*Jose Bautista is peppered with questions by the Canadian Junior Team at Al Lang Field./Photos by Alexis Brudnicki .... 2012 Canadians in College 2012 Canadians draft list 2011 Most Influential Canadians Letters of Intent 2011 All-Canadian College team 2011 Canadians in the Minors
By Bob Elliott
St. PETERSBURG _ How did the Canadian Junior Team get ready for their game against the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday afternoon?
By taking infield practice and hitting in the batting cages beyond the right field fence at historic Al Lang field.
And by talking pre-game hockey smack of course.
“Mitch Triolo and I were in the cages the same time as J.P. Arencibia,” said Kyle Hann, second baseman for the juniors. “We know he’s a big hockey fan ... the three of us were talking about dropping the gloves and going at it.”
No gloves were dropped before, during or after on what the St. Pete’s International Series bills as Canada Day in March on a good day for Canadian baseball.
“Playing this game some people would say is a lose-lose situation,” said Arencibia. “Get a hit, it’s like ‘well you were supposed to get a hit.’ Don’t get a hit, guys will tease. The way to look at this is big picture, what the day does for baseball in Canada and what a great thrill it is for these kids.
“I mean I would have freaked if I was on the same field as defending home run champion in grade 12 (in 2004, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome led the year before). I mean I would have freaked.”
Whitby’s Ryan Kellogg was on the mound and the lefty didn’t freak. The top prospect for the June draft, retired Mississauga’s Dalton Pompey on a fly ball, gave up a line single to Lawrie, popped up Bautista and retired Adam Lind on a grounder.
Arencibia flew out to open the second as did Chris Woodward. Brian Bocock and Michael Crouse of Port Moody, B.C. each doubled and then Crouse stole third. Kellogg walked North York’s Marcus Knecht as he made a pick-off attempt at first, Crouse broke for the plate.
First baseman Brett Siddall made the return throw to catcher Chris Shaw for the out.
So a good day for the draftee, especially with Hall of Famer Pat Gillick and about 30 other scouts watching.
“I don’t know whether I’m more excited watching all the good Canadian juniors play the Jays, or watching all our Canadians play against Team Canada,” said Jays Canadian scout Jamie Lehman before the game.
The grade 11 and grade 12s had the chance to smooze with the major leaguers before the game and kudos to the Jays for bringing four every-day players. Of course, the option was a bus trip to Fort Myers.
“We had the chance to ask Mr. Bautista which pitchers gave him the most trouble,” said Georgetown lefty Adam Anderson. “He told us Jared Weaver and CC Sabathia. Weaver because he looks like he’s throwing the ball into the dugout and then it’s on the corner.
“And the way Sabathia goes into his motion and pauses with the ball hidden behind his back leg.”
Said Mr. Bautista: “The left-hander (Kellogg) had good movement on his pitches.”
North Vancouver’s Scott Richmond started for the Jays and was greeted by back-to-back doubles by Windsor’s Jacob Robson and Oakville’s Hann.
“I noticed how he threw Robson a first-pitch fastball, most big leaguers do that to get ahead,” said Hann, who had the best bolt of the day. Toronto’s Gareth Morgan singled and Bret Siddall hit a fly ball to bring home Hann to give Canada a 2-0 lead five batters into the game.
“I was OK, once I figured out their plan, and that was to ambush me,” said Richmond, who gained the save as Canada beat Team USA to win gold at the Pan Ams in Mexico last October.
“I’m not going to flip in a first-pitch breaking ball to a high school guy. I never was good enough to play for the program but this has to be quite a thrill to be on the same field as guys like Bautista and Lawrie who they see on the TV every night.”
Richmond could not remember the name of his house league team his father’s friend coached when he was in grade 12 on the North Shore. The late bloomer didn’t make the B.C. Premier League teams as Justin Morneau and Jeff Francis did.
The score never matters in spring training and the score (10-2 for the Jays) mattered even less Tuesday before a crowd of 732 paying customers which consisted of the players and coaches from the Ontario Prospects, Ontario Blue Jays, Ontario Mets and Ontario Terriers, who are in Florida for March break, plus the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
IMG instructor Andy Stewart, who as a Jays coach 1,000s of strikes to slugger Carlos Delgado over the years, threw out the first pitch.
Third baseman Jesse Hodges of Victoria, B.C. was asked before the game how many steps onto the outfield grass he would be playing when right-handed hitters Lawrie, Bautista and Arencibia came up.
“I’ll be on the INFIELD grass,” said Hodges. “I’ll take it like a man. We had the chance of talking to Brett and he told us what a grind the minor leagues was with the bus trips and people with negative energy.”
“That’s what I’d like to do,” said Hodges.
Chris Woodward stepped into the box in the fourth and watched a changeup was on the inside corner. “Ball,” said the ump. “I hear Chris Reitsma (pitching coach) yelling ‘you’re kidding me, that was a strike,’” said Woodward. “Reitsma always got me out that way, now I’m thinking that he’s told his pitcher to throw another one.
"He threw a fastball and I bloop a change up into right.” Woodward said when he reached the first base dugout he signalled to Reitsma about what a good change his pitcher has. “Reitsma taught him that right?” said Woodward. “What do you mean no?” He learned from his father. The pitcher was Cal Quantrill. “Well, the kid sure takes after his old man,” said Woodward. “He knows how to pitch.”
Before this week, Jordan Schulz of Strasbourg, Sask., wasn’t sure the best pitcher he’d ever faced was with the Regina Athletics. Now, here he was on the same field as Scott Richmond, former big leaguer, who retired the final outs to give Canada a gold medal at the Pan Am Games plus Vancouver’s Trystan Magnuson, who pitched with the Oakland A’s last season. And there were a few hitters around too.
“It’s really something to be on the same field as Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista,” said Schulz. “I’d pick Bautista over Lawrie as my favorite, he’s a right fielder like me.”
Schulz said the best arm before he faced the Jays was Philadelphia Phillies lefty Jay Johnson of Sussex Corner, N.B. who is tabbed as a fast riser in the Phillies system.
You may remember the name Jim Neader. He was the agent for former Jays Lloyd Moseby and Mark Eichhorn’s agent. And in the 1980s was quoted often in Toronto papers when it came to players contract negotiations.
And now? Neader, a St. Pete’s native, put together the St. Petersburg International Baseball Series after the Tampa Bay Rays flew for Port Charlotte. “We have a beautiful facility like this park, you either use it or lose it,” said Neader of Al Lang formner home of the Rays, the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Mets and New York Yankees.
“With so many Canadians living and vactaioning here and with Team Canada involved, I phoned Paul Beeston (Jays president) and asked if they would come over for one day. He made it happen.”
Defending World Cup champion The Netherlands, the Detroit Tigers, the Baltimore Orioles, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Atlanta Braves, the Tampa Bay Rays and Phillies and St. Pete’s Junior College have played games over 13 days.
This was another spring game.
Yet it had the feel of homecoming weekend at a university.
Phillippe Aumont, a stud for Canada and a No. 1 pick now with the Phillies was in the Canadian dugout in civilian clothes, Scott Richmond came over to hug coach Greg Hamilton after the game, former No. 1 pick Chris Reitsma was in the bullpen as the pitching coach, program graduates Lawrie, Pompey, Knecht and Crouse with the Jays.
The Canadians had their chests stuck out.