Jose Lima makes another start in his most recent comeback effort tonight (Friday) in Long Beach, CA and Hideki Irabu follows suit with the Armada Saturday, but these Golden League efforts could pale by comparison to what is about to take place in Quebec.
Eric Gagne is suddenly ready to try coming back as a starter, no less, and his first outing will come Saturday night at Stade Municipal de Quebec against the Worcester (MA) Tornadoes.
The only part of this event that has yours truly a little conflicted is whether this is a bigger opportunity for the Can-Am League or for the Capitales de Quebec. I suppose it is more meaningful for Quebec right now, but that could change if the onetime unequalled relief ace's arm holds up and he makes a series of starts throughout the northeast in this downsized (six-team) league that could use a burst of attention.
Here is the situation: Gagne once collected a major league record 84 saves in the same number of opportunities before starting to struggle through a series of pitfalls since the 2004 season. But unlike many who try to bounce back, he is only 33.
And, where it really gets interesting is the fact the French Canadian Gagne was born up the road from Quebec in Montreal. His pending return has been getting front page attention, complete with color photos, for days now in both Quebec and Montreal.
"We are sold out" Can-Am Commissioner and Quebec Owner Miles Wolff told us Friday, "with 600 standing room tickets" to go on sale Saturday morning. In other words, the old Stade Municipal de Quebec, with current capacity of about 4,500 (without the standees) will be bouncing at record levels.
"Absolutely" was Wolff's one-word reply when I asked him if this would be the biggest event in team history. Who could argue.
Gagne called the Capitales about playing for them, reinforced the thoughts after talking to another former major leaguer (and French Canadian), Pete LaForest, who is a DH-first baseman-catcher in Quebec. Eric, his wife Valerie and their children all have moved from their year-round home in Arizona to Quebec for the time being.
He knows his days of throwing 95-mile-per-hour heaters are over, Wolff said, but is hopeful of getting back to the majors at about 88. Tons of mound savvy certainly will not hurt.
The right-hander has not started since 2001, the season before he hit paydirt with consecutive years of 52, 55 and 45 saves for the Los Angeles Dodgers, except for twice in Frisco, TX in '07.
Gagne was limited to 10 saves (4-3 with a 5.44 ERA) for Milwaukee last season, boosting his career total to 187. He signed a minor league deal with the Brewers this spring, but was released early in spring training when shoulder damage showed up.
The future may be up in the air, but Saturday--barring some of Quebec's stubborn rain--is going to be one big event for all levels of Canadian and Independent baseball fans.