I crossed paths with Pat Borders a couple of times when he was trying to hang on in the game.Â
The first time was in Knoxville, where the Jays had their Double-A affiliate, back in 1986. In his first full season behind the plate, Borders spent the bulk of the season in high-A before being called up to a level just two steps removed from the major leagues. That might seem like headier stuff than it was in reality. In the dog days of summer, the Jays were simply taking a bit of the workload off their everyday catcher, 21-year-old Matt Stark, Torontoâ€™s first-round pick in â€™83.
The teamâ€™s farm system was the envy of MLB, in particular that Knoxville club with its hyped prospects in the outfield: 20-year-old Dominican Sil Campusano, who had been ranked alongside or just ahead of Jose Canseco by Baseball America; Rob Ducey, a 21-year-old from Kitchener, who was hyped as that elusive grail long chased by the big club, a Canadian star; and Glenallen Hill, a Rule 5 pick who spent the previous season in Toronto and racked up 31 homers and 97 RBI back in Double-A.
All around the clubhouse there were more heralded prospects â€” not just the players whoâ€™d land in the big-league lineup (David Wells, Manny Lee, Todd Stottlemyre and Nelson Liriano) but also younger prospects, drafted higher and more recently than Borders. The Jays were fresh off their first division title and it looked like the core of future contending teams was in Knoxville, but Borders might well have been the last name to come up in conversation. I sat down with the manager, Larry Hardy, and went through the organizationâ€™s jewels one by one â€” and he never mentioned his backup catcher.