YORKTON - When the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame makes its 2023 inductions later this year former major league pitcher Denis Boucher will be among those honoured.
“It kind of hit me. It didn’t really register at first,” Boucher said of receiving the call he had been selected. “It took a few seconds . . . to realize what a great honour it was.”
Considering Canadian players making the majors was a tad rarer in Boucher’s day, was a call from the Canadian shrine perhaps expected?
“I was hoping at one point,” said the lefthander, but added since the Canadian Hall opened its door more broadly to take in players who have played in this country there is more talent to consider. “. . . There are lots of really, really good players who are now eligible.”
But Boucher has a solid resume too.
Born in Montreal in 1968, Boucher came to some notice with the Junior National Team and at the National Baseball Institute in Vancouver prior to pitching for Canada at the 1987 Pan Am Games.
Interestingly he remains involved with the national program acting as pitching coach for Canada.
Boucher joined the national team as a pitching coach in 2003. Among the tournaments he has coached for Canada at are the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, all four World Baseball Classics and the 2011 and 2015 Pan Am Games when Canada captured gold medals.
Boucher will be in his role of pitching coach with the Canadian team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic with pool play March 11-15 in Arizona with the USA, Mexico, Columbia and Great Britain.
There will be two pitchers on the staff with a Saskatchewan connection, Andrew Albers from North Battleford and John Axford from Simcoe, Ont., who spent time with Melville in the Western Major Baseball League.
Boucher said both Albers and Axford are veterans who can help the Canadian team.
In Albers they have a pitcher who has thrown around the world and will be a sage voice for younger players, said Boucher.
And Axford will be back on the hill.
“He came back and threw really good when he was with us,” said Boucher, adding they don’t need an MLB season out of the 39-year-old. “He can help us with an inning here and there.”
As for Boucher, after parts of four seasons in the minors, the Canadian left-hander made his major league debut for the Blue Jays on April 12, 1991 at Sky Dome (currently Rogers Centre). He was given the start against the Milwaukee Brewers and the first three hitters he faced were Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Gary Sheffield, noted the Hall of Fame webpage. He’d make six more starts for the Blue Jays before he was dealt to Cleveland on June 27 as part of a package for knuckleballer Tom Candiotti and outfielder Turner Ward.
Today Boucher is a scout, first with the Washington Nationals from 2004 to 2009 and with the New York Yankees, from 2009 to present.
When asked about his best memories of playing the TO debut topped his list.
“The stadium was fairly new . . . The Blue Jays were a really good team. The place was packed for every game,” said Boucher, adding you want to perform for big crowds. “Obviously you want to do good when there are a lot of people there.”
Over a career shortened by injury Boucher would throw for Toronto, Cleveland and Montreal. Being a Canadian on Canadian teams meant Boucher was someone young players in this country could aspire to follow.
“I kind of realized it a little bit later on,” he said, adding he knew what Larry Walker meant to ball here and felt he was at least someone young players in Quebec aspire too, adding he was the first from the province since former Expo Claude Raymond.
“I didn’t follow him (Raymond),” said Boucher adding he was too young but knew him as a broadcaster in Quebec.
Boucher did grow up an Expo fans and admits losing the team to Washington was hard on baseball fans in his native province. He said even today there are diehard fans.
“There’s a group here in Montreal that brings in ex-players, (for fundraising each year),” he said.
So could Montreal support a MLB team today?
“I think so,” said Boucher, adding it would be important to have a baseball fan at the helm.
The 2023 Induction Ceremony for Jesse Barfield, Denis Boucher, Rich Harden and Joe Wiwchar will take place Saturday, June 17.