By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
AJAX, Ont. – There were a few tears shed.
Or maybe it was actually a bit of a waterworks show, but who can blame Karen and Dennis Mortensen? They were watching their 27-year-old son Jared suit up for Team Canada for the first time in his life, throwing seven solid innings in the squad’s 10-3 win over Colombia at the Pan Am Games on Sunday.
“When he was on the mound I had tears in my eyes,” Dennis said. “I thought that’s my boy, playing for Canada, are you kidding? The tears were coming out.”
For a myriad of reasons, Karen has never been able to see her son play professionally. It’s been three years since she saw him throw at the NAIA College World Series for the Louisiana State University Shreveport Pilots.
Following a coaching stint at a local high school, the native of Abbotsford, BC played for the Grand Prairie AirHogs in the independent American Association before the Tampa Bay Rays organization signed him as a free agent. Over parts of three seasons since then, he’s posted a 3.81 ERA over 39 games and 184 1/3 innings with 67 walks, 160 strikeouts, and held opponents to a .231 average.
Suffice it to say, Karen was a little emotional to finally see it in person, on a day when Mortensen went seven frames, allowing three runs on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts.
“I can’t even describe it,” she said after the game, getting emotional all over again just thinking about it.
Mortensen’s parents weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the moment.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” the righty said. “I get pretty emotional just talking about it. You get to wear your country on your chest and show it off with pride. It’s pretty incredible for me …
“Having my family here was pretty awesome. My mom hasn’t seen me pitch professionally. My dad saw me last year, but pitching on home turf is definitely a lot more than anything I could have asked for.”
After first throwing in the red-and-white uniform in Cary, NC, at the Americas Baseball Festival last week as a tuneup for the Pan Am Games, Mortensen made his official debut with the Senior National Team program in Sunday’s game. His experience has been so great that Mortensen couldn’t even pick out the best part.
“It’s been a couple things,” he said. “No. 1, obviously having my family here, my parents flew out and my wife [Laci] is here. And then obviously playing with guys like [Scott] Richmond (Vancouver, BC) and [Phillippe] Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) and the other guys who have big-league time, and playing for Ernie Whitt, Larry Walker, Stubby Clapp and the coaching staff. They have pretty historic backgrounds, so that’s definitely up there too.”
While the host team might have had some jitters to shake off in its tournament-opening win over Dominican Republic on Saturday, there didn’t appear to be any nerves left over in the second game, even for the man taking the mound with the maple leaf on his hat for the first time.
“I was relaxed from the start,” Mortensen said. “I’m an older guy, I’m 27. And anytime you get to play baseball you think, ‘This is a kids’ game.’ There’s no need to be tense or have pressure. You just throw to your ability and that’s it.”
Mortensen’s outing was helped by the man behind the dish, fellow west coaster Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC). The 23-year-old catcher has already impressed the Canadian pitching staff with his abilities both behind and at the plate, and Sunday was no different.
“He’s got a great mindset, great plan,” the right-hander said. “He sets up real well. He gives me a lot of pitches that shouldn’t be strikes, but the way he catches and receives and kind of shadows the umpire it makes for an easier day for me. He’s doing a fantastic job.”
Early run support in the form of a three-run home run for Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC) in the second inning didn’t hurt either. Jordan Lennerton (Langley, BC) added a two-run double in the fifth before Gillies drove in another run in the sixth and Pete Orr (Newmarket, Ont.) immediately followed with an RBI of his own in the same frame.
The youngest player on the team at 20 years old, Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC) added a two-run homer in the seventh inning, and Brock Kjeldgaard (London, Ont.) had a pinch-hit solo shot in the eighth.
“Every day you expect them to put up 10 runs no matter who’s pitching,” Mortensen said. “Baseball is a funny sport like that, and they can hit a guy throwing 60 mph or a guy throwing 100, it doesn’t matter. But they’re so comfortable and relaxed in the dugout and it shows on the field. They’re just so calm and they make it look easy and simple …
“The opportunity to play with this team is special to me, on top of the performance we had.”
For as much credit as Mortensen can give to the team’s offence, the feeling of confidence in the pitching staff is mutual from the lineup.
“What’s good for the offence is probably the confidence we’ve got from the pitchers,” Gillies said. “The pitchers have been outstanding the way they’ve been running things and the way they’ve been shutting down their offence. It’s given us more confidence to do things and that’s been great. It’s been a huge factor so far in this tournament.”