each other, we can't laugh anymore."

From Windsor To Busch Stadium

Stubby Clapp was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario, not far from the home of one of the flagship franchises of the American League. Oddly, he was never a Detroit Tigers fan, though he greatly admired three Tiger stars of the 1980s: Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Lance Parrish. The Tigers connection extends to Larry Herndon, whom Clapp credits for helping him with his hitting and conditioning this past off-season. He's also had a chance to meet two of his boyhood heroes:

"I played against Parrish in AA in the All-Star Game - he was the coach for the other team. Alan Trammell was the roving coach for the Tigers when I played in the Arizona Fall League, so I got to meet him there. He's a good guy. I'm hoping to play for him sometime."

Clapp played high school baseball in Windsor, as well as area select and provincial teams. From there he went to the University of Montreal and the Academie du Baseball Canada, before leaving his native land for junior college baseball in Texas. Eventually, Texas Tech came calling and Stubby was part of a serious College World Series contender. "We were rated number 1 three weeks straight. Then our shortstop got hurt just before the regionals, so I had to switch back over to shortstop; the first baseman had to go to second base. The injuries ended up getting us."

The Cardinals drafted him in the 36th round in 1996. He worked his way through the system and spent three seasons in AAA Memphis before getting the call in 2001. Clapp was welcomed in Saint Louis as a hometown kid would have been: "It was crazy, playing for Saint Louis. It can't get any better than that. They play the game hard, the way it should be."

Clapp has played the infield and outfield in the minors, and three various-sized gloves in his locker are visual proof. With Syracuse, he's already played all three outfield positions, as well as second and third. Before his promotion from New Hampshire, he pitched an inning and filled in behind the plate in one game for the Fisher Cats.

The crowds can get pretty big in AAA and Clapp feeds off that: "The bigger the crowd the better the adrenalin flow, the better the game you see. Everyone steps their level of play up. There's a lot on the line."

Many players reach the majors and don't stick right away - a demotion to AAA after you've been in the majors can be a hard pill to swallow. A positive attitude is a must: "Going up and down - a lot of times it's just a matter of sucking up your pride. You tell yourself that it just wasn't your time. You come back down and work on whatever it is you need to work on."

31-year-old Stubby Clapp's focus is squarely on his baseball career. Asked whether he'd like to go into managing someday, he responds:

"I haven't thought about it right now. I still want to win. I still think and act like a player. I'll want to stay in the game after it's all said and done. The game's been good to me and I want to give something back."

A Conversation with Stubby Clapp | 4 comments | Create New Account
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Mike Green - Tuesday, July 06 2004 @ 05:19 PM EDT (#53352) #
Great piece, Robert.
Coach - Tuesday, July 06 2004 @ 07:08 PM EDT (#53353) #
Nice job, Robert. Enjoy your vacation.

They should be naming the Canadian team within a couple of weeks -- here's the roster they took to the qualifying tournament in Panama. I really don't know how Syracuse can spare four regulars for more than two weeks, but I hope the Jays are able to find suitable replacements and let them all go.
Gerry - Wednesday, July 07 2004 @ 02:57 PM EDT (#53354) #
Stubby mentioned that the team will be announced July 15th. He also mentioned he hoped Jeff Francis would be able to pitch. I am not sure how Team Canada will handle the selection process, some of the players they select might be called up before the games begin.

Syracuse could lose five players, Clapp, Pond, Guiel, Williams and Nakamura.
_Ryan01 - Wednesday, July 07 2004 @ 03:32 PM EDT (#53355) #
Taiwan released their Olympic roster yesterday and somewhat surprisingly Chi-Hung Cheng was not on it. Probably safer for his arm but it is no doubt disappointing for the young man who even had a clause included in his contract when he signed to make sure he would be able to play for his homeland if selected.

With Hermanson back, Benard hopefully back soon, Gross possibly back in the outfield and the additions of Sanders and Matos, the Skychiefs should be able to manage with only a few minor changes. Good luck to Clapp, Pond, Guiel, Ogiltree and Perkins. Hope you guys all go to Athens and bring back the gold.
A Conversation with Stubby Clapp | 4 comments | Create New Account
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