Coach says Francis keeps in touch with UBC, is an example to other Canadian kids

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Colorado Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis has travelled a long ways from throwing at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver to taking the mound at Fenway Park as the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Terry McKaig isn't surprised Francis has made the journey from college ball in a tiny stadium to walking onto centre stage in one of baseball's most storied parks. What amazes the man who coached Francis at the University of British Columbia is how little the North Delta, B.C., native has changed and how much he still cares about the program that fostered his talents.

''When we talk, and we try to talk as much as we can, he doesn't usually want to talk about what he's doing,'' McKaig said in a telephone interview from Boston, where he was attending Wednesday's opening game of the World Series. ''He wants to know how the team is doing at UBC, how our schedule is looking and how we are going to play.

''He's back every year for alumni weekend. This is the first weekend he's ever missed. He wants to stay involved. He does some scholarship work for us, some fundraising for scholarships and stuff.''

McKaig spent the hours prior to Wednesday's game soaking up the atmosphere around Fenway.

''It's kind of amazing to see the excitement,'' he said. ''The streets are packed, people are wearing the Red Sox hats and T-shirts. You can tell it's the World Series.''

The UBC baseball program is only 10 years old and the Thunderbirds are the only Canadian entry in the U.S.-based National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. While McKaig spent three years tutoring Francis he shies away from taking any credit for his success.

''Jeff has earned everything for where he's at,'' said McKaig. ''We just created an environment for him to improve. He's the one that ran with it and is doing such great things.

''I'm just really excited for Jeff and his family. It's something kids dream about, pitching in a World Series game one day.''

Even when he played high school baseball, the six-foot-five left-hander showed he had the potential to be a big-league pitcher, McKaig said. It was just a matter of taking a rough stone and polishing it into a diamond.

''He could always pitch,'' said McKaig. ''That's not the surprise he has become a dominant pitcher in the big leagues.

''We always knew it was just a case of his velocity. He didn't throw very hard when he showed up to us out of high school. It was just him adding the velocity like he did at UBC. It's the velocity that allowed that to happen.''

Francis had nine double-digit strikeout games during three seasons at UBC, although he never threw a nine-inning complete game. Still, he showed enough for Colorado to pick him ninth overall in the 2002 draft.

He made his major league debut on Aug. 25, 2005, and this year had a 17-9 record for Colorado.

While Francis played a big part in helping the Rockies get to the World Series, he also has sent a message to Canadian kids who once believed they had to attend a U.S. college if they had any hopes of playing professional baseball.

''The assumption was that you always had to go to the U.S. if you wanted to get drafted and get noticed by Major League Baseball,'' said McKaig. ''Jeff has shown every kid in Canada that if UBC is a place that works for you because of the academics and the baseball program, you will not hurt your baseball career by making that choice to stay in Canada.

''That's been huge. That used to be the knock and it was very difficult for us to recruit. Now Jeff has shown that it doesn't matter where you are playing. If you are good enough, they are going to find you and that won't hold you back.''

To date, 10 UBC players other than Francis have been drafted by professional teams.

Organizations: University of British Columbia, U.S. college, Boston Red Sox Colorado Rockies Thunderbirds National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Major League Baseball

Geographic location: Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, Fenway Park North Delta U.S. Boston Colorado Canada

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