Alexis on the road: West Michigan Whitecaps host Canada Night

 This giant inflatable Mountie was one of the feature attractions of Canada Night held by the West Michigan Whitecaps at Fifth Third Ballpark on Thursday in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Photo Credit: Alexis Brudnicki).

This giant inflatable Mountie was one of the feature attractions of Canada Night held by the West Michigan Whitecaps at Fifth Third Ballpark on Thursday in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Photo Credit: Alexis Brudnicki).

By Alexis Brudnicki

Canadian Baseball Network

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – For at least one night, Fifth Third Ballpark felt like the home and native land of its three Canadian players.

On Thursday, the West Michigan Whitecaps hosted Canada Night and honoured its current Canucks, Windsor, Ont., native Jacob Robson, Cole Bauml from Muenster, Sask., and Toronto’s Daniel Pinero, amidst an array of gestures and displays celebrating the country north of the border.  

“It’s cool that the Whitecaps put this together,” Pinero said. “It wasn’t really part of the schedule until recently, and there’s an 18-foot beaver [on the first-base side] and a big Mountie [near left field], and it’s pretty cool to have that. I appreciate what the Whitecaps did for us, having three Canadians on the team.”

Aside from the incredibly large Canadian inflatables, the Whitecaps carried additional mascots who rode in for the night on a zamboni, served beer brewed north of the border, offered Canadian fare like ketchup chips and poutine, played music by Canadian artists between innings, used in-game promotions featuring the Canadian players, and had red-and-white jerseys for the occasion, among other details.

“This is a really big deal,” Robson said. “In college [at Mississippi State] it was really cool because whenever I was in the lineup, some of the fans in the outfield would wave a big Canada flag, but other than that there’s never been too much recognition for being Canadian.

“So this is awesome, with the [inflatable] Mountie and beaver, it’s kind of like a movie a little bit, but in a good way. It’s not too cliché.”

Agreeing on several Canadian stereotypes, with apologies and hockey euphemisms abound, the trio of Canucks also found common ground within their standing of Canadianness among the squad.

“Cole is the most Canadian, because he’s from Saskatchewan,” Pinero said. “He’s still got the accent. He says some words and I can hear it, and I’m Canadian. It’s weird. If it wasn’t in America, I probably wouldn’t notice it really. And he’s got I don’t know how many acres of land at home.

“I’m the least Canadian. They don’t even know I’m Canadian here. My dad’s Cuban and my mom’s Russian, so people kind of forget that I’m Canadian. But I live in Toronto. It’s the most Canadian city there is.”

Added Bauml: “I’m the most Canadian, just because I’m from Saskatchewan and I grew up on a farm there. Robbie grew up in Windsor, and that’s right on the border. Danny, his dad is Cuban and his mom is Russian, so we always make fun of him and say that he’s not a real Canadian…So I’ll say me.”

“Cole, definitely,” Robson said. “He’s from the middle of the country, has the thickest accent, lives on a farm – that’s pretty Canadian – he’s from the furthest north. Pinero is probably the least Canadian, because he doesn’t technically have Canadian blood, so I’m second in line.”

The Midwest League game on Thursday between the Whitecaps and Great Lakes Loons got started with none other than the Canadian national anthem, O Canada performed by West Michigan’s in-game announcer Bob Wells, a highly-anticipated moment amid the events of the evening.

“Canada Night is really cool,” Bauml said. “They’re doing the Canadian national anthem, so it kind of makes you feel at home a little bit. It’s fun. We’re all excited for it…The last time I heard the anthem before a game would have been three summers ago.”

Added Pinero: “The [World Baseball Classic in March] was the last time I heard the anthem before a game. I haven’t heard it since. Before that, I can’t even remember. It’s been a while. I haven’t heard that many.”

“I played in Thunder Bay in the Northwoods league, so we had the Canadian anthem there,” Robson said. “That was pretty cool. We had a Canada Night there too. We were fortunate enough to be playing on Canada Day that year, so it was a pretty cool experience. It’s a much bigger deal here, and probably easier to get things like the big inflatable beaver and Mountie, so it’s pretty special.”

Playing for the second-most Canadian team in affiliated baseball – after the Dunedin Blue Jays, with four Canucks on their squad – Bauml, Robson and Pinero are all incredibly proud to represent everywhere they go and have played along the way.

Bauml, a 24-year-old outfielder and one of just three current minor league players hailing from Saskatchewan, got his start out of high school and the Saskatoon Giants program at Trinidad Sate Junior College in Colorado, before joining the Northern Kentucky Norse and then being drafted by the Tigers in the 10th round of the 2015 selection process.

“Representing Canada is an interesting experience,” the lefty-hitting outfielder said. “I’m one of the only ones from Saskatchewan, so it’s a cool experience to know that you’re always representing pretty much your whole province.”

From high school in Windsor and playing for the Ontario Blue Jays, Robson headed to Mississippi State before he was taken by the Tigers last year in the eighth round of the draft. The 22-year-old centre fielder also played for the Canadian Junior National Team, and couldn’t be prouder to represent his home country at every opportunity.

“One of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had in my career so far was wearing the Team Canada jersey and playing for Canada,” he said. “It’s not the same as professional ball. Here, you’re obviously trying to help your team win and you want to win as many games as possible, but at the same time the ultimate goal is to make it to the big leagues.

“When you have the red and white on your chest, you want to win for your team and your country, so it brings out the most in each player’s competitive spirit. I’m really proud to have represented Canada and hope to do it in the future.”

Before donning Thursday’s jersey, Pinero wore Canada’s colours most recently, playing for the senior squad for the first time in Miami at the World Baseball Classic this spring, after previously playing for the junior team. Out of high school and the same OBJ program as Robson, the 23-year-old shortstop headed to the University of Virginia – where he won a College World Series in 2015 – before the Tigers drafted him in the ninth round last summer.

“It’s special to represent Canada,” Pinero said. “Compared to Americans or Latin players or anything like that, there are not many Canadians in the minors or in the big leagues, so it’s cool to wear that on my chest and wear it around my career in baseball. It’s pretty cool.”

Alexis Brudnicki

Baseball has been a part of Alexis' life since her parents took her brother to sign up for Eager Beaver Baseball in London. Alexis wanted to play and asked to sign up, too. Alexis played ball until the boys were all twice her size and then switched to competitive fastball. Her first job was as an umpire for rookies with the EBBA and since then Alexis has completed her education with an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and graduate studies in Sports Journalism at Centennial College