T12 tryouts underway at Rogers Centre

Former Blue Jays closer Duane Ward gives some instructions to a pair readying to leave the Rogers Centre bullpen at tryouts for the third annual Tournament 12 which features the best high schoolers from across Canada. Photo: Michele Prata. 

Former Blue Jays closer Duane Ward gives some instructions to a pair readying to leave the Rogers Centre bullpen at tryouts for the third annual Tournament 12 which features the best high schoolers from across Canada. Photo: Michele Prata. 

TORONTO, Ont. – Tournament 12 tryouts are underway at Rogers Centre, and with a fraction of spots available for the hundreds of hopefuls looking to participate in the third-annual showcase event in September, the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to offer the best experience possible for every participant.

Tuesday evening, the Blue Jays Baseball Academy hosted the first of seven groups of young Canadian players hoping to earn a spot on one of the two teams that will represent the province of Ontario – or potentially the Futures Team roster – in the five-day tournament that has become a must-attend event for many major league scouts and college recruiters.

“The Blue Jays have done a great job of opening up the doors with tryouts like this and showcases like Tournament 12,” former Team Canada mainstayAdam Stern said. “And giving these kids a really good chance at exposure for the next level. Things like this weren’t around 10 or 15 years ago, and hopefully they’ll help continue [the trend of] baseball thriving in this province.”

With over 650 teens slated to attend and final rosters of 20 players, Toronto alumni coaches like tournament commissioner and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, Lloyd Moseby, Devon White, Duane Ward, Tanyon Sturtze, along with Sandy Alomar, want to make sure that each young player gets the most out of their time on the turf.

“Every year it’s gotten better and we’ve got a different group of kids,” Moseby said. “It’s fun to work with these guys, and to be out here. But we’ve still got four more days to go of picking out 50 kids out of 650, and that’s not fair. But it’s been a blast, and we’ve still got some days to go.”

The biggest thing that the former big leaguers try to stress to all those players trying out is to take the pressure off and just be themselves, which was easier said than done for those stepping onto the field for the first time and trying to soak in the Major League atmosphere.

“Let your abilities play the game,” Roberto Alomar said to the players before Tuesday’s session began. “Don’t try to do too much. The time you try to do too much, then you will have problems…I always try to help Canadian baseball because you guys have a lot of talent here. Hopefully we can continue to help you grow as a baseball player, and continue this Tournament 12 because it means so much to us.”

Added Alomar’s father: “I tell the kids just to be themselves and not to try to impress. I tell them to do things right, and we will be impressed. When they try to impress people, they put too much pressure on themselves …

“Every one of them [is nervous]. They all want to make the team, but it’s impossible for all of them to make the team. I always tell them to do what they need to do and let people choose after that. Be yourself, do your work, and everything will work out.”

For some, the opportunity this week will just be a stepping stone for the future. Toronto’s alumni are hoping to help all those who come through prepare for the next step, whether it includes Tournament 12 or not.

“It should be an experience of failure,” Moseby said. “Failure gets you better or failure makes you quit, and hopefully for the guys who don’t make it, we’re going to talk to them and tell them that they’ve got to get better because Tournament 12 is not the last of it and maybe we’ll run into each other again. Especially the young guys – we’ve got guys who are 14, 15 – this is a good experience to be here, around the guys, around [Alomar], and things get better.”

While many of the players attending were vying for a spot in September, two of Tuesday night’s youngest players were just hoping to get themselves on the radar, and to take advantage of the playing time available to them at Rogers Centre. The individual instruction they received from the alumni coaches was an added bonus.

“It’s really, really cool,” 13-year-old Griffin Cleghorn said, the youngest participant of the night. “The best part is probably learning from Lloyd and Roberto’s dad. They told me to use my front hand and bring it through and not really have a wide stance, and just swing the bat. [White] told me to bring my front hand through and just swing, [and Roberto Alomar] told me to bring my hands back, not stay forward, and to keep my stance a little bit smaller…I already feel like I’ve improved quite a bit.”

Added Lucas Wells, 14, Cleghorn’s Guelph Royals teammate: “It was great getting pointers from Robbie Alomar. He told me to keep my hands back and have a shorter stride. It was cool to meet him and get advice from him, just a great experience…I just wanted to come and play on this field, get my name out there, and have fun. We have so many years after this too.”

John Wells, father to Lucas and one of the coaches of both players’ minor bantam team, was excited at the opportunity the young men were offered, and ecstatic that they were able to take advantage of the great baseball minds on hand for the event.

“It’s invaluable,” the native of Guelph said. “You have major leaguers here. We can only do so much. We take coaching camps and clinics like the Jays camps, and there’s only so much that we can pass on. The experience that these guys have is invaluable for them to learn. And just for them to be out here in the dome, to be on the same field as the major leaguers, to field balls and hit balls and see what it’s like to be in this kind of environment, it’s an amazing experience.”

All eight Canadian high schoolers selected in last year’s MLB first-year player draft were participants in the inaugural Tournament 12, named for its commissioner, and more are expected to be selected this June.

The biggest success story from the event so far has been Andrew Case, a free-agent sign by the Blue Jays after he threw nine no-hit innings over two appearances with 19 strikeouts and won a championship with the Maritimes team in 2013. His 16-year-old brother, Nick McDermott, was one of the 95 players hoping to make an impression on Tuesday night, after seeing the different it made for his sibling.

“This would be the greatest,” the native of Saint John, New Brunswick said. “After seeing my brother go through it and having so much success and confidence after he did this, I would like to perform the same way he did … It was crazy because he wasn’t always the school guy and couldn’t easily perform at school, so this was really his only last option. It’s good for New Brunswick too. It gets a lot more players involved.”

Players do not need to attend a tryout camp in order to be selected to the tournament’s final rosters, but it offers them the best chance of exposure. Next week, the first five names for each team will be announced, and after all of the originally-scheduled tryouts are complete, more than 50 Ontario players – the province with the highest volume of attendees – will be invited back for another look over a short period of time in August.