Hazleton native nearly called Yankee Stadium his home this season

Last updated: June 23. 2013 4:08AM - 1855 Views

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MOOSIC – He couldn’t help to notice as New York players got hurt and members of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders got called up.

That could’ve been Hazleton’s Russ Canzler on the Yankees current roster after being part of the team’s 40-man roster for about a month in the offseason before being designated for assignment and latching on with Baltimore.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t paying attention to it because my dad’s a Yankee fan so I get the updates all the time,” said Canzler, who visited his hometown over the weekend when his Norfolk Tides played at PNC Field. “As far as my career, personally I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time in the past with worrying about what would’ve happened if I did this different or if this would’ve worked out differently for me.

“Baseball is such a game of uncertainty we don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow. And I learned that this offseason. Something could happen with the Orioles tomorrow where I could be up there with them and I wouldn’t be thinking about a situation where I would be with a different team. But I know the Yankees have definitely been injury prone this year and like I said I hear it from my dad every day.”

Canzler played with current Yankee outfielder and former RailRider Thomas Neal last year when both were called up to play in Cleveland with the Indians. He’s also been teammates with pitcher Chris Bootcheck in Durham. Bootcheck, who was having a tremendous campaign for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, saw time with the Yankees before getting designated for assignment last week. He has since cleared waivers and was outrighted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“They’re two great guys who handle themselves professionally and can play the game pretty well,” Canzler said.

So can Canzler.

That was evident last year when he played nearly every day for the Indians as a September call-up. In the 26 games he played, he racked up 25 hits in 93 at-bats (.269 batting average) and bombed three home runs. More importantly, as he was let go four different times by three teams in the offseason, his showing in the majors caught the attention of others. The 27-year-old was technically part of the Indians, the Blue Jays, the Indians again and the Yankees all in about two months before joining the Orioles.

“By the fourth or fifth time I started to get down in the dumps, but (my family) said ‘Hey you’re getting claimed by teams so that means somebody out there is definitely interested in you and thinks you can help them at the major league level,’” he added. “That’s what I try to keep in mind here while I’m here every day to get better so if that phone call comes I’m 100 percent prepared to take on the big leagues again.”

With the turnover of players the RailRiders have gone through this season – only seven players on the active roster entering the weekend were on the Opening Day roster – a staple like Canzler would have been welcomed. He certainly would have enjoyed the opportunity as well of playing in a reconstructed stadium near his hometown. Especially since he grew up as a fan of Derek Jeter and collected Yankee paraphernalia during his childhood.

“Yeah it would’ve been nice to be here in Scranton and play in front of family, but I’m still fortunate enough to be in this league,” Canzler added. “And when we go to Lehigh Valley I’m close enough to home where I see a lot of family and when we come here to Scranton.”

Hometown isn’t the only connection in Moosic for Canzler. Had he been with the RailRiders not only would he have been teammates with Neal and Bootcheck, but with Dan Johnson as well. Johnson won the 2010 International League MVP award playing for Durham. Canzler won it the next year when both were teammates for the Bulls.

“When we played together in Durham he was a real good teammate of mine and gave me a lot of advice, helped me out, gave me some good pointers,” Canzler said of Johnson as the two chatted and caught up a bit prior to the series opener on Friday. “He likes to rag on me that I won the International League MVP the year after he did.”

A 2004 Hazleton Area grad, Canzler has always stepped up his play as the season gets longer. He began Saturday hitting .261 with 10 home runs and 39 RBI for Norfolk at the Tides’ midway point of the season. He’s still on pace to equal or surpass numbers he put up in several categories during his MVP season and many of his numbers would lead current RailRiders.

Even if he doesn’t pick up more hardware this season, he could make the teams that passed on him five months ago regret their moves … if they haven’t already.

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