By Bob Elliott
CARY, N.C. _ Before you defend a title, you have to win one.
Team Canada began defence of its Pan Am gold with a two-hour workout at USA Baseball Training Center at Thomas Brooks Park on Sunday afternoon.
Canada’s first game in the Pan Ams is against the Dominican Republic Saturday at 7 PM in Ajax.
Canada won gold four years ago in Mexico on the eve of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series to earn the country first gold on the international scale since the 1991 World Juniors. And like the 1991 team the 2011 group was inducted as a team into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys.
Seven players, along with manager Ernie Whitt are back trying for a repeat against powers like Cuba, Team USA, as well as Colombia, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and the Dominican in the eight-team event.
After round-robin play the top four teams advance to the July 18 semi-finals, with the gold medal up for grabs the next day.
So which Canadian version is better?
It’s difficult comparing a Hall of Fame team to a group which assembled for the first time Sunday, but we asked three holdovers -- Scott Richmond of North Vancouver, B.C., Georgetown’s Shawn Hill and Toronto’s Tim Smith -- to break down the two squads.
Andrew Albers of North Battleford, Sask., Kyle Lotzkar of Delta, B.C. London’s Chris Robinson and Brock Kjeldgaard, also of London are the other holdovers from 2011.
2011: Nick Bucci, Jim Henderson, Jay Johnson, Mike Johnson, Chris Kissock, Dustin Molleken, Albers, Hill and Richmond.
2015: Phillippe Aumont, Shane Dawson, Brock Dykxhoorn, Jeff Francis, Chris Leroux, Jared Mortensen, Jasvir Rakkar, Evan Rutckyj, Albers, Hill, Lotzkar and Richmond.
Richmond: “Our staff in 2011 looks like better, but maybe I’m only saying that because we pitched so well ... and we did it. Albers and Henderson saw their careers take off after that tournament. A lot of these guys I don’t know. I was glad after Ernie finished speaking to us in left field then the hitter and pitchers broke into two groups ... I was able to say ‘Oh, so you’re all pitchers.’ I’ve heard good things about Rutckyj (an all-star at class-A Tampa).”
Richmond struck out the final Team USA hitter for the save in the 2-1 win, after Albers had worked 6 2/3 innings. Richmond flew in from Wichita where he is pitching independent ball. Albers, the front end of the gold medal game, will leave triple-A Buffalo and join Team Canada in Ajax.
Same for Francis and RHP Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) coming from triple-A Lehigh Valley. All but those three players on the 24-man roster are in Cary.
Hill, who is pitching indy ball for the York Revolution, likes the 2015 edition: “We have more guys with big league or heavy international experience with Francis, Albers, Aumont, Leroux, Richmond and myself. Four years ago we had Mike Johnson and myself. It was more of a mish mash.”
Smith, playing indy ball for the Quebec Capitales, sports a beard that would shame Houston Astros’ Dallas Keuchel: “It’s hard to say we’re better -- we won gold. But I think we’ve improved. We have some veterans and some up and comers.”
2011: Cole Armstrong and Chris Robinson.
2015: Kellin Deglan and Robinson.
Richmond: “Deglan is our guy, it will be good to have Robinson in his ear.”
Hill: “We’re going to miss Pig Pen (Armstrong), I’m happy Robinson is back.”
Smith: “Robinson will be a help, he has experience and is a leader. It’s good for the next generation of Team Canada players to see someone like that in action.”
2011: Chris Bisson, Shawn Bowman, Emerson Frostad, Jonathan Malo, Jimmy Van Ostrand and Stromsmoe.
2015: Sean Jamieson, Jesse Hodges, Jordan Lennerton, Peter Orr and Stromsmoe.
Richmond: “I like this year. We have power at first (Lennerton) and a prospect up the middle (shortstop, Jamieson).”
Hill: “Lennerton is outstanding at first with the glove and is a power threat.”
Smith: “We have some veteran guys and some younger guys, like last time. The younger guys will be important.”
2011: Michael Crouse, Jamie Romak, Kjeldgaard and Smith.
2015: Tyson Gillies, Tyler O’Neill, Rene Tosoni, Kjeldgaard and Smith.
Richmond: “We miss Romak for sure, but he’s doing well at triple-A (Reno) and hopes to get back to the big leagues again. Maybe O’Neill can take his place as a middle of the order bat.”
Hill: “O’Neill’s round of batting practice was impressive. We may have had more pop in 2011.”
Smith: “I like our bats on this team and it’s good have Gillies in centre. He has that speed tool. O’Neill was impressive. He looks like Popeye. I had heard the rumors about his power (16 homers at class-A Bakersfield). He looks like Brett Lawrie, maybe a little shorter. He has that same whippy swing.”
The debates can continue, but for there to be any which team do you like better argument to gain ground, Canada will have to successfully defend its title.