Usha Tkachyk says the top pitching prospect was a ‘positive distraction’ in her home, arriving a year after the death of her son Tyler in an accident in Thailand

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Vancouver’s Usha Tkachyk with her young billet, Vancouver Canadians pitcher Alek Manoah. (Photo: Courtesy of Usha Tkachyk)

This is a story about Alek Manoah and Usha Tkachyk.

This is a story about a son and his single mom, and about another single mom and her son.

Tkachyk billeted Manoah at her home, which is a five-minute walk from Nat Bailey Stadium, when Manoah pitched for the Vancouver Canadians in 2019.

And on Thursday, she watched intently as the 23-year-old top prospect made his big-league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, and was thrilled that Manoah’s mom Susana garnered such attention in Sportsnet’s TV broadcast.

Manoah’s parents divorced when he and older brother Erik were entering high school and they lived with Susana. Erik, 25, was a pitcher in the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels systems, and both of Susana’s sons have said she went the extra mile to help them succeed in sports.

“The way he talked about his mom to me was just so sweet,” Tkachyk said of Alek, 23. “He’s something special.

“He has a good soul. You can tell a person when they’re genuine. The way he talks about his mom tugs at your heart.”

Manoah also reminded Tkachyk of her own son Tyler. Big, burly guys. Similar facial hair. Teddy-bear dispositions outside of sports. Tyler was a pitcher, too, a left-hander with Douglas College.

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Tyler died in January 2018, the result of a scooter accident while visiting Thailand. He was 28.

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Tkachyk began billeting Canadians players in their inaugural season as a short-season, Single-A club in 2000, not long after separating from her husband.

It was a further connection to baseball for her family. Tyler was 11 at the time and playing for Little Mountain, which has fields just across the street from Nat Bailey Stadium.

“Alek was a positive distraction for me,” Tkachyk, 62, said. “His mannerisms were so much like my son’s. They looked similar. The way Alek loves his mom…my son was very much like that.

“It was a great thing for me. I was debating not billeting in 2018 because I had just lost my son, but I thought that if it didn’t work out we’d find a way to figure it out. I’m glad that I kept doing it. It’s been a great experience for me.

“Alek was like an angel sent to me.”

Manoah, a right-hander listed at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, was with Vancouver for about six weeks that season and made six appearances for the club, with an eye kept on his innings by the Blue Jays since he was just coming off a full NCAA campaign.

He was the 11th overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft out of West Virginia University, and the Blue Jays gave him a US $4.5-million signing bonus.

“You never would have known that,” Tkachyk chimed in. “He never acted at all like someone who received a huge bonus. He was always the sweetest, most humble guy.”

Toronto Blue Jays rookie pitcher Alek Manoah comes off the mound after getting the third out in the sixth and final inning he pitched in his Major League Baseball debut, a 2-0 win over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in New York on Thursday.
Toronto Blue Jays rookie pitcher Alek Manoah comes off the mound after getting the third out in the sixth and final inning he pitched in his Major League Baseball debut, a 2-0 win over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in New York on Thursday. Photo by Wendell Cruz /USA TODAY Sports

She had a brief back and forth with Manoah around his birthday in January. She texted him after Thursday game, but hadn’t heard back by the early evening.

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“You can guess he’s pretty busy,” she said.

Tkachyk keeps in contact with several players who stayed with her family. That includes the likes of Brian Rooke, who was an outfielder with the 2001 Canadians. He’s 41 now.

Canadians general manager Allan Bailey says those are familiar tales for him.

“I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve heard from one of our host families about how they’re going to one of their old player’s weddings,” Bailey said. “Some of the relationships that are built are unbelievable.”

The Canadians’ relationship with the Tkachyk family merits that type of characterization as well. Tyler worked for the team as a bat boy as a youngster and took other jobs around Nat Bailey Stadium on game days as he got older, including parking lot attendant. His sister Nicole, now 29, worked in the cotton candy stand for a couple of years and later became a waitress.

Usha Tkachyk even got into the act. After retiring from her job as a rehab assistant at St. Paul’s Hospital, she started working at the guest services booth at Canadians games. She did ask for days off when Manoah was pitching, as you’d might expect.

When getting Tyler’s body back from Thailand became a logistical challenge, a GoFundMe page was started up to help out. It raised over $40,000. That included a $10,000 contribution from Jeff Mooney, one of the Canadians’ owners.

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Tyler’s celebration of life was held at Nat Bailey as well.

“It’s one of the things we talk about as a staff all the time — the family that we are,” said Bailey, who has remained in Vancouver, working out of Nat Bailey while the team is playing out of the Portland suburb of Hillsboro, Ore., due to border restrictions brought about by COVID-19.

“It extends to the people that work here on game days and the fans that come out all the time. We’ve had people coming here for years. That’s what’s made not having any games here last year and not having any here so far this year so especially difficult. People are missing that. They’re missing that connection that they get here. They can’t wait to get out here.”

SEwen@postmedia.com

twitter.com/SteveEwen

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