Baseball at Pan Am Games feature talented teams
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
For years and decades, you have read or heard about Cuba, how strong it teams are on the international stage.
How dominate Cuba dominates on the diamond.
You may have read or heard about the much talented and now retired shortstop Omar Linares from yesteryear, the player perhaps deemed best to ever play for that country, although he never played in the majors, hindered by the oppressive Castro regime.
GTA residents can see this powerhouse in action at the beautiful President’s Choice Ballpark in Ajax at the corner of Audley and Taunton roads July 11-19 when the Pan Am Games men’s baseball event takes place.
You will have a chance to see Cuba against defending champion Team Canada on the night of the 14th. Of course, Cuba will play five other games in the preliminary round, including an encounter with Colombia to start the event at noon on July 11.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to Durham Region where the men’s and women’s baseball tournaments will be staged. The ball park was a test event for Ontario-based teams and a Toronto Blue Jays camp was held there leading into last September’s Tournament 12.
About $9-million in renovations were made, including the stands, diamonds, players’ dressing room areas and a similar facility for umpires. The city of Ajax contributed $4-million toward the renovation costs. The town’s contribution came from revenue the municipality receives for being the host community for what is called The Slots at Ajax Downs.
A nearby farmer’s field is being used for parking during the baseball games, holding about 2,000 vehicles. Without that field, parking would likely be chaotic.
As we saw earlier on Canada Day, “odds and ends’’ of work are still being carried out, said a park official. Although the diamonds were off limits Canada Day, we could see through a fence that one maintenance worker was fixing the pitcher’s mound on the main diamond.
Other games on opening day besides the Cuba-Columbia encounter will see Canada vs. the Dominican Republic at 7 p.m., while the U.S. and Puerto Ricans meet at 3:30.
The Ernie Whitt managed Canadians will play Columbia July 12 at 3:30, Nicaragua July 13 at 7, Cuba July 14 at 7, Puerto Rico July 16 at 7 and the U.S. July 17 at 7 to finish the preliminary round.
The women’s event will not begin until July 20 and that day’s action will feature Canada against Cuba. Later, Andre Lachance’s Canadians will meet Venezuela July 21, Puerto Rico July 22 and the U.S. July 24.
It’s hard to keep track of everything but I just noticed today on usabaseball.com that the American men’s squad will be piloted by former Expos bench coach Jim Tracy, who also managed the Ottawa Lynx Triple-A team before moving up to work under Felipe Alou in Montreal. Tracy brings 856 wins and 11 years of big league managerial experience to the table.
Tracy will be joined on the Pan Am staff by pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, hitting coach Ernie Young and assistant coaches Roly de Armas and Jim Lett, who both spent a lot of time with the Blue Jays’ organization in various capacities.
Tracy’s squad will first gather in Cary, N.C., at the USA Baseball National Training Complex where it will practice from July 4-8. The U.S. will then depart for Toronto where it hopes to win its first Pan Am gold since 1967. It’s been a long drought.
Team USA's roster includes nine players with big league experience led by INF Casey Kotchman of Kansas City Royals, who has played 939 games. The others: OF Brian Bogusevic of the Philadelphia Phillies 299 games, INF Andy Parrino, Oakland Athletics 131 games, INF Tyler Pastornicky Texas Rangers 124 games, LHP David Huff, Los Angeles Dodgers, 118 games, C Tommy Murphy, Colorado Rockies 66 games, C Eric Fryer, Minnesota Twins, 50 games, RHP Casey Coleman, Royals, 10 games and RHP Ryan Kelly, Atlanta Braves one game.
Young prospects on the roster include former first rounders: OF Albert Almora (sixth over-all by the Chicago Cubs, 2012), RHP Zach Eflin (33rd, 2012) of the Phillies, RHP Aaron Blair (36th, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2013) and OF Travis Jankowski (44th, 2012) of San Diego Padres. Almora is ranked No. 49 on MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects list, while Blair, who was recently promoted to Triple-A.
Team Canada, Tracy’s club and all other ball teams in the tournament will be housed in the athletes’ village in downtown Toronto. They will need a shuttle bus trip of about an hour to reach the Ajax park. To make the commute easier, you can understand why HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes have been marked on major highways in the GTA.
For the most part, expenses such as plane trips and meal money for incoming teams are incurred by each individual country.
“As far as Team Canada is concerned, we receive financial assistance through the Canadian Olympic Committee,’’ said Baseball Canada publicist Adam Morissette.
Tickets for the baseball tournament had been marked at between $20-$35 and are available from a number of sources but recently publicity suggests prices are being marked down because preliminary sales of all sports tickets have been sluggish. You can obtain baseball tickets through Baseball Canada, CIBC and other outlets.