ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MARCH 11, 207
By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – The stage is bigger, the event is magnified, and the emotions are amplified, but other than that, taking the mound in his country’s colours for the first time in seven years should be just about the same as it was for Nick Pivetta back then.
The 24-year-old Philadelphia Phillies prospect represented the Canadian Junior National Team on multiple occasions throughout his high school career, making his final appearance as a junior at the U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ont., in 2010.
Now, the right-handed hurler heads into a do-or-die game against a tough Colombian team in his first outing with the senior squad at the World Baseball Classic on Saturday at Marlins Park in Miami.
“I feel like I’m a better version of what I was,” Pivetta said. “I grew up. I mean, I was 17, 18 years old, and now I’m 24 years old. I’ve had a lot more experience – two years of [junior college], four years in pro ball – so along with it I’ve learned from everything, the ups and downs, and I’ve used all that to mould who I am today.”
With the Junior National Team, Pivetta’s experience helped him prepare for the road that lay immediately ahead, competing at the collegiate level with New Mexico Junior College, and then moving ahead into professional baseball in the Washington Nationals and Phillies organizations. The right-hander believes that the Classic could help him similarily as he looks to make his way to the majors.
“When I was with the junior team, my first game was when I was 16 years old in the Dominican Republic against the Mets, guys who are way better baseball players than me,” he said. “I went out there and competed and did well, and kind of always have with the junior team. [With Team Canada] I’m always facing guys who are a higher calibre and are preparing me for that next level.”
All those years ago, Pivetta felt that he was playing over his head, but that isn’t the case any longer.
“When I was 16 years old, it was more playing up, but now I belong here,” the native of Victoria, BC said. “I believe that. I know that I belong here with these guys and that I can beat these guys. So it’s not so much me playing it up and facing guys who are better than me, I feel like I’m a better version of myself and therefore I’m a better version of the guys I’m going to be facing tomorrow, and I can beat those guys.”
Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt – a full-time instructor in the Phillies organization – has had a firsthand glimpse of the progression Pivetta has made in his season-and-a-half with the same affiliation.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth in him because he’s learned to take some criticism, he’s learned to take some teaching stuff that has been brought to him, and he’s been able to apply it,” Whitt said. “He had a reputation at one point in time where he would shut everyone else out and he thought he could do everything himself, and he’s learned to open up his ears and absorb what he’s been told.”
Added Pivetta: “I’ve grown a lot, just mentally and physically and with more experience. I mean, I can see it. It seems like everybody sees it, and I’m moving in the right direction, just from the mental side of the game, mental preparation, going out there and being consistent with my plan, and sticking to my strengths.”
Heading into Canada’s second game of the tournament, after an event-opening loss to the defending-champion Dominican Republic, Pivetta has nothing to compare the moment to, but he’s ready to embrace it.
“This is probably going to be one of the plateaus [in my career],” the 6-foot-5, 220-pound pitcher said. “I mean, I have play for Team Canada in the WBC and then make it to the big leagues [to accomplish]. Along with when I first got drafted and my first professional start, those are pedestals. This is one of them, and I’m going to surpass it and I’m going to go out there and win tomorrow, so it’s going to be good.”
Added Whitt: “I’m hoping for good things. That’s why I’ve lined him up for Colombia, and we’ll see how he handles it. He’s got a good arm, there’s nothing short in his arm. He’s got a good breaking ball. If he throws strikes, he’s going to be very effective.”
On hand for the experience will be Pivetta’s parents, who don’t often get an opportunity to see him pitch at all, let alone while representing his home and native land on the biggest international stage there is.
“It’s very special,” Pivetta said. “With them being from the west coast and me always being on the east coast, it’s always nice for them to come out, especially in an atmosphere like this. They’ve never experienced something like this. I understand and know what I’m walking into tomorrow. They don’t really know, and for them to experience that, it’s great. It’s going to be great for them.”
His parents are not the only ones Pivetta is excited for.
“I’m super excited,” he said. “That’s my game, that’s the game that I want. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to win, and with the guys that we have behind me, we have an amazing clubhouse, those guys old and young. Everybody works and coexists together in a perfect, I want to say symphony.
“Everybody is right on the same page right now. We went out put forth a really good step. I mean, that Dominican team, hats off to them, they’re a phenomenal team. You probably won’t see a better team and we stuck with them for most, for the latter part of the game. So we’re going to go out there and we’re going to put that same foot forward and we’re going to beat that team tomorrow.”