By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Lucas Parente is having the time of his life at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup on home soil in Thunder Bay.
When the 18-year-old outfielder was first added to the Canadian Junior National Team almost a year ago, his sights were set on just making the next trip with the squad, with no eye on the world championships more than 10 months later. Now, he can’t imagine dreaming of anything else.
“Everything has been amazing,” Parente said. “This is probably the best group of guys I could ask for. I love them all. And the crowd – it’s just something that I might never experience again, so I definitely want to soak it all in and enjoy it. This is my last trip as a junior. It’s different, because when I made the team last October I wasn’t really thinking about this trip – I just wanted to stay on the team after each trip. So once the Dominican trip happened [in May], I really focused on making this team.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Like Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] always says, this is going to be one of the most special athletic things you do in your career and your life. Once, he told us how [Toronto Blue Jays outfielder] Dalton Pompey would say this is one of the coolest things he’s done, and that made me want to make it even more and I’m just glad that I did. I’m really glad I’m here.”
Parente and his Canadian teammates began their journey to the medal round at the world championships with an extra-inning heartbreaker against Chinese Taipei, before losing their second game against Korea and landing in a hole that forced them to win three straight matchups at Port Arthur Stadium in order to advance to the super round of the event.
Staving off relegation to the consolation round, in a must-win contest against Italy, Team Canada didn’t hold a lead until the ninth inning, completing an epic comeback before adding dominant wins against Australia and Nicaragua to move on.
“We didn’t expect to be in that 0-2 hole early, but Korea and Chinese Taipei are good teams, so I knew those were going to be tough games,” Parente, a native of Burlington, Ont., said. “Our intensity definitely changed after those first two games, because we knew if we lose another one, we’re out. So it was do-or-die every other game…The game against Italy was probably the most intense game I’ve ever played, and it was probably the most fun, when we won.
“The crowd here is nothing that I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this before, and just having them on your side is something that definitely helps us and gets our intensity up a lot.”
When the tournament is all said and done – after Parente and the rest of the national team compete for bronze on Sunday, after beating Japan on Friday to move into the medal round – the 5-foot-9, 170-pound outfielder will move to London, Ont., to work further with the Great Lake Canadians program that he believes got him right to where he is currently.
“I don’t think I would be playing for Team Canada if I didn’t go to GLC,” he said. “Working with Adam Stern, Chris Robinson, Adam Arnold, and all the coaches there, it’s a different level of coaching. If I didn’t go there, I wouldn’t be here, and this has been a pretty cool experience.”
Taking some additional time after high school to find a desirable opportunity for his post-secondary education, Parente wants to explore his options and make a better-informed decision before heading off to school next summer.
“I want to get better and hopefully find a school I like, a program that I want, and a nice place to live for four years,” he said. “I’m looking for a good program and good coaches, and somewhere I can develop. I also want to go somewhere that I’ll actually get a chance to play right off the bat.”
Experiencing a lot of growth over his last couple of seasons with the Canadians, Parente is hoping to keep that progression going even further as he makes baseball his primary focus for a little while, and continues to work hard and get better.
“I’ve evolved a lot since I started with them,” the young player said. “Before I was there, I had a little bit of talent, but going to GLC made me aware of how to play my game and use that ability, because I’m a smaller player and I need to play a different game. I’m not supposed to hit home runs. They taught me really how to play my game to the best of my ability.
“My game is pretty much built around speed. I use bunting, try to hit line drives, and beat out ground balls, stuff like that. That’s what I try to do. I work on my speed a lot, and my hand-eye coordination.”
Parente is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by GLC teammates Griffin Hassall and Eric Cerantola, Toronto Mets Denzel Clarke, Dondrae Bremner and Landon Leach, and Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor.