Seventh T12 demonstrates future is bright for Canadian baseball

Fieldhouse Pirates OF Owen Caissie (Burlington, Ont.) was one of the breakout stars of this year’s Tournament. Photo: Tyler King

Fieldhouse Pirates OF Owen Caissie (Burlington, Ont.) was one of the breakout stars of this year’s Tournament. Photo: Tyler King

September 22, 2019

By Lukas Weese

Canadian Baseball Network

TORONTO-- There wasn’t a cloud to be found amidst the bright blue sky. The atmosphere was calm and tranquil. Little kids with their parents were munching on staple ballpark foods. Scouts were focused on detailing their thoughts on paper. There was the occasional horn blown, with a few raucous cheers and claps permeating through the crowd. A genuine feeling of appreciation was felt by patrons in attendance, with the warm temperatures and bright sunshine soothing any present concerns.

This peaceful excitement is often experienced by Toronto Blue Jays fans who travel to Dunedin for Spring Training every March. Only in reality, this was the scene at Rogers Centre in September, for the concluding Saturday of the Tournament 12 Showcase. A final chance to see the tournament’s top performing prospects showcase their talents in a home-run derby and a Prospects Game.

The morning was highlighted by 17-year-old Owen Caissie’s bat that blasted a total of 21 combined home runs in the home-run derby. In the afternoon, Tournament 12 Showcase Commissioner Roberto Alomar got the better of his Father, Sandy Alomar Sr., winning 6-1 in the T12 Prospects Game.

The results from these two events were merely for the history books. The entire week symbolized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the top 150 prospects to cultivate their development and skills in the game of baseball, on Canada’s major league stage.

“This event is great for baseball and youth in Canada,” said Alomar. “It’s always nice to see the kids enjoying the tournament. We are hopeful that this tournament continues to grow for many years to come.”

Alomar has played a significant role in the rise in baseball participation and success in Canada. From 1991-1995, the second baseman was a superstar for the Toronto Blue Jays, helping to bring the franchise back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

But beyond the 12 All-Star Game appearances, 10 Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger honours is a legacy in benevolence and generosity towards the game of baseball in Canada. Since retiring, Alomar has dedicated considerable time to making sure young kids in Canada have a chance to one day fulfill their major league aspirations.

Seven years ago, the Hall-of-Fame second baseman followed through on his dream by helping to create the Tournament 12 Showcase. Once a small event, it has now turned into a staple on the Blue Jays organization’s calendar, where young prospects get exposed to a wealth of knowledge from coaches and former Toronto Blue Jays players.

For Jesse Barfield, the Blue Jays outfielder from 1981-1989, he is grateful for the opportunity whenever he gets to provide advice and tips to Canadian prospects.

“It’s fun for me to get to see the best talent in North America,” said Barfield. “I love the intelligent questions they are asking. They want to get better and are eager to move forward in their development.”

Since 2013, 69 players who participated in T12 have been drafted by major league clubs. Three hundred college and athletic scholarships have been given to kids who competed at the showcase. Alomar not only credits the talent that the youth possess, but also their interactions with the Blue Jays alumni coaches.

“It’s always nice to see the Blue Jays alumni supporting the baseball program we have in Canada,” said Alomar. “Not only are they involved with T12 but also baseball camps we host every year. Having played in Toronto, they can provide their intelligence to these kids which they can take with them for the future.”

Over the course of seven years, the Blue Jays Academy’s strategy has transformed to recruit players for the showcase. This year, the tryouts have occurred over many months and in many cities across the country; from Vancouver and Winnipeg, to Saskatoon and Montreal. Seeing players come from a variety of different backgrounds and places all over Canada elevates the status and influence T12 has in moulding baseball talent.

Whether it was Burnaby, B.C., native Theo Millas displaying high velocity on the mound (two innings, four strikeouts in the Prospects Game), or Swift Current, Saskatchewan’s Brody Alexandre recording seven RBIs in three games played, the calibre of talent is not just centralized in the big provinces. It stretches out across Canada.

In addition to the representation, there were many first-timers competing in the T12 who shined amidst the pressure of expectations. With 37 players born beyond 2003, including Tyson Gomm, who was named the T12 MVP with a batting average of .625 with two extra base hits, they will leave this event brimming with confidence as they take the next step in their baseball development.

“It’s been a tremendous week,” said Tournament 12 Operations Director TJ Burton. “The kids are competitive and have bright futures."

Improvements to Tournament 12 are always topics of conversation once the event has concluded. This year was the inaugural instance of merging players from different provinces on the various teams, in order to balance out the hitting and pitching velocities. According to Burton, the big area of improvement for next year will be finding ways to enhance the quality and quantity of their recruitment opportunities.

“Every year we want to improve on the year before,” said Burton. “We are looking at changing our tryout format to get a bigger sample size of players to look at. In addition, exploring an international presence may be the works as well.”

When Owen Caissie hit one of his home runs in the Derby, the ball ended up going into the box right underneath Roberto Alomar’s name on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in the outfield. It was a symbol of reciprocation from all 150 of the Canadian Baseball prospects to the Commissioner. Solidifying that Alomar’s years of effort growing baseball in Canada have translated into long-lasting outcomes.

If one day, one (or several) of the players competing in T12 this week get the chance to play in the big leagues, they will be brought back to a warm day at Rogers Centre near the end of September, where lasting memories were etched into their consciousness forever.