By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
AJAX, Ont. _ These days, it’s more likely that you’ll find Pete Orr on the training table than in the weight room.
The 36-year-old veteran infielder has spent parts of eight years in the big leagues with pieces of 14 seasons in the minors, and whatever he’s still doing, it’s working.
Owning a pretty solid spot on the Colorado Springs Sky Sox roster, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, Orr didn’t have to think too much about his decision to depart his team to don the Team Canada uniform for the seventh time in his career, even with a .281/.345/.379 slash line to go with 15 extra-base hits, 31 RBI and 10 stolen bases through 62 games.
“For me, it’s a lot different than some of these other guys,” he said. “I’m older and playing for a major league team that has a lot of young prospects. It’s been a tough season, and the guys they’re going to call up are prospects. They’re not going to call up a 36-year-old guy at this point in the season.
“So I’m glad the Brewers allowed me to go and they gave me their support.”
Orr takes the cake as the oldest guy with Colorado Springs this year, with more than eight years on the average Sky Sox player. More than 16 years separates the infielder from his youngest Team Canada teammate at the Pan Am Games in Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC). While his experience is a benefit for any team, his role among the two squads is vastly different.
“Here, being a quick tournament, you’ve got to win at all costs really,” Orr said. “You just play the game to win and nobody cares how it happens, you’ve just got to win. When you’re playing throughout a long Triple-A season and being around some young guys, you try to teach them not necessarily by going out of your way, but you conduct yourself as a professional and let that influence the way they go about it.
“Learning how to play a long major league season is really tough. These tournaments are a lot different. They’re a week to two weeks, and you’ve got to go enjoy it.”
Enjoying the game isn’t something that comes as easily to players who have as much experience with the business side of baseball as Orr has had over the last decade-and-a-half, but he’s still having fun day in and day out.
“It’s fun, and it’s changing,” he said. “I don’t want to say every year or every day, but every once in a while, things change. You find different things that you used to do easily are now a little more difficult, but then there are things that you used to struggle with that have become easier, as far as the mental side of the game.
“So I still really enjoy the game. As you get older, more things get involved in your life, with family and children and stuff, so that definitely is playing a huge role in my baseball career probably winding down, but I still love the game.”
When Orr can bring the game to his family, it makes it all that much better. The Newmarket native got to share Saturday’s tournament-opening 4-1 win for Team Canada with his wife Jodi, four-year-old Max, and two-year-old Ben, among the family, friends, and hockey teammates who made the trek to Ajax, Ont., for the matchup against Dominican Republic.
“I haven’t gotten a chance to play at home very much,” he said. “The only time was during the [World Baseball Classic] in 2009 and that’s it. Every time the team I was on was going to Toronto [to play the Blue Jays], I always seemed to get sent down the week before. That happened to me four or five times.
“But I’m really excited to see my kids and my wife, and just very excited my family can come see me play and it’s a little easier. They’ve come to see me play a lot but they’re always putting a huge effort into flying or driving 15 hours to come see me, so it’s really nice.”
Though his own children are too young to understand the difference between their dad playing for Team Canada and any other team he’s suited up for since they were born, Orr takes incredible pride in being a member of the national team.
“Playing for your country, No. 1, is always an honour,” he said. “We’re all proud Canadians and we all want to represent the country. Bu tit’s also for every kid who plays baseball in Canada. We get the honour of representing them every time we get to do this.”
In Canada’s first matchup of the Games on Saturday, hitting second, the third baseman showed off his wheels when he tripled in his first at-bat against the Dominican Republic, scoring the team’s first run shortly thereafter when designated hitter Tim Smith (Toronto, Ont.) drove him in with a sacrifice fly.
Maybe there’s something to that time spent on the training table.
“As far as some of the workouts I used to do, I just couldn’t physically do them anymore, so I actually probably do less,” Orr said. “This season, instead of being in the gym, you’re probably in the training room more. It just kind of switches a bit. Sometimes there’s days where you want to work out and you just physically can’t do it so you’ve got to be in the training room to perform on the field.”
Continuing the performance in the sixth, Orr’s two-out walk and Smith’s infield single in the sixth frame gave Jordan Lennerton (Langley, BC) the opportunity to hit the three-run home run that sealed the deal and gave the Canadian squad the win to open the tournament.
“We got two quick outs and then Pete grinds out a walk, Tim places one in a good spot, and he threw me a pitch that I was looking for,” Lennerton said. “I was just trying to give the guys in the dugout a bit of a lift. We had two hits at that point and we were looking for something to happen, so I’m glad I could put a good swing on it …
“They’re quality hitters. They’re professional hitters and there’s nothing better than hitting behind guys who know what they’re doing. They set the table and it’s my job to bring them in.”
Canada’s first win was led by veterans all around, with Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) throwing six innings of shutout baseball, followed by veteran lefties and Buffalo Bisons teammates Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) and Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC) coming in out of the bullpen.
“You have to have some veteran presence, and we’ve got some veteran players here,” Canadian manager Ernie Whitt said. “We’re trying to mix in the veterans with the younger kids.”
While Orr has plenty of wisdom he can pass on to the younger kids, both with the national team and the Sky Sox, he himself is constantly learning and working on finding new things to pick up, looking for ways to continue his progression and stay in the game until someone rips the jersey off his back.
“At every level there’s something new; every day there’s something new,” he said. “One thing I learned early in my life is to always try to get better every day. The game is going to go on without you. If every single one of us never played another game, baseball is going to keep going.
“It’s going to adapt and new things are going to happen … I’m always trying to learn, I’m always trying to get better, and I’ll keep doing that until the day I die.”