This is no Little House on the Prairie.
Laura Ingalls Wilder may have lived 150 kilometres to the southwest, but Ma and Pa didn't have wall-size colour televisions on two floors, fireplace stone imported from Mission, B.C., and an indoor batting cage in a basement gymnasium. Never mind a Starbucks nearby.
"And I talked to this guy," Corey Koskie says as he shows a visitor around in the rambling, warm home of earth tones and tiles, "who works for the company that makes the artificial turf for the SkyDome [recently renamed Rogers Centre]
"He says he can get me a patch for the backyard [baseball field] Plus a cover so I can freeze it over in the winter [for an outdoor rink]"This is a slice of prairie paradise for Koskie. The native of Anola, Man., looks out the living-room windows in his country home and sees rolling hills of grasses, covered on this warm, winter day with a dusting of snow. Sometimes, wild turkeys take a shortcut through the backyard.
Koskie, who arrived in Dunedin, Fla., yesterday as the new third baseman of the Toronto Blue Jays, and his wife, Shannon, designed this home for their burgeoning family -- sons Joshua, 2, Bradley, 4, and a baby due in June.
"You think about all this and . . . I mean, to be able to just go downstairs and take batting practice with your kids," Koskie says, fiddling with the netting of the batting cage as Joshua whips around on a scooter.
On this weekend, the Minnesota Twins are holding their annual fan festival. Koskie won't be participating, but he did step out earlier in the day for a farewell luncheon with Twins owner Carl Pohlad, and there's talk of a pickup basketball game in his basement. Maybe Michael Cuddyer, who is taking Koskie's spot at third base for the Twins, will drop by to shoot hoops. Brad Radke, too.
Koskie looks forward to seeing them because none of them live in the Twin Cities during the winter.
Really? No Twins live in the Twin Cities?
"Nope," Koskie says matter-of-factly. "Just Corey."
Koskie is the son of a railway car man who also farmed in Anola, a community of 300 about 20 minutes east of Winnipeg. Koskie followed the Blue Jays as a child, but he would have happily finished his career in Minnesota, and his wife, a native of Vancouver, would have settled for the Seattle Mariners.
The Koskies took out a newspaper advertisement thanking Twins fans just days after he signed a three-year, $16.5-million (all figures U.S.) free-agent contract with the Blue Jays, a key part of general manager J. P. Ricciardi's plan to replace some of the offence lost by the departure of free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado.
"It was a matter of separating wanting to play for the team from wanting to play for the community," said Koskie, 31, a left-handed hitter.
"We prayed about it, because we wanted the Lord to make it really clear to us where he wanted us to be.
"I felt I wanted to be in Toronto. I knew Shannon wanted Seattle. She wasn't keen on Toronto, but through the process and through the praying, I think her heart kind of turned."
The Koskies are devout, but in a non-proselytizing way. Prayer was an important part of the decision because Koskie's investment in the Twins goes way beyond his house or the seven years in which he hit 101 home runs, drove in 437 runs and played on three American League Central Division winners.
Canadians came in from the cold in major-league baseball a long time ago. It's nothing for a Canadian, Jason Bay of Trail, B.C., to be chosen as the National League rookie of the year last season. A year earlier, another Canadian, Éric Gagné of Mascouche, Que., won the NL Cy Young Award. Pitchers Jeff Francis of Vancouver and Adam Loewen of Surrey, B.C., were first-round draft choices in recent years, and Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C., has most valuable player awards and All-Star-Game appearances.
Koskie is not cut from the same can't-miss cloth. A 26th-round draft pick in 1994, his career is one of near-misses and circumstance, the kind of thing you'd expect from a guy better known in Anola as a volleyball player and member of a Ukrainian dance troupe.
Koskie's original plan was to study pharmacy at the University of Manitoba. He played club volleyball in the summer.
He also played goal for the Tier II Selkirk Steelers, good enough to earn a scholarship offer from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. But Koskie had no idea he needed to write the scholastic aptitude test to go to school in the United States. Once the oversight was pointed out, the college told him to wait. They sent a scout to see Koskie during an exhibition game, and he played terribly.
End of hockey career.
"The chances of doing anything professionally weren't all that great, I knew that," Koskie said. "I wanted to get a college education, that's all. Hey, I really thought I was going to be a pharmacist, until that organic chemistry kicked in and, well, that was that."
At 19, Koskie paid his own way to play baseball for two years at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa. He was the last player chosen for Manitoba's Canada Games team in 1993 because he was recovering from an operation to remove a cyst from his shin. The pitching coach wanted him, but the manager didn't.
Koskie came back and played 10 weeks after the operation (three weeks ahead of schedule) and caught the eye of John Haar, the director of the defunct National Baseball Institute in Vancouver.
One day at the institute, Koskie saw Twins scout Howie Norsetter hanging around. So he walked up to him. "He signed somebody I played with, and when I mentioned that he had scouted me, too, he kind of gave me this look," Koskie said.
"Did not," Norsetter responded.
"I kept pestering him. 'Go check your notes.' Later, he comes back and says: 'You know what? You were there.' To this day, I still think that's the only reason he drafted me."
Koskie hit .234, with three home runs and 10 runs batted in, at Single-A Elizabethton, Tenn., in his first professional season. He got more advice from Norsetter, who mentioned that major-league franchises receive only a limited number of visas for foreign players.
"And they won't waste another one on you if you hit .230 again," Norsetter said.
The next season, Koskie hit .310 and had 16 home runs at Fort Wayne, Ind.
"Logicially, I shouldn't be where I am right now," Koskie said. "You look at the path and you really begin to believe God must have had a plan."
Koskie has met God, in the minds and hearts of Twins fans. His name was Tom Kelly -- T.K. to the baseball fraternity.
Irascible and given to fits of profane bullying, Kelly won two World Series as Minnesota's manager. Everyone knew Koskie wasn't one of T.K.'s guys.
When the Twins were putting together their 15-man protected list for the 1998 expansion draft, Kelly urged general manager Terry Ryan to keep an outfielder named Brent Brede and expose Koskie to the draft. He thought Koskie was too wooden to play third base, and he muttered about his "long, loopy swing."
"It was pretty much known that if Tom Kelly knew that Terry Ryan [the Twins' general manager]liked you, T.K. was going to bury you," Koskie said. "Every spring training, Tom just wore me out. I never worried about what was going to happen on the field. But I'd throw up every morning because of what was going to happen in the preworkout meeting.
"I mean, this is a guy who had your career like this," Koskie added, imitating a squeezing motion with his huge right hand. "And he was always pulling me out of the group. Ripping on me."
Ryan told Kelly to stuff it. So Koskie avoided the expansion draft, hit .356 in spring training and was sent to the minors. The Twins may be baseball's longest-running feel-good story, but in 1999, when no fewer than 11 rookies, including Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter, Cristian Guzman and A. J. Pierzynski, broke into the majors under Kelly's iron hand, they were hardly a group of happy campers.
Koskie was benched for opening day and was figuratively thrown under the bus by his manager after a hard slide that took out the New York Yankees' Chuck Knoblauch during an early-season game. "Koskie dove like he would if was a football player," Kelly said later. "It was terrible."
Koskie blossomed under Kelly's replacement, Ron Gardenhire, who as a coach on Kelly's staff hit ground ball after ground ball to Koskie during the winter at an indoor complex at the University of Minnesota. Koskie overhauled his workout program to include aerobics.
"I told him I wanted him to stay with the ball, and whether he wanted to pretend he was a goalie or a volleyball player didn't particularly matter," Gardenhire said. "Kid wore me out."
For years, the Twins' clubhouse has been famous for practical jokes and insider humour, and Koskie was one of the masters. A spring-training prank in which he put peanut butter all over David Ortiz's underwear remains a Twins legend.
That won't wash with the understated Blue Jays.
"There's going to be an adjustment period for Corey because the Twins are all about familiarity, about knowing whose buttons to push and when to do it," Gardenhire said. "He's going to do some goofy things, and I can't say there won't be some people who will wonder what the heck he's doing every now and then."
Koskie said it will be like "going to your wife's office party. It's all about getting comfortable and feeling people out. You just sort of try to blend in to the surroundings."
Ricciardi believes Koskie will help overhaul a clubhouse culture that has nagged at him since his arrival, to the point that the GM called Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay into his hotel room in Baltimore, Md., one day last season to tell them that with Delgado's departure imminent, it was time for them to put their mark on the team.
"We're not talking basketball," Ryan said, "where the new guy might have to worry about being on good terms with the point guard so he'll see the ball.
"Corey's a low-maintenance guy. All he has to do is stay healthy, catch the ball, hit the ball and he'll be okay.
"He's still in the American League. He has a guy managing that I really think a lot of [John Gibbons] he's still on that artificial surface, he's still inside a dome -- and there's that Canadian thing.
"If you'd asked me where I thought would be the best place for Corey -- where it would be as good as [in Minnesota]-- I'd have said Toronto."