By Bob Elliott
DUNEDIN, Fla. _ You can’t pick your family, as the saying goes.
Yet a ball game can certainly have a family reunion-type atmosphere.
The Toronto Blue Jays faced the Canadian Junior National Team Thursday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and while the pros scored a lopsided win over the high schoolers the family tree had roots which ran deep for nine innings.
_ Connor Panas, who played first for the Jays doubled and homered. He roomed with outfielder Brett Siddall for two years playing for coach Mike McRae’s Canisius College Golden Griffins. Brett’s father Joe Siddall, a Blue Jays broadcaster, doubled as photographer taking a Panas post-game picture in the right field corner. And Panas was coached in hoops by broadcaster Jerry Howarth which is a no doubt a reason why Panas excels in baseball. And brother Ryan Panas, former Toronto Mets and now an Etobicoke Rangers senior was watching.
_ Hall of Fame candidate Tim Raines was in one dugout with the Jays, while brother-in-law Tanner Watson or Arnprior was in the Canada dugout.
_ Mattingly Romanin, who played second for the Jays, doubled in a run, as his father Mal Romanin of the Blue Jays P.R. department watched proudly from the press box.
_ Robbie Alomar was wearing Team Canada red, while his Hall of Fame father Sandy Alomar was in Blue Jays blue.
_ Dalton Pompey, Russell Martin, Michael Saunders and Tom Robson were all Canuck grads who appeared for the Jays.
_ Shawn Pearson, former Blue Jays farmhand and his sons, were among the 3,280 fans. Shawn checked in on his father Larry Pearson, business manager of the Juniors.
_ Terry and Howie Lewis of Baltimore showed to see Calgary’s Soren Graversen with the Juniors. They had been his host family at the Cal Ripken World Series in Aberdeen, Md. Terry pulled out a picture of 12-year-old Mike Soroka posing with Hall of Famer Ripken. Soroka went 28th over-all in last June’s draft to the Atlanta Braves.
“We always host Canadian teams,” said Terry wearing a red Canada jersey.
Over the years they have housed 32 players. Mychal Givens was the first to make the majors with the Baltimore Orioles.
A year ago with Josh Naylor (drafted 12th over-all), Miles Gordon (fourth round), Demi Orimoloye (fourth) and Soroka, scouts ranked the talent pool as a nine out of 10. This year Hall of Famer Pat Gillick and dozens of other scouts were on hand.
The average rating by five scouts was “a seven” on the team, including 2017 drafts like London’s Adam Hall and Mississauga’s Cooper Davis. For this June? “A four.”
The Jays didn’t run up the score, rather it would comparable in hockey to an NHL team playing a junior team and then subbing in the AHL players.
When the big leaguers departed lower level prospects trying to make impressions on big league staff took over.
They weren’t easing up.
The highlight of the previous Canada-Jays meetings has always been batting practice were the two teams mingled. The Juniors bus broke down and was late collecting the team. To make matters worse the driver didn’t know how to open the storage panels underneath. All the equipment had to be loaded onto the bus.
The Canuck bus was late arriving, so it was abbreviated but nonetheless successful session.
“I talked to Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez in the outfield,” said starter Josh Burgmann. “Osuna told me to keep it simple ‘don’t get too big.’”
Toughest lineup Burgmann, a grade 12 student at the Vauxhall Academy, had faced before the major leaguers?
“First game of the World Juniors in Osaka Japan,” said Burgmann of Nanaimo, B.C., who pitched seven innings allowing one run in a 6-2 win over Chinese Taipei.
Panas played High Park Little League with Jays catcher Darren Fletcher’s son Casey, so Panas had been in a big-league clubhouse before.
“I was seven or eight then, I really didn’t comprehend the experience,” said Panas, 23, “It gave my chills walking into the clubhouse this morning, seeing all these guys, it’s what everyone in the minors strives to achieve. They were so relaxed.”
Panas, who grew up idolizing the Jays, walked in to see Edwin Encarnacion, Kevin Pillar and Pompey, whom he hit with twice a week at the Rogers Centre this winter. The Panas performance came in front of his Toronto Mets coaches Ryan McBride, Rich Leitch and Honsing Leung.
Romanin played with future Canadian team members like Brandon Dailey, Brian Doran, Adam Anderson and Michael Clouthier with the Ontario Terriers.
“I never played for the Junior Team, I always tried to make it, so it was fun to play against them,” said a beaming Romanin before heading to the railing to sign autographs.
The Jays had not yet taken on this goodwill game as excellent corporate citizens in Pompey’s draft year.
“We had an April trip where we played at Dunedin, Aaron Hill was there on a rehab,” Pompey said. “It was cool. There were a ton of scouts to see Evan Grills, Joel Pierce and Evan Rutckyj (at big-league camp with the Atlanta Braves as a Rule V draft).
“It’s good because you can see what level you are at, see how you compete,” said Pompey. “I did well on that trip, again when we went to the Dominican Republic. That was the deciding factor in me signing.”
Last year Pompey and his brother Tristan were centre stage. Tristan now hits home runs for the Kentucky Wildcats.
And while Naylor was the big bopper last year, his younger brother Noah made his debut.
“I know Andrew Yerzy, Isaac Deveaux, Dondrae Bremner,” said Pompey rattling off names of some of the better Canuck prospects.
Lefty Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) started for the Jays pitching two scoreless.
Lefty Wesley Moore (Surrey, BC) was described by a teammate as “being a little googly eyed.” With good reason.
Two weeks ago he didn’’t know he was headed south. Then, he received a text from his Vauxhall coach Les McTavish to come to his office the next morn.
When Moore walked in McTavish was speaking on the phone. “Greg Hamilton was on the phone and he started off with ‘Congratulations ...’
“I was really surprised. Nervous.”
Moore’s father Darren is a pipe line welder and mom Debbie is a teacher. He has heard from the University of Washington and his favorite subject is biology. He’ll check on if the school offers bioolgy when he returns home.
He spent BP talking with Jesse Chavez and Sanchez.
On his first trip, Moore pitched two scoreless against Puerto Rico high schoolers. Facing New York Yankees minor leaguers in his next outing he gave up two homers.
“I shook it off and had a scoreless ninth,” said Moore.
No matter if it was Martin or Saunders or Pompey ... all were googly eyed their first game against major leaguers.
It runs in the family
And makes easier down the road.