TORONTO – Early in the 2000 season, Rheal Cormier and the Boston Red Sox were visiting Jason Dickson and the Anaheim Angels, as they were known then, bringing the New Brunswick pitchers together for the first time.
“The bullpens are stacked (at Angel Stadium), one on top of the other, and that’s where we struck up a conversation through the fence,” recalls Dickson. “I’ll never forget meeting him that first time. I’m the one that probably should have went up to him and introduced myself. I was too nervous to, but he didn’t hesitate to come up and congratulate me on being in the big leagues, ask how my family was doing, ask if I talk to people at home, get into a discussion around New Brunswick and senior baseball and fishing and hunting and all those things that make you a Maritimer. It was just like talking to one of the guys at home.”
Their shared roots made them a rarity in the majors, not only as Canadians, but as two of the three New Brunswick natives at the time enjoying success at the sport’s highest level, along with slugger Matt Stairs of Fredericton.
Cormier, from Cap-Pele, was five years older than Dickson, from Chatham, so the two didn’t cross paths on their way up to the majors. By the time they did meet, Cormier was establishing himself as one of the steadier left-handed relievers in the majors after Tommy John surgery ended his days as a starter, while Dickson was trying to return after a year lost to shoulder surgery.
“You’d hear the stories about Rheal, just like blue-collar work ethic, chopping wood, doing his thing — very grounded with who he was. Just unassuming, kind and generous,” says Dickson, who is now Baseball Canada’s president. “The last time I saw him was at Senior Nationals in Miramichi — I was there for Baseball Canada, and Rheal kind of snuck in late to the game. He wanted to see some people, but no big entry, no big whatever. I gave him a hug, asked him how he was doing, and that was so him, so unassuming. The guys he played with often talked about how hard he worked, didn’t take anything for granted, and I think that sums him up.”
Those are some of the lasting memories of Cormier, who passed away Monday after fighting pancreatic cancer. He was 53.
Our deepest condolences to the family of Rheal Cormier who passed away today after a courageous battle with cancer. Rheal played MLB for nearly 16 years; pitching for the Phillies from 2001-2006. Rheal was a supporter of The Foundation and will be deeply missed. pic.twitter.com/agdKhCl4QG
— Darren Daulton Foundation (@TheDDFoundation) March 8, 2021
Quietly, Cormier enjoyed one of the greatest careers by a Canadian in MLB history, with his 683 games second only to Paul Quantrill’s 841 among Canuck hurlers. In 2012, he was inducted to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Cormier posted a 4.03 ERA over 1,221.2 innings while producing 12.8 WAR as calculated by FanGraphs, logging a career-best 186 frames during his first full season in the majors with the 1992 St. Louis Cardinals, who chose him in the sixth round of the 1988 draft.
Trades to Boston in 1995 and then Montreal in 1996 allowed him to log 159.2 innings over 33 games for the 1996 Expos team that went 88-74 and finished second in the National League East. But his elbow blew the next year, Tommy John surgery followed and in 1999 he rejoined the Red Sox, where he transitioned to the bullpen and posted a 3.69 ERA in 63.1 innings.
During the ’99 playoffs, he logged 7.2 innings over six appearances without allowing a run.
After the 2000 season, Cormier joined the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he logged a 3.62 ERA over 363 games until a 2006 deadline deal sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, where his performance dipped. In May 2007, the Reds released him after just six appearances, though he joined Atlanta on a minor-league deal afterwards, and finished his professional career with five games for triple-A Richmond.
And though his MLB days were done, Cormier did pitch for Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a full-circle achievement after being on the 1988 team at the Seoul Games when baseball was a demonstration sport. Cormier also represented Canada at the 1987 Pan Am Games and Intercontinental Cup, and 2006 World Baseball Classic.
“Rheal probably doesn’t get as much credit as he should,” says Dickson. “I always go to the different websites and pull up Rheal’s stats to show people, and they’re shocked to see how long he played and how well he did it. That’s just him, just kind of flying under the radar.”
Cormier is survived by his wife, Lucienne, and two children, Justin and Morgan.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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