By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – There has never been a time in his career when Pete Orr has said no to Team Canada.
On a few occasions, the respective organization Orr was playing with has made the final decision for him, but the 6-foot-1, 195-pound infielder has always wanted to opt in to representing his country and being a part of the family that Baseball Canada has created.
“I feel honoured every time I’ve been asked to play, and I’ve always said yes,” the 37-year-old said. “There were two or three or four times when I said I was in, and then I’d get called up and not be ale to play, or because 40-man roster guys weren’t allowed to play, so there are a bunch of times when I couldn’t play for logistical reasons. I wasn’t allowed, but I would have.
“I remember one time, I was with the Nationals in Triple-A [in 2009] and there was a World Cup. I talked to Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] and said, ‘I’m in 100%,’ and I went into the manager’s office in Triple-A just to say, ‘I’m doing this,’ and they said, ‘You’re getting called up so you can’t go.’ I was just like, ‘Oh. Okay.’”
Hired as a professional scout by the Milwaukee Brewers during the off-season, this will be Orr’s last chance to compete as a part of the Canadian national team – although he will admit that Hamilton has asked about the potential of the Olympic qualifier in a couple of years, and that he hasn’t yet said no – and the opportunity meant enough to Orr for the Newmarket, Ont., native to put in months of work for what could last just a few days.
“Greg and I talked about it when I told him last spring that I wasn’t going to play last year,” he said. “We talked a lot, and it’s part of the family that is being a part of Baseball Canada, once you’re a member, you’re always a member. So I talked to Greg a lot about life after baseball, and he kept bringing up the possibility of playing in the WBC.
“So – not that I would let myself get out of shape – I stayed in good shape all last year, in the back of my head knowing that I might have the possibility of being asked to play on this team. And as the summer went on, Greg said it was looking like more of a possibility, and around August, he asked, ‘Can you play?’ I said yeah, of course. I didn’t need any extra motivation to do it; I was just happy and excited to be a part of it, as long as I knew I belonged.
“I wasn’t going to do it if I didn’t think I could, or if I thought there was a younger talent that should have been here instead of me. I didn’t want to take that opportunity away from a younger player. Then over the winter, I was getting more and more excited with all the times I worked out and hit, and getting closer and closer the nerves and excitement came into it. It felt like I was getting ready for another spring training.”
With rumours of Orr being ready to retire running rampant a couple of seasons ago, and talk of the Pan Am Games in Toronto and Premier 12 in Taiwan with Team Canada marking the end of his 15-year professional playing career, it was that stint with the national squad in 2015 that sparked his interest in perhaps staying on the field.
Hoping for an opportunity with an organization at the beginning of last season, Orr lacked viable options and instead left his playing days behind for some time with his family at home, also working with the Canadian Junior National Team for a trip in the spring. Though he didn’t secure a spot, the tour just months earlier with the senior squad planted the seed for him to join this team in Florida ahead of his fourth Classic.
“It had more to do with opportunity,” Orr said. “I was 37 years old and I’d been in Triple-A for two years, so I knew the odds of getting back to the big leagues weren’t very good. To be honest, the opportunities weren’t really jumping at me. So it was a good time to be done, with having my young kids at home, and in the back of my mind I knew I was still getting ready for this.”
Having enjoyed each of his chances to wear the red-and-white uniform – starting at the senior level with Team Canada in 2001 at the World Cup, playing in the 2003 Olympic qualifier and the 2004 Olympics, representing the country north of the border at all three WBC tournaments prior to the current one, playing in the 2010 World Cup qualifier, participating in the inaugural Premier 12, and winning gold at the Pan Am Games – Orr is excited to end his career on the stage that the WBC provides.
“These are different than the other international events because of the stage it’s on,” Orr said. “The WBCs are always a little bit different with the largeness of everything, the travel, the situation, the quickness of it. It is similar in the fact that we’re wearing the jersey and that’s all we care about, but the WBCs are just a little bit different. I don’t want to say they’re any more exciting because we put on the jersey and you feel the pride, but there is an extra little bit of excitement to these things.”
The bigger stage also provides a wider platform for the game north of the border, as well as giving Orr this one last chance to reunite and compete with his teammates in the interest of one common goal.
“The Canadian national team’s done a lot of things internationally, but I don’t think it gets the attention that it gets that a WBC would get,” he said. “So this is a great event to have some of the baseball in our country get shown on this kind of coverage.
“No doubt for me the best part about being in all the WBCs is the guys, being with all the Canadian guys on the team and getting to play together with them.”