By Alexis Brudnicki
THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Heading into Canada’s third game of the U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ben Abram will take the hill for the host squad in a do-or-die matchup against Italy on Monday, looking to help his team to its first win of the tournament.
Feeling the heat a little bit after heartbreaking losses to Chinese Taipei and South Korea, Abram is hoping to help his team get back on track, and use his strike-throwing ability to limit the walks after the Canadian pitching staff issued a total of 25 free passes in its first two contests.
“There’s already a lot of pressure to begin with, but with a couple tough losses, obviously it adds pressure,” Abram said. “But I’m excited to get out there, I’m excited to get it going, and we’ve got a good chance. We’ll see what happens…
“You don’t really want to walk anybody, but when I stick to how I pitch, then I should be fine. I like to pound the zone, use a lot of movement to get people out, and if I can do that tomorrow [Monday] we’ll be fine.”
Throughout Abram’s tenure with Team Canada, one of the qualities that Baseball Canada’s director of national teams Greg Hamilton has been most impressed by has been the 6-foot-8, 235-pound right-hander’s ability to limit walks and pitch efficiently, two things he needs to bring to the table for the 6:30 p.m. E.T. game on Monday.
“You don’t often see a kid that big in high school who has the coordination, from a delivery perspective, that he has,” Hamilton said. “His delivery is pretty efficient, it works, and he’s a strike thrower for the most part.
“Kids at 6’8” in high school don’t usually repeat and throw a lot of strikes, so really for him, he’s going to grow into velocity naturally and it will come to him, but one of the pluses is he’s got a real good feel for the strike zone, he’s got a real good understanding and feel for his delivery, and he’s able to repeat. It’s just a matter of time, and the velocity will go up, and he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
Though the final scores of Canada’s first two games have been less than ideal, Abram is enjoying the opportunity to play at a world championship tournament in his home country, and looks forward to more excitement as play continues.
“It’s been a dream come true to be here,” he said. “This is what I’ve been wanting to do ever since I started playing baseball, and the fact that I’m here is amazing. Tomorrow [Monday] will be a really special day for me. I’ll be out there on the mound finally, and I’m excited for that. It’s been awesome here, with a great crowd, great field, and it’s been an amazing experience.”
Embracing the enthusiasm the Canadian crowd has brought to Port Arthur stadium, Abram has loved seeing the sea of red in the stands for Team Canada’s games, and is hoping to give it something more to cheer about.
“The atmosphere has been incredible,” the native of Georgetown, Ontario said on Sunday. “I don’t think the team spirit’s gone down at any point here. We had a tough loss against Chinese Taipei, and then a tough loss again today against Korea, but the boys are going to bounce back again tomorrow. I’m not worried about that. Everyone wants to win, everyone’s excited to play, and yeah we’ve had a couple tough losses, but I don’t think that’s really going to phase us too much.”
Impressed by the no-quit attitude his team’s hitters have shown in Thunder Bay, Abram is hoping to give his offence a chance to do what they do best when he takes the hill against the Italian squad.
“I have the most confidence in the world in our lineup,” Abram said. “The guys behind me are great defenders, and we have a great offensive team when we’re on, so we can beat anybody when we put our game together…
“Coming into this, we weren’t really sure what we were going to get out of the offence, but they’ve been great. They scored seven runs today [Sunday], six runs against Chinese Taipei, and it’s awesome. It’s too bad they’re scoring more than we are, but the fact that we’re putting up those kinds of numbers, we’re getting hits, we’re finding ways on base, it’s great. Hopefully we’ll continue to do that for the rest of the tournament.”
Heading into his third and final tour with Team Canada as a junior, his experience highlighted by the world championship in Thunder Bay, Abram couldn’t be happier to continue to have the chance to represent his home country, and is grateful for the feeling the red-and-white uniform has afforded him.
“The Junior National Team has been everything that I hoped it would be,” the native of Georgetown, Ont., said. “Growing up, I always wanted to play for Canada. That’s the highest honour. For me, it’s like playing in the big leagues.
“Playing for Canada is amazing, and being able to start at a young age and play for two years already has been crazy. You learn so much about yourself and so much about the game, and you have a great time with all the guys who join the team along the way and it’s a tremendous experience.”