Over the past decades, Canada has enjoyed the talent and success achieved by several athletes that have arrived in from Hispanic America and the Caribbean. Many of them have earned the right to be part of the Canadian sport mythology and the collective memory of their fans. Putting names together on such exclusive list entails not only an assessment of personal achievements, but also the contribution to collective success. For proximity or traditions reasons, baseball and the Blue Jays have been the natural stage for Spanish-speaking players to meet glory. Such surnames as Alomar, Delgado or Bautista are worshipped in Toronto and they have helped write the blue bird franchise’s history with gold letters. Other popular disciplines in Canada like ice hockey, basketball or American football has not been practiced by our athletes, although there are some exceptions we have wanted to highlight.
Other names deserve to be on this list because of their influence on Canadian sports, like the pioneer from Dominican baseball and most important beater in the Blue Jays’ history, Epy Guerrero, or Spanish skater Javier Fernandez, double world champion and five-time champion of Europe, who has spent the past five years training in Toronto, coached by mythical Brian Orser.
Puerto Rican Roberto Alomar has undeniably written his name with gold letters on the Toronto Blue Jays’ history. After playing two seasons with the San Diego Padres, Mr. Alomar was transferred to Toronto in 1991, where he lived two milestones in the club’s history: the consecutive wins in the 1992 and 1993 World Series. Mr. Alomar only played five seasons in Toronto, but those were years of glory for the team, which are still recalled by the city with Puerto Rican athlete playing the leading role.
Mr. Alomar showed his skills in Canada as a great batter and excellent second base. During his first year he won the Golden Glove in the American League (an award that was given to him ten times), and he was named MVP in the American Series against Oakland. Mr. Alomar signed up with Baltimore after the 1995 season and he later played for Cleveland, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox and Arizona. He retired in 2005 after 17 years of career and a batting average of .300 with 2,724 hits and 210 HRs. Alomar is a member of the
Toronto Blue Jays’ Hall of Fame with the highest distinction, “Level of Excellence”, a recognition strengthened in 2011 when the team decided to take the number 12 he was wearing for five seasons out of the lineup. It was the first time this decision was made in the history of the Canadian franchise.
The inclusion of Jose Bautista in the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008, coming from the Pittsburgh Pirates, didn’t have a significant impact. There were no big expectations around him. Nevertheless, nine years later the Dominican fielder has made his way up in the history of the team. He presently stands out as the team’s franchise player and one of the most acclaimed athletes in Canada. Since he arrived in Toronto, he has been included four times in the Top 10 of the most valuable players in the league and he heads or is usually included in the Top 10 of several categories in the same season in the Blue Jays’ history.
Since 2010, Mr. Bautista has shot at least 27 HRs per year and, in four out of those seasons, he has delivered at least 35 homeruns and drawn nearly 100 walks, thus leading the American League twice. In 2015, his first time in playoffs, his “bat flip” in the Divisional Series of the American League caused a sensation and became a symbol of the first time Toronto went to playoffs in 22 years. His huge list of recognitions and records includes his presence in the MLB All Star Team six times in a row, three Silver Bats and two Aaron Hank Awards. In 2011 Bautista established a program to help athlete from the Dominican Republic to go to universities in the United States.
In the short history of the Toronto Raptors (the team joined the NBA in 1995), the presence of Spanish-speaking players has been discrete and they have barely played a leading role in the team or stayed for long with the franchise. However, Spanish Jose Manuel Calderon is one of the most important and admired players in the history of the team. Mr. Calderon spent eight seasons in Toronto and became one of the team’s standards. When his transfer to Detroit was announced, the Spanish player couldn’t hold his tears and thousands of fans gave him a warm and moving farewell.
Since he joined the NBA in 2005, Mr. Calderon played over 520 games with the Canadian team. He went to Detroit in 2013 with the title of top assistant in the franchise’s history (3,770) and the second player that had participated in the highest number of games with Toronto (525), only 17 behind Morris Peterson. During a season and half (2006-08), he shared the “Spanish connection” with his compatriot Garbajosa, who left Canada and the NBA due to a lesion. At the galleries and corridors of the Air Canada Centre, visitors can see several pictures of Calderon playing along with other stars that have written the history of the Raptors.
George Bell with his slugging average of .308-47-134 .605, was the Dominican player to win the most important award in a season, MVP of the American League in 1987, when he was already playing with the Toronto Blue Jays. George Antonio Bell Mathey was one of the most important left fielders in the history of Dominican baseball and he spent 12 seasons playing in Toronto (1981, 1983-1990). He later played with the Chicago Cubs (1991) and Chicago White Sox (1992-1993). Throughout his career in Major Leagues he was 6,123 times at bat and delivered 1,702 hits, 308 doubles and 264 homers, with batting average of .278.
He lived his best season in 1987, when he led the Blue Jays in an exciting duel for the division title, which was finally taken by the Detroit Tigers. Mr. Bell finished with average of .308, .352 in bases taken, .608 slugging, 111 runs, 47 homers and 134 runs batted in. George Bell is present and visible in the Blue Jays’ history with a special place at the Rogers Centre. His name is shown on the stadium’s level 400, “Level of Excellence”, dedicated to the exclusive group of players that have had a significant impact throughout the history of the team in Toronto. That illustrious group is made up of Tony Fernandez, Joe Carter, Cito Gaston, George Bell, Pat Gillick, Dave Stieb, Tom Cheek, Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado and Paul Beeston.
Puerto Rican Carlos Delgado is a member of the quartet of great Latin American stars that make up the “Level of Excellence” in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays, along with Tony Fernandez, George Bell and Roberto Alomar. He was included in 2013 as a recognition to an outstanding career, with 336 HRs and 1,058 runs, so he was chosen as a member of the All Star Team twice.
Carlos Delgado made his debut with the Blue Jays in 1993 and he played 12 seasons with the franchise. When he left the team, he was leading several statistics with the highest number of homeruns in the history of the team (336), runs batted in (1,058), walks (827), slugging (.556), OPS (0.949), runs (889), bases (2,786), doubles (343), additional low hits (690), times on the base (2,362), and bat per homerun (14.9). The twice All-Star member (2000 – 2003) won the Hank Aaron Award and the News Sporting in 2000 and the Silver Bat in 1999, 2000 and 2003. Mr. Delgado is also the fourth MLB player to deliver 30 or more homers in 10 consecutive seasons. The day he joined the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence, the president of the team, Paul Beeston, said that “he was not only one of the best batters in the history of the team, but also one of the best starters of his generation.”