By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Pete Orr knows where he’s meant to be and what he should be doing.
Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to stay on the diamond and in what capacity the 36-year-old infielder might do so.
Orr spent all of last season with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, apart from the few weeks he left his squad to play for Team Canada at the Pan Am Games right in his own backyard in Ajax, Ont., where he scored the winning run in the gold-medal game for his country.
Last season was his 16th in professional baseball, with parts of eight years in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, and pieces of every season in the minors, totalling 1430 career hits in 1786 games after being selected in the 39th round of the 1997 draft by the Texas Rangers.
“Triple-A with the Brewers was a different year for me, because they were such a young group in Triple-A,” the Richmond Hill-born infielder said of last year. “Being much older than everyone, that was interesting to be with.
“Then going to the Pan Am Games was obviously an amazing time. And we actually were having a great time in Taiwan [at Premier 12 in November] and doing really well until that one game, and then it was just over like that. It was a great year and I was so happy to have the opportunity to represent Canada again.”
With a number of national squad highlights throughout his career, Orr can’t compare his Team Canada trips with one another. Each one holds its own place among his fondest memories, and being able to come out on top of the podium on home soil last summer was a fantastic addition to the fold.
“I’d look back to 2003 when Adam Stern and I were just bench players, sitting watching Team Canada qualify for the Olympics for the first time, that’s up there,” Orr said of his best Baseball Canada moments. “Obviously the Olympics were up there, the WBCs, and the Pan Am Games were phenomenal.
“They were all so different and they’ll all hold a special place for me, but it was fun to finally win one. With the Pan Ams, to get a gold medal and just win it, it was special.”
Weighing the decision to try to keep playing the game professionally this off-season, having his second opportunity of the year to play for the national team in Taiwan at Premier 12 – where Canada won five straight games before being eliminated with a loss to Mexico in their sixth matchup – helped Orr realize that he did indeed want to stay out on the field, and he continued to work and get ready for his next season.
But at the end of February, the veteran player still without a job offer on the table, he showed up at one of Major League Baseball’s Scouting Bureau camps to try his hand at another side of the game.
Orr wanted to take in the event at Centrefield Sports in London – one of several across the country – where draft-eligible Canadians run, throw and hit for scouts and recruiters, to have a better idea of whether he might like to potentially take on the scouting or coaching side of the game one day.
“I’ll always be involved for sure,” Orr said. “But I’m kind of in a weird spot right now so we’ll see where the future takes me. But I know I’ll always be involved in baseball…
“[The bureau camp] was interesting. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen players that young on this kind of stage, so it brings back a lot of memories first of all. And it’s kind of scary thinking about all the stuff that those kids are going through at that time.”
So what was Orr going through almost two decades ago, when he was hoping for his first chance at pro ball?
“I couldn’t even tell you,” he said. “A lot of stuff. I mean, it was only 20 years ago or so but things were a lot different. There was nothing like this. We showed up in the middle of the summer to a field. It wasn’t anything indoors with the scouts right on top of you like that. I probably would have been pretty intimidated.”
Seeing the advancement of the game across Canada, and the resources now available to young players, Orr is excited about what the new opportunities mean for the future.
“They’re fantastic and it’s great for Canadian baseball,” the father of two said. “It’s great that you have good people who are getting involved and are helping kids out. I always try to look at the big picture of things and it’s great for the game. As many people that get to enjoy playing this great game [as possible] is all for the better.
“Also going big picture, just the Blue Jays playing at the level they’re playing, they’re going to inspire kids to come out and hopefully there will be more places like [CFS] in London that will give kids an opportunity.”
Unsurprised by the calibre of talent at the camp, knowing firsthand the kind of players Canada has produced over the years, Orr gained a new perspective of the game and a realization of where his own future might eventually take him.
“Obviously I have some really close friends who do this for a living, so you talk to them and you hear stuff, but it was so interesting to just see it firsthand and see potential in people,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be a scout someday but I’ll always look at a young player and see what that guy could be, and try to look at him and in my own mind I’m already thinking, what could I do to help?
“I guess I know what I’m programmed to do – it’s to be a coach – but I thought it was great. It was awesome to see the future ahead of all these guys.”
But before the future is the present, a time where Orr continues to contemplate his next move and keeps looking for the right opportunity to either keep playing or not.
“I can’t even answer properly,” the Team Canada veteran said of what he’s doing. “It’s a different time. You do something for 17 years and then all of a sudden you’re not sure you’re doing it anymore. It’s kind of tough. So it’s interesting. I’m looking forward to the challenges of it though…
“Everything will be okay. You can’t just sit around and do nothing though. You’ve got to be willing to take some chances and try some new stuff.”
On the topic of potential retirement, Orr made it clear that the term is only really used for the biggest fish in the pond, though no matter what you might call it, he knows he’s not ready to be finished playing.
“I wouldn’t say it’s 100 per cent,” Orr said. “But spring training has started already and I’m here in Canada. Everyone has this idea of athletes that they’re Hall of Famers like Peyton Manning [the Denver Broncos quarterback who retired last Monday], and that’s only the case with the one per cent.
“The rest of the guys just end playing when people stop wanting you to play. I’ll never close the door fully. I’ll be 80 years old thinking I can go out there and do that, but we’ll see.”