By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – There’s really no option but for Jonathan Malo to leave it all out on the field at the World Baseball Classic, since it will be the last one the shortstop ever competes on.
Officially heading into retirement when the tournament comes to an end for Team Canada, and embracing a new career as a pharmaceutical representative after 12 professional seasons – his first seven in the New York Mets organization and the latter five with the independent Quebec Capitales – the 33-year-old infielder extended his playing days to take his final chance to represent his home and native land.
“The good old cliché, ‘Play like it was it’s your last game,’ it’s getting there,” Malo said. “That’s all I need as motivation. I’m just up there as if it is my last at-bat, my last game, every time, and I’m here to leave it all on the field. I know it’s cliché, but that’s really what it is here.”
In Canada’s Classic opener against the reigning-champion Dominican Republic, the native of Laval, Que., showed that that’s exactly what he came to do and will do, grinding out at-bats, scoring Canada’s only two runs in the loss, and relaying the ball to cut down a runner at home plate to minimize damage from the opposition.
“We were in this,” Malo said of the game against the champs. “I mean, this is why we play baseball. It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the field. We have a good team, we stayed close most of the game, they had some big hits, and they also made some big plays in the field to keep us from getting closer…
“They have a very solid team. All we’re trying to do is stay as close as possible and I was lucky enough to be able to make a good throw there.”
With absolutely no plans to keep playing, in order to get ready for the event – and a stint with the Canadian team that could last anywhere from seven days up to just a few weeks – Malo prepared the way he would to take the field for a whole year of baseball, because he wanted to give the squad everything he had in his last kick at the can.
“It’s the same amount of work as usual for an entire season,” he said. “I don’t plan on playing just a few games. I came here like I was playing a full season because I didn’t want to get here not ready to go.”
Malo wasn’t sure he had a shot at playing in his second WBC, with Canadian shortstop Sean Jamieson – and his teammate on the WBC qualifier team in Regensburg, Germany in 2012 – stepping into the spotlight at the position in recent international tournaments and Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin opting to return to the middle infield for the squad.
But with off-season shoulder surgery for Jamieson, and MLB denying to insure Martin for the Classic because of a winter knee surgery of his own, the chance to return to the national team landed squarely on Malo.
“I didn’t know Jamieson was getting surgery until Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] told me when he called me, and I knew Russ was going to be there,” Malo said. “It was late December, and I saw the missed call from Greg and my first thought was I think he wants me to coach for the junior team this winter. Then I started thinking, hey the WBC is coming soon, you never know. You’re just one injury away.”
With seven trips on the senior national squad under his belt, including a gold medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games – the first in program history – and a stint on the Canadian Junior National Team – where he played second base to Martin’s shortstop – Malo couldn’t have been more excited to have another opportunity to don the red-and-white jersey.
“Every trip that I’ve done with Team Canada is such a blast,” he said. “It’s so much fun. Two days in, it was like we were together all season. It’s just a great group of guys. The team bonding took maybe a day or two, and it’s just so great to be a part of this. Hopefully, we make it as far as possible, all the way to LA.”
Taking on the defending champions and matching up against an all-star lineup in front of a majority crowd of Dominican fans to get the WBC going in Miami, Malo and the Canuck squad had to quickly make the adjustment back into just what baseball on the world stage is, and how much each game matters.
“All those international tournaments, they’re always win or go home,” Malo said. “So you have to play every pitch, every at-bat, every play in the field like it means something, because they always do. But to be here in front of that crowd, that was fun tonight, we came up short but I thought we battled pretty well the whole game.”
Canada will take on Colombia Saturday and Team USA Sunday, needing two wins to advance out of the first round of the WBC for the first time, and extend Malo’s career at least a few days longer.
“Coming into the tournament we knew it was going to be hard,” Malo said. “Nobody said it was going to be easy. We still have a chance. We have to come back Saturday and forget about this game and just keep playing hard, hopefully win that game and then have a chance to maybe advance by beating the US on Sunday.”