* OF Marcus Knecht (North York, Ont.) has enjoyed his time with Baseball Canada and is looking for more this summer when the Pan Am Games come to Ajax, Ont. And after that his goal is to make the Rogers Centre. ....
By Alexis Brudnicki Canadian Baseball Network DUNEDIN, Fla. – There’s not a moment with Baseball Canada that Marcus Knecht doesn’t recall fondly.
The 24-year-old first earned a spot with the Canadian Junior National Team during his high school days, while a member of the Ontario Blue Jays. The two squads helped him to earn a place on the roster at Oklahoma State University and become a 23rd-round draft selection of the Milwaukee Brewers out of St. Michael’s College high school.
“My time with the Junior National Team was everything,” Knecht said. “We went to extended [spring training] and played the extended guys, and then the instructional league guys [in the fall]. It was the same thing.
“That was the first time I faced guys throwing consistently high [velocity] and I knew what to expect after I got drafted. And I wasn’t that nervous when I faced these guys because I had already faced them before.”
Knecht went to the world championships in Edmonton with Team Canada to conclude his time as a junior, before splitting his post-secondary playing days at OSU and with the Connors State College Cowboys.
Since becoming a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, selected in the third round of the 2010 draft, he’s had the unique opportunity to play against the junior team he once was a part of, in their annual spring training meeting, something he’s enjoyed each year and looks forward to.
“I like to watch players, what they’ll look like, and they’re all pretty good in size,” the native of North York, Ont., said. “I don’t remember being that big when I was their age but it’s definitely fun watching them and how they compete against big-league and professional players…Most of them handle themselves pretty well ...
“It’s definitely exciting, and it feeds through and leaks onto us so it’s pretty awesome.”
Since graduating from the junior squad, Knecht has earned the privilege of suiting up for the senior team on multiple occasions. Along with his national teammates, Knecht owns a spot in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for winning the program’s first-ever gold medal, bringing it home from the most recent Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mex.
With the upcoming Games in Ajax, Ont., just outside of his home city, the outfielder is hoping to suit up for his country this summer and defend the win that marks one of his best baseball memories.
“I hope I get a chance to make the team because it’s going to be fun,” Knecht said. “And it’s in Toronto. I haven’t played baseball in Toronto in a long time, so that is going to be awesome. I have a lot of friends and family who will be there cheering us on, so I’m pretty excited that I might get a chance to do that and get a chance to fight to repeat for a gold medal again.”
Knecht had just turned 21 years old when he donned the red-and-white jersey at that Pan Am tournament, immediately following Team Canada’s bronze-medal victory at the World Cup in Panama.
One of the new faces on the team, he was quickly made to feel welcome, and he immediately started some lifelong friendships on that trip.
“I didn’t really know the other guys on the team that well at the time, but by the end of it I did,” he said. “It’s cool seeing those guys and how they’ve progressed since then too. I don’t know how many made the big leagues after that Pan Am Games, maybe four or five, so it’s exciting to get to follow those guys because we all part ways after the games. I keep tabs on those guys and I get excited when they make it to where they want to go.”
Heading into Dunedin this spring, the Toronto farmhand was especially looking forward to seeing Andrew Albers, who joined the Blue Jays organization in December. Knecht didn’t know the 29-year-old left-hander before the Panama, but after 15 scoreless innings at the World Cup and a stellar start in the gold-medal game in Mexico, he started to keep an eye on the southpaw.
“It’s exciting to see Albers again,” Knecht said. “I didn’t know Albers before the World Cup. I didn’t know who any of the guys were. I had heard a couple names but I was pretty ignorant to the fact of how many players are in Canada. You don’t really see that until you get out on the field with a bunch of them … but Albers dealt.
“[Jim] Henderson did too, but he didn’t get his velocity up until the year after. He was only 91-92 there and then when I saw him in the show he was 96-97, so that blew me away. I liked watching Shawn Hill too. He was a real professional.”
On the hitting side, Knecht learned a lot from watching and listening to some of the more veteran Team Canada players during those tournaments.
“[Jimmy] Van Ostrand impressed me the most,” he said. “I watched him hit a lot and I thought he was really good. A lot of guys were smooth, a lot of the older guys, and they all had good things to say. [Shawn] Bowman raked. He really raked.
“And they were all passionate guys. That’s what I loved. They wore their heart on their sleeves. It was good for the young guys to know and to see the guys who had been there for a while…That team was definitely a group of special players who wanted to win. And it showed, because we won.”
Heading into the final game in Guadalajara, the team from north of the border was guaranteed their best-ever finish. Silver didn’t seem like an option, however, and many of the members of the squad knew exactly how much the hardware would mean to the program.
“All the Canadians knew that it would be the first gold medal for the program,” Knecht said. “We were kind of second or third, or even fourth on the scale in the baseball world. We all knew we hadn’t won before and we were all hungry for it.”
With the Pan Am Games now just a few months away and Canada the defending champions, Knecht doesn’t believe their last win puts them much further ahead in the minds of other baseball-playing countries, which is perfectly fine by him.
“That’s kind of part of the Canadian nature,” Knecht said of still being underrated. “You always play like underdogs. We’re all going to be hungry this year and we’re all going to be really excited to play for our country. I will be if I get the chance to play.”
While it would be a fantastic opportunity for the outfielder to wear the Team Canada jersey again, Knecht’s priorities out of spring training are to work his way out of Dunedin and to move as far up Toronto’s organizational ladder as he can manage this season.
“My goals are to make the show; make it to the big leagues this year,” he said. “I’ll show ‘em what I’ve got and that’s it.”