By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
THUNDER BAY, Ontario – When Jack DeCooman got his start with the Canadian Junior National Team two years ago, the end goal for the southpaw’s high school career was to make it to the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay.
With his eyes on the prize, and help from Baseball Canada’s director of national teams Greg Hamilton, the American-born southpaw began to take the steps necessary to be recognized by his adopted country so that he could be in the very position that he is today, heading into a must-win matchup against Australia at Port Arthur Stadium on Tuesday night.
“This is really cool for me, because I came from a place where the U.S. is so spirited, and they’re all huge baseball fans, but I never really realized how big Canadians were into baseball,” DeCooman said. “I think it’s really gotten me more into baseball, and I’ve really enjoyed it a lot more. It’s been an amazing experience.”
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound left-hander was born and raised south of the border, and moved from Greenwich, Conn., to Vancouver when he was 10 years old, his father’s work relocating the family. Playing with the North Shore Twins out on the west coast, DeCooman was spotted by Hamilton early, and is now one of the longest-tenured players currently on the national squad.
“I’ve lived in Vancouver now for eight years,” he said. “Right around the end of Grade 10 or beginning of Grade 11, Greg told me that I was going to be on the national team, and throughout that time I was working on getting my passport, because you have to live in Canada for five years just to be eligible to get your passport.
“So luckily, through a letter with Greg and help from other people, I was able to get my passport. It allows me to play in this world championship, which has been an amazing experience so far. I hope we’re able to do a lot more with this team.”
Through three games at the World Cup, Canada has lost an extra-inning heartbreaker to Chinese Taipei, taken a tough loss to Korea, and on Monday night, completed an epic ninth-inning comeback against Italy to stave off relegation to the consolation round of the tournament.
“This is crazy,” DeCooman said. “I’ve never really had this many people out to games, and it’s really going to help the team’s energy and my energy as well. It’s been a very neat experience, and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity again, but I’m never going to do this again as an 18-and-under player in the world championships here, so this is really big to me.”
The University of Washington commit will take on his team’s most familiar opponent, after Canada hosted Australia for eight exhibition games in Ajax, Ont., before heading north to Thunder Bay. DeCooman believes that the advantage goes to him, learning from his experiences against the Aussies and developing a game plan that he is confident in.
“It helps me that we’ve played them, because usually as I’ve faced batters more and more, especially when I’m fresh, I know how to face the batters better,” he said. “It allows me to pitch better to them, so they have a lesser chance of getting a hit…
“I know they have a good leadoff hitter, who swings a lot early in counts, so I’m going to have to work and maybe pitch him backwards. And then they have a good three or four-hole hitter, Jarryd Dale, who’s pretty good at hitting as well. So those are two guys that we have to focus on a little bit, but besides that I know I’m going to be able to attack them and use my fastball and locate off-speed well, and I’ll be pretty good.
“I’m just going to go out and try to attack the zone, try to get as many outs as quickly as possible, and get us on the sticks and allow us to do our thing and get lots of hits and get us a lead that hopefully we can continue to keep, and get us a big win.”
In the eight-game series between the two squads in Ajax, Canada won four contests and one matchup ended in a tie, giving the host squad an ever-so-slight advantage in pre-tournament play.
“Both teams know each other well,” Hamilton said. “They’re a tough out, they’re a solid team, they’re going to fight, they’re going to battle, they always do. They did in the series we had. It’s reasonably evenly matched, so it could go either way, but hopefully we can feed on tonight. Our tournament is in front of us. We control our destiny, after you start 0-2 and then you come back [against Italy]. Hopefully they don’t need an emotional push. They’ll be ready.”
The momentum Canada gained late in the game against the Italians is something the squad is hoping carries over into Tuesday, so they can use that excitement and enthusiasm to fuel their fire on the way to the super round.
“All of these games are going to be a roller coaster of emotions,” DeCooman said. “At the beginning of the game against Italy, we were all down. And in the fourth or fifth inning, Greg came and talked to us and really helped us focus up and get ready to go out and win the game. That’s why we ended up winning. It was a huge game, a big win for the team, and it’s really going to help us get rolling with our hitting and pitching as well…
“The adrenaline has really been up and down from the first game. I thought we had it against Chinese Taipei, and then we ended up losing, and then same thing in the second game against Korea. I thought we had it, and we didn’t end up putting it together, but against Italy, the adrenaline really helped, and for Australia, it’s really going to get me going, as well as the entire team.”
Playing in front of the biggest crowds that Team Canada has ever experienced, DeCooman is excited to see the sea of red and white at Port Arthur Stadium on Tuesday and feel the excitement they’ve brought through the first several days of the event.
“The crowd has been good, and it usually helps the whole team, especially having these packed houses,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s really going to help us; it will really get us going. With me, it will really get the adrenaline going, maybe get my fastball up a little bit harder, and it will really get the team up and going. It will help us out, because as we saw against Italy, as soon as we got the momentum going, we ended up winning, and that was huge for us.”
Ready to take the mound for the host nation’s squad, representing the country that he has called home for the last eight years, DeCooman couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity and for everything he has gained throughout his time with the Junior National Team program.
“I feel like I’ve become a lot more Canadian over time,” he said. “I know that this Canadian baseball system has really helped me out with setting me up for college, and further on. Back in the U.S., it was more focused on winning or losing, where here it’s more developmental, and then winning comes later, which has really helped me develop into a better player. All of the players on the national team have really developed well, and at the same time we’ve become a very solid, winning team.”