Blue Jay Ballers

With the Toronto Raptors enjoying an off-day Tuesday, all-star power forward Chris Bosh was on hand — Blue Jays uniform and all — to throw out the first pitch at the Rogers Centre prior to Toronto’s game against Kansas City.

Though Bosh may have looked slightly out of place on the baseball diamond, he is not the first NBA player to don a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. On the contrary, the Jays have had a pair of players who also laced them up in the NBA.

Left-handed pitcher Mark Hendrickson was drafted by both the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers (31st overall in 1996) and the Blue Jays (20th round in 1997). Though initially choosing to pursue the hardcourt, he decided to switch to baseball after four subpar seasons in the NBA. Joining the Blue Jays’ system in 2000, Hendrickson made his — albeit forgettable — major-league debut on August 6, 2002, coming out of the bullpen to allow five runs and retire just one batter during a 14-12 Toronto win. Hendrickson managed to crack the starting rotation in 2003 though, and went 9-9 with a 5.51 ERA in 30 starts that season, while also becoming the first and only Blue Jay pitcher to hit a home run (June 21 vs. Montreal).

The Blue Jays have also had a player take the opposite route. In 1977 the club drafted infielder Danny Ainge in the 15th round out of Brigham Young University, where he was a star on the basketball court. Ainge remarkably made his way through the Blue Jays’ minor-league system while still in school, making his big-league debut in 1979 as the youngest player (20) in the American League.

Dannyainge2 In parts of three seasons with the Jays, Ainge batted .220 in 211 games overall. After being named college basketball’s player of the year in 1981, he was drafted 31st overall by the Boston Celtics. Because his contract with the Jays wasn’t set to expire until 1983, club president Peter Bavasi sued the Celtics in an attempt to prevent Red Auerbach & Co. from conducting negotiations with his infielder. At the same time, Boston countersued seeking a restraining order to keep the Blue Jays from interrupting contract talks.

On October 3, 1981, the following headline was used for the first, and (almost assuredly) the last time in the history of sports: ‘The Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Boston Celtics’. However, despite winning the court case, Bavasi decided to allow Ainge (now a free agent) to pursue a contract with an NBA team, provided his current contract was bought out. And so it was. Noting simply, ‘I’m a better basketball player than a baseball player”, Ainge officially switched careers on November 28, 1981, signing a deal to play for the Boston Celtics. He would go on to enjoy a 13-year career in the NBA that also included stops in Sacramento, Portland and Phoenix.

Josh Towers makes his season debut tonight, making it just three innings before hearing the boos from the 22,000-plus in attendance … The highly-scrutinized starter allows six runs — though only three earned — on 10 hits in 5.2 innings before giving way to the ‘pen … With the Blue Jays trailing 6-1, Gregg Zaun delivers a two-run homer to cut the deficit to 6-3 … That turns out to be the final though, as Toronto drops to 4-3 on the ’07 campaign … Though Towers takes the loss, this observer thinks the fans were a little too harsh … Game 3 of the series goes tomorrow at 7:07 pm …

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