By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
THUNDER BAY, Ontario – With big excitement can come even greater disappointment, which is the way the first game of the U18 Baseball World Cup ended for the host Team Canada.
After nine innings of baseball on a cold northern Ontario night, the Canadians were knotted at five runs apiece with Chinese Taipei at Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, forcing the extra-inning international tie break rule into effect, when teams start the subsequent frames with runners on first and second and no outs.
Canada’s Junior National Team led the game from the bottom of the first to the top of the seventh in the hard-fought battle against Chinese Taipei, with home runs from Calgary, Alberta’s Clayton Keyes – a two-run shot – and Pointe-Claire, Quebec’s Archer Brookman highlighting the home team’s offence and backing a solid five-inning start from Surrey, B.C. southpaw Wesley Moore.
In the amplified atmosphere that international baseball brings, where every game, every inning, and every pitch matter, and the visitors brought the level of excitement, enthusiasm and noise to the field that they needed in that playoff environment to help them come out on top, winning 7-6 in 10 innings, leaving Canada trying to forget what they left behind as they look forward to Saturday.
“It’s a tough game,” said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams. “That’s a tough way to open a world championship. It’s the first time for all these guys. So you play Game 7 in Game 1, and it’s a heartbreaker. So we’ve really got only one choice. I don’t want to say two, because the other one’s not productive. So you’ve got one choice, to get back to work tomorrow and win a game, and get ourselves in position for obviously a good Korean team, which is going to be a key game for us.”
In the top of the 10th frame, Chinese Taipei drove in its two baserunners with back-to-back one-out singles and a ground out, before Canada got its turn at the dish. The Canadians plated their first runner with a leadoff single, and followed with a walk to load the bases with none out.
“It was an up-and-down game,” Hamilton said. “It was a game that with the extra-inning rule, you always think it’s going to play out true and it never does. There’s always some sort of drama associated with it. I thought we were in pretty good shape when we were down one with he bases loaded and nobody out, but it’s a funny game.”
A fielder’s choice allowed the visiting team to collect its first out without another run coming around, before two called strikeouts ended the game.
“Those were pitches that were tough pitches,” Hamilton said. “They could have gone either way. They were on the black, and when you’re in a 3-2 count and you can paint a fastball like that on the outside corner at the knees, sometimes you tip your cap to the guy who made that pitch.”
After every strike Chinese Taipei threw, and each out the team recorded, every player and coach in the dugout and on the field brought the noise to a decibel that rivalled all of the Canadian fans in the crowd of 3,278 on hand for the opener. The visiting squad brought an impressive amount of enthusiasm to the game, and sucked the energy right out of the crowd when it tied up the contest in the seventh.
Hamilton is hoping to help get the tournament’s audience back to where it was seven years ago when Thunder Bay last hosted the World Cup, and understands that entertaining, and most importantly winning, are the easiest ways to do just that.
“The crowd was nice,” the Canadian manager said. “Sometimes it takes a while for the crowd to get into he tournament too. It’s opening night and sometimes the crowd feels things out as well. I was saying to our players, the deeper you go into a tournament, the more energetic the crowd becomes, and the more – for lack of a better term – engaged and into it the crowd becomes. There was certainly a crowd, and we’ve got to keep trying to win some games to get them a little more enthusiastic and energized.”
While Hamilton knew that the event’s fourth-seeded team would be a tough one to beat in the opening matchup, he also saw plenty of missed opportunities on both sides that could have seen the contest go either way at any moment.
“We knew coming in that they were a good team,” Canada’s skipper said. “We’re a good team, and playing world championship tournaments, we’ve had years of battles with Taiwan. So you open with a good club and you play an extra-inning game, you can pick things apart, you could pick it apart on their side if they would have lost by one too, there were a few things they’d like to take back, so it was tough.”
After the heartbreaking loss, there really was only one piece of advice for Hamilton to pass on to his squad as it heads into its second game against Nicaragua on Saturday.
“Let it go quick,” he said. “It’s Game 1 of the tournament, there’s a lot of tournament left, and if we’re going to have a lot of tournament left, we’re going to have to let this go real fast. I mean, you can play these guys with a 2-0 record and end up 2-1 because they’re a good club. Korea’s a good club coming, but the most important thing is to take care of business tomorrow. We’ve got a team that we need to be ready for, and if we are, then you’re 1-1 and right back in the tournament.”