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Unfinished Business02/01/2013 2:01 PM ET
By Rob Fai / Vancouver Canadians
(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - He was the first Vancouver Canadians player to step into a batter's box in 2012, completely unaware that as he dug his shiny new cleats into the clay at Avista Stadium in Spokane, Washington, it would be his only plate appearance in the Northwest League the entire year.
Canadians outfielder Ronnie Melendez didn't become a household name in Vancouver this past summer because, well, no one ever got to see him swing a bat out at Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium.
His first and only plate appearance came on June 15th, 2012 in the top of the 1st inning against the Spokane Indians starter John Kukuruda who got the start for the Texas Rangers NWL Affiliate.
Melendez, a prototypical leadoff hitter with great speed and a solid understanding of his strike zone, got right on top of the plate and made Kukuruda challenge him.
A fastball in on the hands got Melendez to swing hard and a soft liner went out to Indians second baseman Cam Schiller producing the first out of the season.
As Spokane's infielders began to throw the ball 'around the horn', Melendez winced in pain as he made his way back toward the Canadians dugout down the third base line.
At the base of the dugout, Melendez was met by trainer Drew McDonald who took one look at a finger on the leadoff hitter's hand and immediately guided him up the long, narrow tunnel toward the Canadians clubhouse.
The ball that Melendez had hit out to Spokane's middle infielder had actually gone right off of his ring finger, crushing the bone in two places. To think that a ball could travel nearly 120-feet from home plate out to second base off of finger of a hitter almost makes you feel a wee bit weak in the knees.
Minutes later Canadians manager Clayton McCullough would scratch Melendez' name off his line-up card and replace him with Ian Parmley who would admirably go 2-for-3 with three runs scored in an 8-1 Vancouver victory.
The celebratory chatter that usually rings throughout a winning clubhouse was subdued as after the players returned to their locker stalls, there sat Melendez, having just returned from the local hospital with the news that any player dreads the most - 'season ending injury', 'surgery' preparations already in the works.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Canadians fans who had heard for days about the speedy tandem of Melendez and Dalton Pompey, a Canadian-born prospect that the parent club Toronto Blue Jays were looking in on.
"I had worked really hard in Spring Training to make the Vancouver roster and was hoping to make the best out of my situation coming off of a tendon injury the season before (2011).
"After that game in Spokane with another injury, my eyes just welled up with tears and I thought that maybe this was the end of the line".
Melendez, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, had already done the surgery route that was accompanied by months of rehabilitation and frustration. So to face the same challenge all over again really did put his back up against the wall to either retire or look his adversity in the face one more time and battle back.
"I am 100% healthy," states Melendez to canadiansbaseball.com
"I really appreciate the Toronto Blue Jays patience and commitment to me and I can't wait to get back. If they called me and said that there was a game tomorrow and I was playing, I would be ready to go right now".
Those statements alone show that the fire still burns for Melendez who admits he would have little trouble returning to Vancouver to help the Canadians toward a third straight Northwest League Championship.
"Even though I was only there (Vancouver) for just over a week, I was still treated like family. My housing parents, the staff up there - they all made me feel better about what had happened and I remember thinking that I would love to go back to Vancouver and let them see what my game is all about. I feel like the Blue Jays haven't seen my best yet and now that I am completely healthy, it's time to show them what these legs can do".
The Blue Jays drafted Melendez in the 24th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft and will give him a fair look at Spring Training this year as the staff in Dunedin has already inquired about what date he plans on reporting to the Bobby Mattick Complex.
"I am still in love with this game and respect that fact that I have some work to do. If I make the Vancouver roster I want them to pencil me right back into the top of that line-up card and pick things up right where they left off," adds Melendez who is certain that should he return, the mentally-tough outfielder will surely get a few more plate appearances than he did a year ago.
Note: Melendez and the rest of the 2012 Vancouver Canadians roster will receive Championship Rings in Dunedin, Florida in March.