By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – Rene Tosoni just can’t get enough of Team Canada.
Getting his start with the Canadian Junior National Team during his high school playing days at Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, BC, and making appearances on six senior teams over the last eight years – representing Canada at the 2009 World Cup, the 2012 World Baseball Classic Qualifier, the 2013 WBC, the 2015 Pan Am Games and inaugural Premier 12, and most recently, this year’s Classic – each event with his fellow countrymen gets him fired up for the next one.
“I always want to play until the next tournament,” Tosoni said. “It keeps you in it, once you get with this group of guys. We all say we want to play together throughout the year. That would be ideal, but it’s not like that. Just being able to get back out there with the guys makes me want to play over and over again. It does. Until I get old.”
With his Canadian band of brothers that the national team program has become, the 30-year-old outfielder has just as much fun on each tour he takes with the squad, no matter the results.
“It’s do or die,” Tosoni said. “Each pitch matters, right? During the season, it stretches out and it gets tiring mentally and stuff like that, so that’s the challenge of a full season. For tournaments like this, it doesn’t matter if you get a hit or not, just make sure you make an impact somewhere – on the field or picking up a guy – it doesn’t matter if you go 0-for-4, being a good teammate is what counts. That’s what this team is all about…
“And it’s the same every time. It’s such an honour, and it’s such a privilege to be able to put Canada across your chest, and everybody will say that every time, and I will keep saying it until I stop doing it. I can’t thank Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] enough to keep bringing me back.”
Tosoni believes that the family environment that has been created by Baseball Canada always comes back to Hamilton, who also manages the junior squad and gives young players across the country their first chance to represent in red and white, and continues to build the program into something bigger and better all the time.
“Greg’s the top,” Tosoni said. “And the whole front office of Baseball Canada, that’s where it starts. Then the junior team. Our junior team program is the best in the world. They get together five or six times a year, and it’s come so far from when I was a junior.
“I was travelling with the team once a year. You made the team through tournaments, you didn’t make the team by going down to Florida with them like you can now. The program has come a long way and all of our guys are getting better and we’re getting higher draft picks every year.”
Outside of their time together with Team Canada at tournaments, that family that has been created continues to extend its support across regular seasons, through winter months, and beyond.
“It goes far,” Tosoni said. “You see it. [Justin] Morneau took me under his wing at my first big-league camp, and for three winters I worked out with him. I try to reach out to guys myself, I lend a room in my place now, later in my career, and you see guys in Ontario doing the same thing.
“It’s a family and we always recognize each other. If we don’t know each other, we make it a point to make sure we approach each other. That guy’s Canadian? Okay, well I’m going to make sure I go say, ‘What’s up?’ to that guy for sure.”
The lefty-hitting outfielder has so much fun with the national team that he has already begun thinking about the next time the senior squad might reunite, likely not until the Olympic qualifying tournament in 2019, an event Hamilton has already made sure to mention to Tosoni.
“It is a couple years out,” he said. “Then I watch Pete [Orr] play, and he’s 37 now. I’m only 30 so I feel like I’ll be able to go, but I don’t know if that’s going to be ideal for me. We’ll see. I might pull a Pete and retire for a year and come back. I don’t know. I’ll keep swinging. I’ve got friends who want to play ball, so I’ll keep throwing baseballs around. I’m going back to Sugar Land now, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
After seven affiliated seasons, and six of those with the Minnesota Twins – the organization that drafted him twice and with which Tosoni made his major league debut in 2011 and got in 60 games with at the big-league level – the lefty-hitting outfielder has spent his last three years playing for independent teams. In April, he will return to the Sugar Land Skeeters lineup in the Atlantic League, where despite the difficulties that indy ball may bring, he and his family have found a temporary home.
“It’s tough,” Tosoni said. “I have two kids [three-and-a-half-year-old Lilly and 15-month-old Olivia], my wife [Whitney], and they travel with me. Teams have been great. Sugar Land last year was a blast. They took are of me, my family, my girls. My oldest Lilly was old enough to come into the locker room, and she had opportunities to throw a first pitch, they sang happy birthday to her while she stood on the dugout on her birthday. They really took care of her there, and it’s been lots of fun.
“I don’t know if that would happen with affiliated ball, honestly. You build a closer relationship in Indy ball I find, because you’re here to win. If you’re not there to win, you’re out. They’ll filter you out real quick. So if you’ve got the mindset that you want to go there and win, and also take care of business and maybe get picked up, if you’re a good team guy, you’ll have a good time.”