A World Se­ries wa­ter­shed

Rob But­ler re­flects on a high point in his base­ball ca­reer, 20 years later

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NICHOLAS MERCER

Rob But­ler can still see Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Joe Carter’s home run pro­duc­ing swing in Game 6 of the 1993 Worl d Se­ries against t he Philadel­phia Phillies on Oct. 23.

The then 23-year-old Rob, whose fa­ther Phillip is from But­lerville, was the fourth out­fielder for the Blue Jays at the time.

From his spot on the bench, Rob can re­mem­ber watch­ing the at-bat un­fold.

Fac­ing a count of two balls and two strikes, Carter was fac­ing Phil l ies closer Mitch Wil­liams, who had closed out 43 games in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

It was a clas­sic mo­ment in Cana­dian sports his­tory and Rob had a front row seat along the third base line.

‘Very sur­real’

Rob now lives in Toronto, Ont. with his four-year-old son Elijah and runs the Home Run Base­ball Acad­emy with his brother Rich, as well as coaches the On­tario Prospects elite travel team.

“For some­one who was on the bench and watch­ing that at-bat, it was very sur­real and kind of slow mo­tion,” said Rob. “You’re so ner­vous and anx­ious be­cause we were still los­ing … we were hop­ing that some­thing would hap­pen.”

Toronto was trail­ing 6-5 when Carter stepped to the plate. Five pitches later, the Jays were back-to­back World Se­ries cham­pi­ons.

“I can still see him tak­ing the swing, and then it in­stantly sped up to chaos.”

Rob was one of the first on the field as the ball crossed the left field fence at the Skydome in Toronto.

“I lit­er­ally felt like I was jumping up in slow mo­tion and then I was go­ing way too fast for my­self. I didn’t know what to do any­more,” he said. “You’re bounc­ing around every­where and grab some­one with a white shirt on and give them a big hug.”

The World Se­ries was the sec­ond cham­pi­onship for the fran­chise, and Rob was the first Cana­dian-born player to win a World Se­ries with the Blue Jays.

Thrill not gone

It has been two decades since the Jays cap­tured the ‘93 ti­tle, and it has some­thing that still helps But­ler in his new ca­reer as a base­ball in­struc­tor with the or­ga­ni­za­tion he and his brother Rich built.

“I don’t think it has even ended yet,” Rob said of the high of win­ning the World Se­ries. “We’re still liv­ing off that … it gets talked about ev­ery day. It has not gone away.”

He does not mind talk­ing about an event that hap­pened that long ago.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate that I got the chance to do that,” said But­ler. “I al­ways felt ev­ery­thing lined up for me to be able to do that. I don’t know why.”

Com­ing to NL

But­ler’s World Se­ries ex­pe­ri­ence did not stop at the Toronto city bound­aries. Both Rob and Rich tried to make a se­cret trip to New­found­land to visit their grand­par­ents, Philip and Mil­dred But­ler. How­ever, things did not go as planned.

“We didn’t want to over­whelm our grand­par­ents be­cause we wanted to spend time with them,” said Rob.

But when the But­lers got off the plane in St.. John’s they were greeted by some 500 fans. There was a pa­rade planned and the broth­ers even squeezed in an ap­pear­ance at the Trin­ity Con­cep­tion Square in Car­bon­ear.

“We signed au­to­graphs for six hours,” he said. “There must have been 1,000 peo­ple in my grand­mother’s liv­ing room.

“It ended up be­ing spe­cial and fun.”

In the mi­nors

Rob signed as an am­a­teur free agent with the Blue Jays on Sept. 24, 1990. His first taste of pro ball came with the class short-sea­son A St. Cather­ines Blue Jays of the New YorkPenn­syl­va­nia League in 1991.

With St. Cather­ines, Rob hit .338 with seven home runs, 45 runs bat­ted in and 33 stolen bases. The next sea­son, he was in class ad­vanced A ball with the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League along with fu­ture Blue Jays Shawn Green and Car­los Del­gado.

Again, he tore up mi­nor league pitch­ing to the tune of .358, with four home runs and 41 RBIs.

The fol­low­ing sum­mer, Rob jumped to AA ball and headed to camp with the AAA Syra­cuse Chiefs of the In­ter­na­tional League. He ap­peared in 55 games with the Chiefs, hit­ting a re­spectable .284 with one home run and 14 RBIs. How­ever, Rob played stel­lar de­fence with the club, post­ing a field­ing per­cent­age of .989 with only one er­ror.

The AA team in Knoxville that Rob jumped fea­tured his brother Rich, Green, Del­gado and fu­ture Jays short­stop Alex Gon­za­lez, as well as fu­ture ma­jor league hurlers Tim Crab­tree, Steve Karsay and Paul Spol­jaric.

It was with the Chiefs that Rob got the call all mi­nor lea­guers hope will come.

The call

Prior to his call- up, Rob had missed three weeks due to a ham­string in­jury.

“I never thought I was go­ing to get called up that year any­way, be­cause I was slated to be in AA and I was com­ing up with Shawn Green and Car­los Del­gado. We were com­ing up to­gether and I never thought I would

“I al­ways felt ev­ery­thing lined up for me to be able to do that. I don’t know why.”

— Rob But­ler

be skip­ping any lev­els,” he said.

Rob had been back for a week and the Chiefs were play­ing a dou­ble­header at home.

Syra­cuse man­ager Nick Leyva gave Rob the sec­ond game off in or­der to ease the tran­si­tion com­ing back from in­jury. He had no idea the Blue Jays would come call­ing un­til the fourth in­ning when the Chiefs flashed the call-up on the big screen for all to see.

“That’s not how it’s sup­posed to go down,” said Rob. “The tra­di­tion of the game for 100 years is that no one knows but the man­ager and he calls you in af­ter the game and he’s the one who tells you first.

“There’s a big roar in the crowd and noth­ing is even hap­pen­ing in the game, so I’m won­der­ing what ev­ery­one is cheer­ing about and the play­ers are point­ing at the score­board. Nick Leyva, who is mad, is try­ing to yell at them to take it off.”

First game

Wed­nes­day ( June 12) will mark the 20-year an­niver­sary of Rob’s big league de­but against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit Sta­dium. The then 23-year-old Rob started in left field in the game, and made quite the first im­pres­sion on his new club.

Chas­ing af­ter a fly ball in foul ter­ri­tory, Rob tripped over the bullpen mound, nose-div­ing into the dirt.

“I got up and the first per­son look- ing at me is (Blue Jays catcher) Pat Bor­ders, from be­hind the plate, shak­ing his head and just laugh­ing at me,” he said.

Rob re­mem­bers be­ing un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ner­vous at the start of the game.

“There was 48,000 peo­ple there, and at that time Detroit and Toronto had a great ri­valry for years, and there were a lot of Cana­di­ans that went to Tiger Sta­dium,” he said. “There were so many Cana­dian f lags in the crowd.”

Prior to the start of the game, Rob re­mem­bers look­ing around the locker room and see­ing the likes of Joe Carter, Devon White and Paul Moli­tor.

“They’re all guys I had idol­ized for years,” he said.

That game Rob picked up his first ma­jor league hit off Tom Bolton in his fourth at-bat.

“I hit a ball over the head of (Tigers’ short­stop) Alan Tram­mell for an in­field sin­gle,” he said. “I gave the ball to my dad.”

Rob would ap­pear in 17 reg­u­lar sea­son games with the Jays be­fore tear­ing a lig­a­ment in his thumb slid­ing into sec­ond base on a steal at­tempt. He missed most of the reg- ular sea­son, but re­turned for the play­offs and the World Se­ries, see­ing limited ac­tion.

He had two at-bats in the World Se­ries, reg­is­ter­ing a pinch-hit sin­gle off Curt Shilling in Game 5. How­ever, he reached base in Game 4 on a fielder’s choice and later scored on a sin­gle by Jays cen­tre fielder Devon White.

That was the high point of his ca­reer, which sput­tered along for sev­eral more sea­sons, in­clud­ing a trade to Philadel­phia in De­cem­ber 1994.

He re­tired from pro­fes­sional base­ball in 1999.

For his ca­reer, Rob hit .243 and drove in 21 runs. His best sta­tis­ti­cal sea­son came in 1997 when he got into 43 games with the Philadel­phia Phillies and hit .292 with 13 RBIs. He had a ca­reer field­ing per­cent­age of .982.

Rich has started lay­ing down roots in the Con­cep­tion Bay North re­gion with But­ler Base­ball run­ning its first camp last sum­mer in Up­per Is­land Cove.

It is some­thing Rob hopes to be a part of one of th­ese days.

“We were hop­ing our base­ball pro­gram would do some­thing in New­found­land,” said Rob.

Rob But­ler won a World Se­ries with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. This sum­mer marks the 20th an­niver­sary of that win.

Sub­mit­ted photo

Rob But­ler is now one of the coaches of the On­tario Prospects elite travel team, which he started with his brother Rich.

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