BOSTON -- Jeff Francis has learned a little about Reggie Cleveland over the past week or so. He knows plenty about Larry Walker.
When Cleveland induced a Tony Perez fly ball to right in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, he gave the Red Sox one last chance to make up a one-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth. He had no way of knowing that he'd be the last Canadian to pitch in baseball's premier event for more than three decades.
Thirty-two years later, almost to the day, Francis knows he'll be the next when he takes the mound to start Game 1 of this year's Fall Classic on Wednesday night. After that, it might not take long to find another.
Considering Francis wasn't born until Cleveland's final Major League season in 1981, Francis doesn't have many memories about his predecessor. The eight-day layoff since the Rockies clinched the National League pennant has given him a chance to learn, what with all that has been written linking them.
Still, his prominent memory in Canadian baseball history is Walker. The fellow British Columbia native was a key piece of the Cardinals lineup in 2004, the last time the Red Sox were in the World Series before this year. Given those local ties as well as national ones, Francis had to be impressed when he started receiving text messages from Walker during the Rockies' run through the NL playoffs, starting with Francis' start in Philadelphia in the Division Series.
"He said in his message that he was sitting down to watch the game and wanted to wish me luck, and I thanked him," Francis said, "and then he got back to me and he said that he's proud and he's having a lot of fun watching. And I think hearing from him after he we won the National League was special because I know that he had been there with St. Louis, the same place, coming into Fenway and playing in a World Series for the first time.
Internationally born players
Sixteen members of the World Series rosters were born outside of the contiguous United States. Of those, nine play for the Red Sox. Five players hail from the Dominican Republic, most of all other countries represented, with Canada, Japan, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela also represented.
Dominican Republic (5)
Puerto Rico (3)
"I think that was pretty cool to hear from him, especially being from B.C. I've been watching him play forever. He's a hero back where I'm from."
Eric Gagne, though a native of Quebec, probably ranks somewhere in his sense of history, too. He could be on the same mound -- which might well be a proud moment for Walker, too. It would be the first time two Canadians have pitched in the same World Series.
"It's pretty cool," the Boston reliever said Tuesday. "That's how far we've come from. When I came into the league, I think there were three Canadians. Now there's two of them in the World Series. That's pretty exciting."
If they both pitched in this series, that would be a first for Canada. It would be one of many feats in a World Series that has a distinctively international flavor.
While Gagne and Francis know each only other through their work for Baseball Canada, Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rockies second baseman Kazuo Matsui need no introduction. They were teammates on the Seibu Lions for five years until Matsui jumped to the United States in 2004.
Now, obviously, they're opponents, potentially directly. Because Matsuzaka's spot in the rotation didn't come up when the Rockies visited Boston for a three-game Interleague series in June, Matsui hasn't yet stepped into the box against Matsuzaka in a game, on either side of the Pacific Ocean.
Add in Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima, and Japan will have a record three players in the World Series.
The international connection extends far beyond the Great North and the Far East. Rockies closer Manuel Corpas, a native of Panama, enters his first World Series hoping to duplicate the postseason success of countryman and teenage hero Mariano Rivera. A year after a Tigers squad that boasted four Venezuelans failed to win the title, Yorvit Torrealba and Franklin Morales hope to win it all with Colorado. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are represented by eight players combined between the two teams.
Then, of course, there's the American who makes a first because of his heritage. Jacoby Ellsbury was already the first Major Leaguer of Navajo descent when the Red Sox called him up in September. When he takes his spot in center field on Wednesday night, he can add the Navajo history to the World Series. Where that feat ranks among all Native Americans is relative, since many have had partial heritage.
With all these ties around the world, it's no wonder that reporters have flown in from around the globe to cover. Matsuzaka was surrounded by even more reporters than usual when he came back into the dugout during the Red Sox workout. Torrealba happily greeted a Venezuelan reporter who had made the trip to cover him.
As for Canada, it's the kind of coverage that would make Cleveland and Walker proud.
"It's going to be exciting," Gagne said. "It's not really something that happens every day, two Canadians. It's pretty cool."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.