By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
TAMPA _ Batting practice was an indicator.
Tyler O’Neill, Canada’s next, twice hit balls over the batter’s eye during batting practice.
The balls carried over the fence as well and bounced onto Dale Mabry Highway.
Eric Wood, Canada’s back-up third baseman, had a good round of batting practice too. And he had a better game and from the way his manager was talking, Wood, 23, has earned a spot in the starting lineup Thursday night when Canada faces the Dominican Republic at Marlins Park in Miami.
“He looked pretty good, I might be pretty stupid by not putting him in the lineup, so I guess you could say he’ll probably be in the lineup,” said manager Ernie Whitt told reporters. Now, Whitt can move Jamie Romak (London, Ont.), who has big-league experience to right field or stick with Rene Tosoni (Coquitlam, BC).
Wood went deep twice and O’Neill homered once as those two hitters took what they had in batting practice and carried it over into the game.
O’Neill hit a two-run homer to right field on what New York Yankee right-hander Luis Severno called a “flat slider.” Last year Severno made 11 starts for the Yankees, pitching in 22 games and going 3-8 with a 5.83 ERA. The home run with one out in the first put Canada up 2-0.
Wood had never hit more than six homers before exploding with 16 last year at double-A Altoona, had a pair of homers Wednesday. In the sixth, Wood hit a solo homer off Johnny Barbato about 1/3 of the way up the batter’s eye. Barbato spent last year at triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, aside from 13 innings with the Yankees. And two innings later he went deep again with a solo shot facing lefty Dietrich Enns, who split last year between double-A Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He allowed six homers in 22 starts and 135 innings.
The three homers accounted for the Canuck offence as the New York Yankees scored a 10-4 win before 6,291 fans.
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Like a lot of Canadians and players from Northern states, Wood was a classic late bloomer He was a pitcher until late in high school first with Team Ontario and then with the Ontario Blue Jays. Wood’s favorite player? “It was Derek Jeter,” he said inside the bowels of George M. Steinbrenner Field.
He does not remember the first time he headed to the Rogers Centre or what team he saw play the Jays, but he does remember it was “Tooney Tuesday.”
He was the highest ranked Canadian chosen in the 2012 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates from Blinn College.
The phrase “top Canadian selected carries some weight” and you can add Wood to these successful lists of first over-all Canucks drafted.
1B Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) Ontario Blue Jays, selected by the Florida Marlins in the first round in 2015, LHP Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.) University of Missouri, second, 2013, Chicago Cubs; Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands, Tx.) first, 2010, Pittsburgh Pirates; LHP James Paxton (Ladner, BC) University of Kentucky, first, 2009, Blue Jays; Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC) Langley Blaze, first, 2008, Milwaukee Brewers; RHP Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) ABC, first, 2007, Mariners; C Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.) Illinois, third, 2005, Detroit Tigers; RHP Brooks McNiven (Vernon, BC) UBC, fourth, 2003, San Francisco Giants; LHP Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) Whalley Chiefs, first, 2002, Baltimore Orioles; OF Adam Stern (Port Stanley, Ont.) Nebraska, 2001, Atlanta Braves; INF Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.), Team Ontario, first round, 2000, Braves; C Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC), third, Minnesota Twins; SS Kevin Nicholson (Surrey, BC) of Stetson University, first round, 1997, San Diego Padres; RHP Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) first, 1996, Boston Red Sox; Thursday’s starter Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC), third round to the Rangers in 1995 and RHP Jason Dickson (Chatham, N.B), current president of Baseball Canada, sixth, 1994, Anaheim Angels.
Not too shabby company.
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Wood will see his teammates from Pirates camp in Miami Thursday with the Dominican: OF Starling Marte, RHP Ivan Nova and OF Gregory Polanco.
“I had spring training with Marte and Polanco (in Bradenton) and those guys, so you know they’re talking a big game,” said Wood, an Ontario Blue Jays grad. “But we’re going to bring it. It’s a dogfight. Every pitch counts. Who wants it more?”
Wood also backed up on a ground ball inside the line in the sixth, which led to two unearned runs in the sixth while Jesen Dygestile-Therrien (Montreal, Que.) was on the mound.
Never selected for the Canadian Junior National Team -- he didn’t switch to a hitter until winning a home run derby on an Ontario Blue Jays off day -- this is his first time playing for Canada.
“Whatever my role is, I’ll be ready for it. I’m excited. It’s like the 2010 gold-medal (hockey) game with Canada taking it on home ice,” Wood said. “It’s every Canadian kid’s dream, including mine. I’ve always wanted to wear the red and white. Always.”
Making his rounds as a roving minor league instructor for the Philadelphia Phillies, last year Whitt saw Wood with Altoona three times and was impressed. And in Tampa, Wood got to show manager Whitt what he could do.
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THE GOOD: Besides the two homers, Eric Wood (Oshawa, Ont.) also doubled facing Servino ... The other base hits went to CF Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.), Justin Morneau (New Westminister, BC) and Peter Orr (Newmarket, Ont.) ... RP Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) worked 1 1/3 scoreless ... RP Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, BC) had a scoreless outing ... RHP Scott Richmond (North Vancouver, BC) started and worked the first two innings. He allowed a first-row, two-run homer to Matt Holliday and stranded two runners in the second.
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THE BAD: Shawn Dawson (Drayton Valley, Alta.) allowed a lead-off homer to centre to C Gary Sanchez and two outs later walked Starlin Castro. Next, Chase Headley tripled over the head of centre fielder Dalton Pompey and Aaron Hicks followed with a home run down the left field line ... Wood had an error leading to two unearned runs with Jesen Dygestile-Therrien (Montreal, Que. Dygestile-Therrien allowed three runs, one earned.
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ON LOAN: RP Andrew Case (Saint John, NB) was on loan for the day pitching a scoreless, 1-2-3 fourth ... Chris Rowley took over in the eighth and allowed two hits and a run.
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THE QUICK: Aroldis Chapman set down Jamie Romak (London, Ont.), George Kottaras (Markham, Ont.) and Jonathan Malo (Joliette, Que.) in order on three consecutive strikeouts. He needed only 12 pitches, throwing 10 strikes.
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BEAT THE RUSH: First base coach Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC) drove home to Jupiter Wednesday morning, so Baseball Canada executive Jim Baba (Moose Jaw, Sask.) took over coaching first base. Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC) also went ahead of the Jays charter to Miami. Dempster will start Thursday night against the WBC defending champs from the Dominican Republic. Freddie Freeman also made the drive to Miami from Orlando, where the Atlanta Braves train.
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READING MATERIAL: We read plenty of profiles and projections on whho will win the Miami pool. Or breakdowns of the Canada roster. We have posted some of the best here. And let us know if you find a more detailed one than Evan Ross (Princeton, BC) ...
EWAN ROSS: WBC PREVIEW: TEAM CANADA – A CLUB WITHOUT A PURPOSE
EWAN ROSS: WBC PREVIEW: TEAM CANADA HITTERS
EWAN ROSS WBC PREVIEW: TEAM CANADA PITCHERS
TONY DeMARCO: World Baseball Classic Preview: Team Canada
MIKE OZ: World Baseball Classic 2017: Canada has a very tough road ahead
JAMEY VINNICK World Baseball Classic Preview: Canada
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AND NEWS FROM ELSEWHERE: Bill Brink as Eric Wood recals past WBCs ... Chris Suppa on Peter Orr, in his fourth WBC ... Mike Davies on four Peterborough connections on Team Canada at World Baseball Classic