* Canadian players find out they'll be headed into WBC without C Russell Martin, who wanted to play -- if he could play shortstop. .... 2012 Most Influential Canadians 2012 All-Canadian Team 2012 All-Canadian stats
By Bob Elliott
DUNEDIN _ Catcher Russell Martin not playing for Team Canada -- unless he could play shortstop -- was a surprise to Canadian players.
“It’s not like ‘I’ll be there next year,’ this tournament happens every four years,” said Adam Loewen, who will play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic next month. “This is a big deal.
“You can get hurt anywhere. I did everything right: pitch counts, propers mechanics, it still didn’t stop me from getting two stress fractures.”
Drafted fourth over-all in North America as a left-hander, Loewen has been re-born as a left fielder. Although when the season starts he’ll likely play first base at double-A New Hampshire.
“It’s always good to have an established player like Russell behind the plate,” said Loewen of Martin, a seven-year veteran who has made three all-star appearances. “It will hurt our lineup over all.”
Catcher Chris Robinson was on the roster and John Suomi was added Monday to take Martin’s spot. Suomi has played 12 years in the minors, his best season in 2004 with class-A Modesto when he drove in 99 runs. Last year he played in 64 games at triple-A Lehigh Valley, catching 35.
“Robinson is a true leader, he’ll take care of our pitching staff,” Loewen said. “He’s very experienced whether it was in the Pan-Am Games (gold) or the World Cup (bronze).”
Told he was the best Canadian catcher available on Sunday, Martin replied he was the also the best Canadian shortstop.
Now, that could be taken as an insult by infielders Peter Orr, Cale Iorg and Jonathan Malo.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Orr from the Phillies camp in Clearwater.
Mike Nickeas, obtained in the R.A. Dickey trade with the New York Mets who has 73 games experience in the majors was an option, but manager Ernie Whitt and director of national teams Greg Hamilton decided to go with a left-right combination. Both Robinson and Nickeas are right-handed hitters. Suomi hits left.
“That’s the way it worked with previous teams,” said Orr. “They had Cole Armstrong and Robinson.”
Said Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, who has also played short in the past: “It would have been nice to have Russell on the team, but he’s made his decision.”
Before Suomi was added Whitt, 60, was asked if Baseball Canada had begun paper work to make him a naturalized Canadian in time for the WBC.
“Yeah, I’ll platoon ... one batter at a time,” said Whitt jokingly.
Whitt was a platoon mate of Buck Martinez with the Blue Jays.
“It’s Russell’s choice not to play, we would have loved to have had him,” said Whitt. “We want people who want to represent not only themselves but their country. We appreciate what he’s done in the past, but he has the right not to come, if he doesn’t want to catch.”
Whitt pointed out how the WBC, like any international tournament, the chalk horse does not always win.
“We lost to Italy in 2009 when everyone thought we would beat them,” said Whitt. “We almost lost to South Africa and then beat Team USA in 2006.”
Paul Quantrill, member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the all-time appearance leader amongst Canadians is the bullpen coach for the WBC.
“It’s disappointing,” said Quantrill from Port Hope of Martin’s decision. “We expected him to be in the lineup. It would not seem so bad had we known this a long time ago. It puts everyone in a bind. Greg has to go through hoops to get clubs to get approval for guys to play. It’s not an easy job.”
Quantrill added Martin is “one of the best Canadians in the majors today.”
The Canadian team arrives in Phoenix Sunday, works out Monday, plays two exhibition games and opens the tourney March 8 against Italy.
In the seats behind home plate Monday afternoon a veteran scout asked about Martin’s desire to play short, a position he has not played since one game with the 2002 rookie-class Gulf Coast Dodgers.
“Is this like a rec league team? Anyone gets to play where they want ... you know ‘I play my favorite position?’” he asked.
Told that neither were the Pittsburgh Pirates allowing their $17 million catcher to play short nor Canada wanted Martin as a catcher -- not a shortstop -- he said he was unaware and apologized.
“When I get to Arizona,” said J.P. Arencibia, one of three catchers with Team USA, “I’m going to ask if I can play centre field.”
Ah, he won’t be in centre.
Just like Martin won’t be a shortstop.