Meet rookies Carr, Lalor, Eccles, Healey

* Four players -- Kelsey Lalor (Red Deer, Alta.), Emma Carr (Toronto, Ont.),  Heather Healey (Paradise, Nfld.) and Claire Eccles (Surrey, BC)-- will make their IBAF Women’s Baseball World Cup with the  Canadian Women’s National Team. .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians drafted … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent

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By Alexis Brudnicki

TOKYO, Japan – Among the strong veteran presence on the Canadian Women’s National Team, there are four young players making their official debuts at the IBAF Women’s Baseball World Cup.

Of the 20 members of the squad on the roster for the upcoming tournament in Miyazaki, Japan from Sept. 1-7, the remaining 16 have represented Canada in previous years. Two, Mississauga, Ont. native Ashley Stephenson and Kate Psota of Burlington, Ont., have been on the team since its inception in 2004 and are attending their sixth World Cup competition. All but 21-year-old Ella Matteucci have attended a World Cup before.

The rookies are four high schoolers, all taking their longest-ever trips away from home and embracing everything that Team Canada has already offered to them. Emma Carr is the youngest on the team at just 15 years old and is excited for what the squad has already offered her, and for what she can do in the outfield.

“It’s been great, really good, a big learning experience as well, obviously,” the young native of Toronto, Ont. said. “There’s a lot more to learn. Even when you think you know it all, there’s still a lot more to learn.

“Everyone’s noticed that I’m the youngest one here so they’re being a little nicer to me...I’ve obviously already proven a little bit in order to [make the team] but there’s still a lot more to prove, and prove why I’m here and own up to that.”

Red Deer, Alta.’s Kelsey Lalor was first discovered by team manager Andre Lachance at the bantam national competition two years ago. Now almost 16 1/2, the first baseman and outfielder is soaking in her surroundings, starting with three days of training camp in Surrey, BC at Whalley Athletic Park before heading across the world.

“It’s been great,” Lalor said. “It’s awesome getting to play with the best players in the country. I love getting to practice with them and picking up on little things they do, so I can improve my game ... I’ve learned lots of things like what they feel is important in games and some of the skills...It’s not really [anything new] but it’s some of the things that they emphasize more.”

Carr added: “A lot stuff [I’ve learned] was just a refresher and a reminder. But I have learned a few more techniques with my throwing and a lot of pop fly stuff, and in the outfield I’ve learned how to read the ball a little better.”

Claire Eccles had a whirlwind training camp week in Surrey, her hometown. When the young left-hander was added to the roster, she didn’t realize that her trip would begin immediately.

“I didn’t really know how this was going to go,” Eccles said. “I live close so I didn’t realize I would have to pack up all my stuff and move to a hotel in 12 hours. It was a little different ...

“It’s really overwhelming, but good overwhelming. I’m having fun and I’m meeting new people. Everyone has been really nice. They’re kidding around because we’re rookies and stuff but it’s been fun, I’ve enjoyed it and I’m excited.”

Heather Healey, 17, hails from Paradise, Nfld., travelled further than anyone to get to the women’s national competition in BC, first flying from Newfoundland to Calgary, a seven-hour journey, followed by an hour-long trip to Abbotsford.

“It’s been great,” Healey said. “I’ve never been to BC before and I’ve never travelled this far away from home before. Coming from Newfoundland, playing small ball and not playing in leagues as competitive as this, it’s quite the experience.”

The right-handed hurler’s experience is one that has made a splash back at home as well, garnering a lot of positive attention and picking up interest.

“Apparently everyone is talking about it at home, ‘This girl from Paradise, Newfoundland, going away and stuff like that,’” Healey said. “It’s huge. I’m the first Newfoundlander to make the team and I’ve always had a passion for baseball. I’ve played with the boys my whole life and I’ve always been good at it, so this has kind of been my dream and it’s finally here.”

The rest of Team Canada has embraced the trip’s rookies, with several long-time players taking them under their wings and helping to show them the ropes.

“I’m rooming with Bradi [Wall] (Swift Current, Sask.) and Vanessa [Riopel] (Repentigny, Que.) and they’re great,” Healey said. “They’re helping me out a lot.”

One of Lalor’s roommates during over the four days on the west coast of Canada was Stephenson, the oldest member of the squad at age 31. A high school teacher at home in Burlington, Stephenson instructs students older than Lalor, but the young player feels embraced especially by the third baseman, as well as the rest of the team.

“I love all of them,” Lalor said. “They’re all such great people and their personalities are amazing. I feel like they’ve made us one big huge group ... Ash is awesome and I love rooming with her. She’s always so excited and she loves going to practice. She’s got lots of stuff to talk about so it’s always interesting being with her and it’s awesome.”

Eccles shares the sentiment of feeling welcomed by the team, though the rest of the players are still trying to bring her out of her shell a little bit.

“For the most part,” Eccles said of being embraced. “I haven’t talked to some of the players yet just because I haven’t gotten the chance to, but the ones I’ve talked to seem friendly...and I am probably one of the shyest people here.”

The young southpaw is still soaking in the entire experience.

“It’s a lot,” Eccles said. “I’ve never practiced with so much attention to detail as this team has. Making Team Canada, I was used to being one of the better players on my team but now I’m with the best of Canada.”

Eccles, Healey and Carr all participated in Team Canada’s development camp in Cuba in February, with Lalor staying home for the high school basketball season, but heading to Japan brings an entirely new experience.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” Eccles said. “Just because it’s my first time and I don’t want to screw up ... I went with Team Canada to the camp in Cuba in February and I had fun. I played with Emma and Heather, so it was cool ... It will be pretty different [than that], even with just getting used to the time change and everything.”

Healey added: “Playing in Cuba was awesome and I think I killed it down there so I hope it’s the same in Japan. What makes me more nervous is playing with a group of girls who are so good and knowing I can’t mess up. They don’t mess up so I’m not going to either. But you’ve just got to stay confident and hopefully everything works out.”

The top teams for Canada to beat in Miyazaki after a week of exhibition play in Tokyo will be host Japan and USA, and the rest of the squad from north of the border has done their best to prepare the new players for what to expect out of them.

“I was talking to Jen [Gilroy] (Mississauga, Ont.) and Niki [Boyd] (Whalley, BC), who are my roommates, and they were saying how surprising it is,” Eccles said. “Japan is good at everything, they even pitch fast, and they were saying some teams are better hitters, others not so much, and then others rely on their defence.”

Added Lalor: “They’ve given me a little bit of [preparation]. I’ve heard that Team USA likes to play a lot like us, and last year a couple Japanese teams came down to play us so I know they’re a little different.

“They say the game over in countries like Japan and Taiwan is different because they have different strategies than we do – they try to slash the ball and just get singles, they don’t try to hit anything really far, and when they’re pitching they try to mess up your timing.”

“I’ve heard things like Japan is a really quick team,” Carr said. “They’re the best team out there so they’re going to be a tough team to face but other than that, it’s kind of [the same as another game].”

Fighting off some nerves as they venture across the International Date Line for the first time, for now the excitement of the young women outweighs any other feelings they have.

“I’m so excited,” Healey said. “And a little bit [nervous]. I’m not nervous right now but I know when we get to game time it will be nerve-wracking ...

“Everyone is going to be nervous but you’ve just got to stay confident and keep the mentality that I had throughout the [national] tournament. I didn’t pitch as well as I wanted to this tournament but I still pulled through and made this team, so it was great.”

Added Eccles: “I’m really excited, especially because I’m half Japanese, so I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. This will be new, this will be different, and I know some people there who might come watch, from the Japanese softball team.”

Carr said: “Seeing everyone together really gets me excited to actually get out on the field and play.”