02/10/09 10:00 AM EST
Could be last chance to clap for Stubby
Classic offers veteran Canadian infielder final moment in spotlight
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Clapp, the longtime Cardinals farmhand who had his number retired and is affectionately called the "Mayor of Memphis" in that Triple-A city, stopped playing regular-season ball a couple of years back. But the Astros' Minor League coach hasn't stopped putting on the Team Canada jersey.
"There's nothing that can replace the feeling," said Clapp, who'll be the hitting coach for the Rookie-level Greeneville Astros in 2009. "It was always a dream of mine to play for my country. Every time you put the jersey on, it's something special. To be able to do it at such a high level is something that much more special."
Clapp hasn't just occupied a slot on Canadian rosters, he's led teams in many ways. The gritty utility man is the type who always has his uniform dirty, and that kind of attitude came with him wherever he went internationally. He played on the 2004 Olympic Team that lost in the bronze medal game to Japan, playing in all nine contests for Team Canada.
When the first World Baseball Classic came around in 2006, it was actually the beginning of the end of Clapp's playing career. He played his second consecutive year with Edmonton in the Northern League after going 2-for-13 in three Classic games. At the end of the season, he hung 'em up, sort of.
"I didn't quit and retire because I couldn't play anymore," said Clapp, who turns 36 later this month. "I retired from playing because of a tough situation. The ages are getting a lot younger in Triple-A and the big leagues right now. I got tired of the grind and of trying to prove myself over and over again. Instead of being bitter and upset about not getting a chance, I decided to move on. Because I love the game and what it's given to me, now I can take my experience and give it to someone else."
In 2008, that meant those playing for Lexington in the South Atlantic League, except when he took a break to help Team Canada qualify for, then compete in, the Beijing Olympics. Clapp hit .364 in the final qualifying tournament and went 8-for-28 (.286) in Beijing. Sure, there was rust, but in many ways it was the best the 5-foot-8 spark plug had felt.
"I've always stayed in shape," Clapp said. "I knew Team Canada had several things coming up. I knew I'd be able to come back.
"When you step away from it, you have some doubts. But I've been blessed with the opportunity to try and do so and I've made the most of it. During the time off I wasn't playing every day, I was also resting my body. It was a blessing in disguise. In these tournaments, my body was well-rested and I was in better shape the last few tournaments than I've ever been."
He's hoping to go out with one last international bang in this year's Classic. If he makes the final roster, he'll join many established Canadian big leaguers, hoping to make one more run against the world's best. Then he'll finally close the book on his playing career.
"This will be it," Clapp said. "I'll hang my cleats up and give them to my wife and kids. I owe Houston a great big thanks for the time off and them letting me go and compete in this, and in the last couple. They've been really good to me."
Team Canada has certainly been appreciative, so much so that it named an award after Clapp. The Stubby Clapp Award was given to Adam Stern in 2007, while Scott Richmond got the 2008 edition. Both, by the way, are also on Canada's provisional roster. It's not often a player who's still partially active has an award named for him, leaving open the possibility that perhaps Clapp could close out his playing career in high style -- by winning his own award.
"When it happened, it was really overwhelming to me," Clapp said of the award. "It was really special. It's not just an award in my name. It's more for the guys I've played with, I believe.
"In order to get my own award, I'd probably have to do something pretty special in the World Baseball Classic."
Originally selected by the Brewers in the 25th round of the 2001 draft, IF Chris Barnwell spent seven summers in the Milwaukee organization, making his big league debut in 2006. He moved to the Marlins for the 2008 season and signed a Minor League deal with the Astros this offseason. A .262 hitter in nearly 3,000 Minor-League at-bats, Barnwell has played every infield position at one time or another, with most of his innings coming up the middle or at third.
RHP T.J. Burton wasn't on the Canadian team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, but he was a member of Team Canada at the Beijing Olympics. Burton appeared in five games and tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing five hits while striking out five. The 25-year-old also has participated in two World Cups and the Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Selected by the Indians in the 18th round of the 2001 Draft, he'd spent his entire career in that organization until signing with the Astros this past offseason.
RHP Chia-Jen Lo was on the Chinese Taipei National Team in the Olympics and appeared in one game, tossing two innings and allowing one run on three hits. He did strike out three. Lo is the first player from Taiwan signed by the Astros, joining the organization this offseason. The soon-to-be 23-year-old has appeared on the country's national teams at a variety of levels.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.