Quebec Chapter meeting recap – 8/4/2012

SABR-Quebec Chapter meeting
Quebec City (Stade Municipal)
August 4, 2012

  • Members present: Alain Dumas; Robert Duval; Stéphane Harvey; Daniel Papillon; Bill Young
  • Regrets: Jacques Doucet; Norm King; Alain Usereau

Although attendance was on the lean side, the Quebec meeting was delightful and informative.

Old-Timers Game

Our day began with the unexpected. Long after the agenda was set, we discovered that a charity softball pitting les Capitales old-timers against a team of local Quebec celebrities was scheduled to take place during part of our meeting time. This meant that we would have to scrap plans to visit the old ballpark’s dressing rooms and dugouts, and that we would not be able to hold our meeting in foul territory, as has been our custom.

But if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, or so the adage goes. And that is what we did. We settled in and watched the game – at least the first three innings. It was a hoot.

The Capitales had two former major leaguers on their roster, pitchers Eric Cyr and Eric Gagné; a minor-league legend, Eddie Lantigua; and the former manager of les Capitals and current owner of the B-45 baseball bat manufacturing company, Michel Laplante. The celebrities’ biggest name was the mayor of Quebec City, Regis Labeaume, the man who has promised to bring the NHL back to the Capital and plans to build a new arena to prove it, was no slouch, either at bat or playing first base.

Our Guest: Jonathan Malo

The game was still underway when it was time to meet with our guest, Jonathan Malo. He currently plays third base for les Capitales and a local player who has already enjoyed a solid career in the Mets organization, and with team Canada. He had made himself available from 2-4 pm – he had a game later that night – and good manners called for us to not keep him waiting.

Daniel chaired the meeting and led the discussion, making key interventions and raising question to keep the conversation flowing. Jonathan (in baseball it seems they call him Joe) proved to be forthcoming, frank, modest and generous with his time. We pretty well used up the full two hours at our disposal.

Born in Joliette, Joe’s early baseball years were much what one would expect – a progression through the youth system, maturing and developing as he went. By the time he reached the midget level he knew playing baseball was what he wanted to do.

At a certain point he caught the eye of scouts and ended up at Miami-Dade College. It was a difficult experience. Team members live in a dormitory-type setting where it was always noisy, and even managing meal organization was problematic. At the end of the year he transferred to Northeast Oklahoma College, where things went decidedly better.

He was drafted by the Mets (twice actually, in 2002 and 2003) and the second time he signed. Ironically, no sooner had he committed to the Mets but he was involved in an auto accident where the driver of the vehicle in which he was riding hit a deer. No one was seriously hurt – although the deer’s antlers caught Joe’s finger and twisted it, thus delaying the start of his professional career.

A career shortstop, Joe attended his first training camp in 2005. He was assigned to Brooklyn of the New York-Pennsylvania League (A) and for the next three years he would alternate between that team and St. Lucie of the Florida State League (A+). He spent 2008-2011 with Binghamton in the Eastern League (AA), where several SABR-Quebec members got to watch him play and chat with him, and had several call-ups to the International League’s Buffalo entry. He signed on with Quebec City after becoming a free agent following the 2011 season.

In Joe’s early years there were two managers who influenced him very much, Mookie Wilson and Gary Carter. From Mookie he learned to approach the game in a more studied fashion, especially as regards base running and base runners, looking for signs and the like. Gary Carter was easy to play for. His enthusiasm was infectious, he was a patient teacher and in general his positive nature carried over to the team. Later on in his career, Joe found Wally Backman to be another manager who had a deep effect on him. Very intense in game situations, Backman reminded Joe of Carter in his approach to baseball.

Joe recalled sitting with Carter and enjoying his comments during a rain delay in St. Lucie as highlights of the Mets World Series win in were screened on the ballpark scoreboard.

Carter spoke very fondly about Montreal and his experience there. If he had wanted to go into the Hall of Fame as a Mets player, it was only because the Expos were about to disappear and he felt he would rather be remembered as having been part of a current club that of one that had become defunct. He said that Andre Dawson felt the same way when his turn to enter the Hall of Fame arose.

And on the topic of Montreal, another former Mets player who loved the city was Ken Oberkfell. He spoke frequently about Montreal with Joe in 2010 when he was manager of the Buffalo Bisons and Joe was on one of his call-ups to Triple-A.

Joe had one of his best seasons in 2007 with St. Lucie. In a year that saw him face former Expos Michael Barrett and Brad Wilkerson, he batted .255 with 40 RBIs and 6 home runs. It was a good enough performance to take him to Binghamton the next year.

Then there was the time that Joe played at Fenway Park in 2011. As part of a Red Sox Future’s programme, the big league club brought two of its minor league clubs to Fenway to play regularly scheduled games within a double header format. International League Pawtucket met Syracuse in the nightcap, with Eastern League Portland taking on Binghamton in the opener. Binghamton won 6-4 in 11-innings. As one might imagine, Joe was dazzled by Fenway Park, its history and beauty, but he did mention that it was not especially hospitable for ballplayers – starting with very small dugouts!

Joe spoke about life in the minor leagues. Clearly one has to love the game and the life to survive. Wages are low, especially in the lower minors, and once expenses – meal money, club house dues and the like are paid – there is very little left over. And even at the higher levels where the money is more reasonable, the pay period only covers five months. Joe had plenty of stories about life in baseball, but it was agreed that they belonged in the locker room. That’s where they will remain.

Following the 2011 season Joe played with Team Canada in both the World Cup (played in Panama) and the Pam-Am Games (played in Mexico). Canada finished with the third best record overall in the World Cup, with Joe making the All-Star team. They did better at the Pan-Am Games, defeating the USA to win the Gold Medal, the first time a Canadian baseball team has ever won anything at the international level. In recognition of this accomplishment, the 2011 edition of Team Canada was recently enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. The accompanying plaque includes the name of the team’s most valuable player – Jonathan Malo.

When Joe opted to play in Quebec City in 2012, it was the best option open to him at the time. He is having a good year – and enjoying the experience very much. When asked to compare the Can-Am League to minor league classifications, he said: “It depends who is on the mound!” The level of play can vary from Class A to Class AA – but probably equates overall to the A+ level.

Joe has no regrets about his decision made years ago to make baseball his career. He still believes he has several good years ahead of him – and hopes and intends, when his playing career is over, to remain in the game in some capacity or other. His preference would be to serve as manager. He believes that he has an understanding of what is required and the feel for the game that breeds successful managers.

We sincerely wish him the best.

Other Business

We chose to conclude the meeting following the session with Jonathan Malo. There are two major items that we did want to discuss and which will be followed up via e-mail. These are: a) salvaging our SABR-Quebec website, and b) developing closer ties with Baseball Quebec.

More on these two items will follow shortly.

Respectively submitted,

Bill Young