Hockey is the biggest sport of Canada where youngsters typically learn to play the game on frozen ponds. In British Columbia in Canada, you may be surprised to know there have been 28 Major Leaguers from British Columbia compared to 381 NHL hockey players. Vancouver is the home of the Vancouver Canucks who joined the NHL in 1970.
Vancouver geographically is close to Seattle, Washington and the Seattle Mariners have a strong fanbase in Vancouver. Among them is Pond, Simon Pond who chose baseball over hockey. He was a big fish in a small pond and the 16,012th major leaguer in history. He was a teenage baseball star in his North Vancouver high school in Canada and was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1994. After 10 years of persevering in the Minors, Pond got an invite to the Toronto Blue Jays camp in 2004, and after a very good Spring Training where Pond batted .338 with 4 HRs and a team best 23 hits, he was the talk of camp.
As Spring Training finished, Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi had tough decisions to make. He traded a promising youngster named Jayson Werth to the Dodgers for Jason Frasor on March 29, 2004 to make room for Simon Pond on the Blue Jays Opening Day roster. Pond earned his spot for having a great spring and did what he needed to do to make the roster. He worked hard when many players would have quit years earlier. For Jayson Werth, he was a roster casualty in the numbers game. It was a painful reminder of going from top-prospect to a player who was nearing a crossroads in his career as Werth was nearing 25 years old at the time.
“I knew something was happening,” said Jayson Werth about the trade. “There were some trade rumors and people would call from home and say they read stuff on the internet.”
Making the Opening Day roster, Pond was cautiously optimistic with his words back in 2004.
“I’m real happy about it,” Pond said after making the roster. “But I still have a lot to do. I don’t know how to say it properly. It’s a rung on the ladder, a step along the way.”
Unfortunately for Pond, his Major League career would span only 16 games in just that 2004 season. Pond floundered in his brief time in the Majors as he batted .163. Pond’s one big highlight was his only career HR which came off of a Boston Red Sox pitcher named Bronson Arroyo.
The cautionary tale is that relying on Spring Training stats for players is a “slippery slope” for talent evaluators and fans, and it works both ways for great stats and poor stats. Pond had a very good Spring Training in 2004, and Werth had a poor Spring Training in 2004. Werth went on to have a very good 2004 Major League season with the Dodgers tallying a .825 OPS, and Pond ended up with a .515 OPS.
“Offensive consistency was the big difference between Pond and Werth,” said Toronto manager Carlos Tosca after the trade in 2004.
They say hindsight is 20/20. Did we mention Jayson Werth had two 20/20 seasons in his career, and Pond didn’t even reach 20 games played in his entire MLB career. What if? This is not a knock on Pond as he persevered and legitimately made it to the Major Leagues, but Werth went on to become a star player.
Pond will always be tied to the Nationals for several reasons as he was drafted by the Montreal Expos, now the Washington Nationals, and Pond will always have his ties to Jayson Werth as well as his favorite teammate Reed Johnson. Former GM J.P. Ricciardi will always be tied to being another GM who relied on big Spring Training numbers to promote a player like Pond and criticized for trading off Jayson Werth.
Pond, who is now 41 years old, owns Dynamic Tile and Stone LTD in Vancouver, British Columbia. He truly has been a success when you consider what Pond has accomplished. John Lott got this great quote as Pond said, “For [former GM J.P. Ricciardi] to get rid of Jayson Werth and take me, I feel like I should apologize to him for that.” Pond was probably half joking, and happy to look back on his life that he made it to the Majors.
Be careful as you watch these Spring Training games that you don’t mistake a Pond for a Trout as Mike Trout in 2012 slashed .167/.286/.167/.452 in that Spring Training, and he went on to a record setting Rookie of the Year season that same year!
In the meantime, we will keep evaluating the Spring Training talent and see who deserves to make this team.