By: Bob Elliott
St. PETERSBURG, Fla. _ They came from far away to wear the red and black of the Canadian Junior National Team.
From Lower Sackville, N.S. (Jaden Griffin) to Roberts Creek, B.C. (Tim Walters).
And on Monday afternoon they faced Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers who came from far away places like Ladner, BC (Tom Robson), Drayton Valley, Alta. (Shane Dawson) and Toronto (Connor Panas) at the Walter Fuller Complex.
No one travelled farther than Christie Keyes, who came from Calgary to Florida with her daughter Vanessa.
Christie was an athlete when she arrived in Canada as a teenager playing soccer “but back home” she ran track.
Back home is Nigeria.
Last June outfielder Demi Orimoloye of the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians, whose parents came from the same country, went in the fourth round to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Chrisitie Keyes grew up in Warri, a city in Delta State, Nigeria, a southern oil hub and now she is here watching her teen-age son Clayton Keyes play right field for the Canuck juniors under coach Greg Hamilton, his all ex-pro coaching staff of Hyung Cho, Chris Robinson, John Picco, Tanner Watson, T.J. Burton and Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar.
Keyes plays the outfield for the Okotoks Academy Dawgs for coaches Val Helldobler, Jeff Duda, and Allen Cox the rest of the season.
All 30 major-league teams had scouts on hand to see the likes of Mississauga right-hander Darren Balazovic, catcher Luke Van Rycheghem of Kent Bridge, Ont., first baseman Carter Loewen, Abbotsford, B.C and Toronto Andrew Yerzy, DHing this day. Yerzy is expected to be the top high schooler selected.
The Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants, Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies all had more than set of eyes on hand. Montreal’s Alex Agostino and Hall of Famer Pat Gillick double teamed the event for the Phillies. Another big shooter in the crowd with a pocketful of picks was Baltimore Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich (with five of the first 91 picks).
Also watching were members of the Toronto Mets, the Great Lake Canadians, the Brampton Royals and the Abbotsford Cardinals.
One word to describe the process for the mother of a possible draft?
“Ovewhelming,” said Christie Keyes.
Keyes has had the best week in the first four games as he: tripled in a 9-5 win over Puerto Rico; tripled in an 11-1 win against Puerto Rico, doubled in a run in a 6-2 loss to a group of Phillies minor leaguers Sunday and knocked in a run inMonday’s 4-2 loss to the Jays.
He was clocked in a 6.72, 60 at Tournament 12 last September and is ranked 254th on Perfect Game USA’s top 500 high schoolers, second to only Yerzy (112th).
Balazovic worked three innings retiring eight in a row after a one out walk in the seventh, hitting 87-90 mph. He struck out Jake Thomas, drafted last year from Binghamton University in the 27th round, Burlington’s Mattingly Romanin, selected from Chicago State in the 39th last June and Austin Davis a 47th rounder by the Jays in 2011.
Toronto’s Dondrae Bremner doubled in a run for the juniors.
Pan-Am gold medalist Dawson started for the Jays, facing the minimum over two innings, fanning three. Next came Robson, who allowed one walk in two innings striking out two.
The other Canucks included Ajax right-hander Sean Ratcliffe, Peterborough’s Mike Reeves, who hit a two-run single in the first, Justin Atkinson of Surrey, B.C., Mississauga’s Owen Spiwak, Romanin and Panas.
This June does not feature the same Canuck talent of a year ago when Mississauga’s Josh Naylor went 12th overall to the Miami Marlins, Calgary’s Mike Soroka, 28th overall to the Atlanta Braves, Oakville’s Miles Gordon, fourth round to the Cincinnati Reds and Orimoloye.
Naylor nicknamed his pal Orimoloye, the Nigerian nightmere.
So, what do his teammates call Clayton Keyes, the best athlete in red on Monday, whose mom came to Canada from Nigeria?
“Keyes, they call me Keyes,” said the outfielder.
It had a bit of a “Bond, James Bond” lilt to it.
All the better to fit the upcoming intrigue.
Does Keyes follow the school path like John Olerud and become a Washington State University Cougars or sign with the team who drafts him.
To date he has done signability visits (will he or won’t he sign?) with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Kansas City Royals and Orioles.
Josh Burgmann of Nanaimo, B.C., Mathieu Deneault-Gauthier, Candiac, Que. Toronto’s Sam Turcotte. Keyes and others get the chance to impress again Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.
IMPRESSIVE: The best velocity displayed by a Canuck on Monday wasn’t a member of the Junior team.
Right-hander Austin Shields of Dundas hit 94 mph with the Great Lake Canadians on an adjacent diamond facing Faith Baptist, a Georgia Academy.
Shields, one year older than the Juniors, improved his draft stock. He struck out two in the first, walked a man and then got a harmless grounder. In the second inning he walked a man, then allowed a run-scoring single and fanned three.
Shields pitched 2 1/3 innings allowing two runs -- one earned -- on two hits and two walks. He fanned five. Great Lakes walked off Faith, which beat the Okotoks Dawgs to win the Perfect Game Academies Showdown for a third straight year, with a 6-5 bottom of the seventh win.
He impressed in front of the same audience of scouts who made the trek from the other diamond.