NAIA grad Mortensen tames NCAA hitters

By Bob Elliott

CARY, N.C. _ Hitters in USA Baseball collegiate lineup came from four-year powerhouses.

Impressive college programs like Florida, San Diego, Louisville, Missouri, Texas A@M, Virginia, Arizona, Clemson and Long Beach State.

And on the mound Tuesday afternoon was right-hander Jared Mortensen, who used to pitch for the NAIA-level LSU-Shreveport Pilots.

Not that NCAA Division I schools look down at NAIA schools, but they certainly don’t look them in the eye.

“Even my double-A teammates say NAIA schools are the Junior College of NCAA Div. I,” said Mortensen, pitching for the Montgomery Biscuits this season and Tuesday wearing a black uniform with red Canada lettering. 

He worked four innings for Canada in a 12-1 win over the collegians in the Americas Baseball Festival at the National Training Center’s Coleman Field.

Mortensen was touched for a homer by Louisville’s Chris Ray, the only hit he allowed. He didn’t walk a man and struck out two.

Mortensen will join a pretty fair pitcher from an NAIA school, Jeff Francis from the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds when Canada opens the Pan Am Games Saturday night in Ajax against the Dominican Republic.

Snobbery exists between college campuses whether the subject is football, law school or the ball team.

“LSU wouldn’t play us my two years at Shreveport,” Mortensen said. “They had nothing to gain. They win ... they are supposed to, they lose ... they fall in the rankings.

Mortensen was 9-3 with a 4.13 ERA in 2011 and 12-2 with a 1.67 ERA at Shreveport, after starting his journey at the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge and then Mount Olive College.

He returned home to pitch in the Western Major Baseball League and then ...

“I quit, even independent teams wouldn’t call,” said Mortensen who returned to Shreveport to coach. Then, Ricky Van Asselberg, general manager of the Grand Prairie Airhogs of the independent American Association called with an invite in 2012.

What did he learn from manager Pete Incavilgia, the former Philadelphia Phillies slugger? 

“Not to pitch like a wuss, don’t pitch scared,” said Mortensen, with  a laugh. 

As an Airhog he learned plenty from reliever Justin Dowdy.

“He taught me the ins and outs of pitching, how to apply pitching like a science,” said Mortensen, signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. He went 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 games at class-A Charlotte. He’s 5-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 games at Montgomery this season.

Pitching for the Abbotsford Cardinals’ coaches Cory Eckstein and Andy Rempel in the B.C. Premier League Mortensen played against Brett Lawrie and Kyle Orr.

While this is Mortensen’s first trip with Team Canada he played against Tyson Gillies and Kyle Lotzkar, also on this Pan Am team. 

On this day, like in each one of Francis’ 72 wins in the majors, the NAIA school grad had the upper hand.

In Game: Gillies homered to centre leading off against Florida Gators’ Logan Shore who had worked eight scoreless coming in ... Kellin Deglan singled in a run after two walks and a Sean Jamieson single in the second. Then, Brock Kjeldgaard hit a two-run single, after a walk, Gillies had a two-run single, Peter Orr doubled home a run and Jordan Lennerton bounced out to cap the seven-spot ... Gillies had three hits including a triple and knocking in three runs ... Shane Dawson pitched three scoreless innings, walking one, striking out four and making an acrobatic play sliding towards the third base line to make a fine fielding play ... Deglan homered singled and drove in four runs. Kjeldgaard had a pair of hits and two RBIs.

Heading north: After Wednesday’s game Team USA, Cuba and Team Canada will board the same charter flight to Toronto and check into the athlete’s village.

Will Larry Walker, who takes these international competitions about as seriously as Donald S. Cherry, be snuggling up beside a Cuban outfielder or a Team USA pitcher?

“There will be,” said manager Ernie Whitt in a very authoritative tone, “degrees of separation.”

Jays connect: Eddie Blankmeyer, coach of the Team USA college team, worked for the Blue Jays for about one quick sip of coffee. After the 1995 season he was hired as a scout by the Jays. On Feb. 1, 1996 he was hired to coach the St. John’s Red Storm. He’s been there ever since. Blankmeyer previously was at Seton Hall where in 1987, he recruited Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Dana Brown, now Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos’s most trusted set of scouting eyes. Former Blue Jays scouting director Chris Buckley, now the Cincinnati Reds scouting director, was also part of the Seton Hall staff.

Late changes: Team USA lost catcher Eric Fryer when he was promoted to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday so officials were scrambling to find another backstop ... When slugger Dan Vogelbach, who was at double-A Tennessee, was injured, Team USA added outfielder Mac Williamson from triple-A Sacramento.