By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
AJAX, Ont. – Greg Hamilton isn’t going home with a gold medal.
Baseball Canada’s director of national teams didn’t get any hardware when the Canadian squad won their first of two back-to-back Pan Am Games golds in Mexico four years ago either.
But Team Canada’s 7-6 extra-inning win over USA at the Games in Ajax, Ont., was as much for him and for each of the other members of the staff – none of whom get to stand on a podium or have the gold draped on their necks – as it was for the players who got the job done on the field.
“When I play for Canada, I not only play for Canada, I play for Greg,” Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) said. “Just because he does so much for everybody, and he’s always there. And I’ve known him since I was 15, so it’s pretty special.”
Added Pete Orr (Newmarket, Ont.): “It means so much. I’ve said this before. This isn’t just about us. We get the opportunity to represent our country, but it’s about every kid who plays baseball in Canada. Greg is the voice for all those kids, the guys who get to play for the junior program. It’s always good to see the kids have a chance to do something special in the game, and they go through Greg to do that, so it’s awesome.”
Hamilton first joined Baseball Canada as a guest coach in 1991, taking over in his current full-time role eight years later. Since then, he’s changed the landscape of baseball in the country, with Pan Am just scratching the surface and so much more to come.
“We were thinking about that before,” Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.) said. “You don’t come to these tournaments anymore and consider yourself an underdog. We’ve proven that with two medals in a row, and there have been a lot of good things happening in the last 10 years or so here.
“We come to these tournaments to win, and that’s what we’re coming to do, whether it be at the junior level, whether it be at the senior level, whether it be at the [World Baseball Classic]. That’s the only thing missing is a really good run at the WBC and it’s going to happen. No longer are we coming to play for bronze. We’re coming to play for gold at every tournament we come to.”
The man behind configuring the roster for the Senior National Team tournaments, and bringing the gold-medal group together, Hamilton’s first priority is the Junior National Team program, which saw two first-round draft selections just a month ago, and only continues to grow.
“It’s the second time, back-to-back gold medals for Baseball Canada in general, it’s huge,” Rene Tosoni (Port Coquitlam, BC) said. “The baseball program is getting bigger from coast to coast. You saw a lot of guys from the junior team get drafted this year, high draft picks, and it just shows that we’re here to play baseball and we know how to do it. “
With the draft and the Pan Am Games now in the rearview mirror, the Ottawa, Ont., resident is hoping to soak it all in for a little while before heading to the world championships in Japan with the juniors, and then to Premier 12 in November with another group of senior players.
“You’d like the clock to stop a little bit here,” Hamilton said. “Because this is very special. We’re going to relish this for the little bit of time that we can here, and it’s very special. I keep using the word special, but it is. It’s just something that you don’t forget.
“You realize, with these guys too, we’ve got a lot of players who have spent a lot of time in the minor leagues and they’ve grinded out the game. To be able to play for your country and to play for each other and care for each other as athletes is something that they and we will always remember.”
The team of 24 who won gold for Canada included a variety of players at different points and levels in their careers. Two players, Robinson and Scott Richmond (Vancouver, BC), came out of retirement to play for the squad. A few of the other nine former big leaguers on the roster continued playing in the minors or in independent leagues just for the chance to suit up in the red and white again.
“We’re really fortunate,” Hamilton said. “I always use the word family, but it is a family. The national team is a family, Baseball Canada is a family, and these guys [like Robinson and Richmond] may not have played a lot of innings but they were huge, and very significant pieces to this group.
“You’re always blending youth with experience and you want the right balance and the right combination. There are guys here who understand that and get it, and you don’t have a lot of time to understand and get it. You need to get it quickly, and those guys mean a lot to the program.”
Hamilton and the Canadian coaching staff, led by manager Ernie Whitt and rounded out with Larry Walker, Paul Quantrill, Stubby Clapp and Denis Boucher, stood in front of the home dugout as their players were presented their gold medals on Sunday. As each man lowered his head to accept and don the hardware, he tipped his cap to them before putting it back on.
Seeing his players receive the highest honour the Games have to offer was the highlight for Hamilton, the excitement of the second such win amplified, taking place on home soil.
“The best part was standing watching the guys on the field after,” he said. “Standing above the United States and Cuba in baseball. That’s a testament to where we are as a baseball-playing nation, and where they are as a group, and what they accomplished. That’s something that you just kind of look at and you want to freeze it in the moment.”
Canada’s 10th-inning comeback victory on a pickoff attempt gone bad will certainly hold a special place in Baseball Canada history. The win is special for the players, for Hamilton, and for the sport in the country north of the border.
“It means everything,” Leroux said. “This was great. I feel like this is one of the best games Canada has ever played in, in terms of the ending and everybody was so nervous and anxious. It was fun and it means a lot. I’m sure we’ll hear about this for a few more years to come.”
Doing it at home definitely makes the matchup a strong candidate for the best game in program history.
“That was unique,” Hamilton said. “I mean, when you can do it with the flags waving, and O Canada, and to watch your flag go up and have everybody in the stands chanting, it’s touching. It brings a tear to everybody’s eye.”