MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK / MARTIN BECK : Canada’s O’Halloran Switches Sticks in Pursuit of a Professional Career
Like most youths growing up in Toronto, Greg O’Halloran was a hockey player first. Sure, O’Halloran played baseball--both T-ball and Little League--but the serious competition was reserved for the ice rink.
“Baseball was something I did in the summer when it wasn’t hockey season,” O’Halloran said.
Then, as a 17-year-old member of Canada’s junior national baseball team, he decided to make the switch, giving up his nation’s favorite pastime to dedicate himself to playing another’s.
O’Halloran, a catcher in the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league organization, is now trying to work his way back to Canada.
When O’Halloran arrived at Orange Coast College in the fall of 1987, he was a raw but talented catcher. He struggled at first against competition tougher than he was used to in Canada, Orange Coast Coach Mike Mayne said.
O’Halloran is wiry and strong but isn’t especially big, Mayne said, which might be one of the reasons he gave up hockey.
“When he got into the higher levels of hockey, he was getting his block knocked off,” Mayne said. “He figured that even catching would be safer than playing hockey.”
Midway through the Orange Coast baseball season, during which he batted .377, Mayne said O’Halloran definitely became a professional prospect. At season’s end, he accepted a scholarship to play at Illinois, but never played for the Fighting Illini. O’Halloran did play for the Canadian national baseball team in 1988, helping it to a fourth-place tie with Japan at the world championships in Italy. At the ’88 Olympics in Seoul, where baseball was a demonstration sport, the Canadian team defeated the United States but lost to Australia and South Korea and failed to qualify for the medal round.
After his performance as Canada’s left-handed hitting catcher--he said he batted about .300 during the Olympics--the Blue Jays, who had drafted him in the 32nd round, signed him in October.
Last summer, while playing for the Blue Jays’ short-season Class-A affiliate in St. Catharines, Ontario, O’Halloran was named the team’s most valuable player, batting .283 with five home runs and 27 runs batted in.
O’Halloran is now catching for the Class-A Dunedin team in the Florida State League. A pulled muscle in his armpit limited him to designated hitter for most of the first half of the season. He is batting .285 with 10 home runs and 65 RBIs.
The reason Ruben Gonzalez’s statistics didn’t change for almost two months was a broken wrist he suffered while taking a swing for the Williamsport Bills, Seattle’s double-A team in the Eastern League.
Gonzalez, who went to Buena Park High School and Rancho Santiago College, appeared in seven games and was hitting .190 (four for 21) with four RBIs before the injury, which required surgery.
Gonzalez, who is back in the Class-A California League with San Bernardino, is hitting .455 (20 for 44) since his return July 13.
Success in the California League is nothing new to Gonzalez, though. He won the league’s triple crown last summer with a .308 average, 27 home runs and 101 RBIs. Gonzalez, a right-handed batter, has never hit less than .300 in his first three years in the minors.
Times staff writer Steve Kresal contributed to this story.