By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. – From the U18 Baseball World Cup in 2010 on home soil in Thunder Bay, Ont., to gearing up for the World Baseball Classic that gets underway in Miami on Thursday, four young Canadian players are reuniting and suiting up together in the red-and-white jerseys for the first time in almost seven years.
Between Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey, Philadelphia Phillies minor league hurlers Nick Pivetta and Jesen Therrien, and St. Louis Cardinals prospect Rowan Wick, there are 21 minor league seasons, over a thousand games, and 760 innings between the quartet’s trip to Thunder Bay and their reunion in Dunedin. It would seem like a lot might be different, but the players aren’t so sure.
“Mainly it’s just physical changes,” Pompey said. “We’re all the same joking guys, and we like to have fun with each other and stuff like that. We’re all the same kids at heart, it’s just that we’re all pretty much grown men now.”
From coaching the Canadian Junior National Team seven years ago in that world tournament to helping lead the pitchers on the current staff at the Classic, Paul Quantrill certainly agrees with that assessment.
“The No. 1 thing honestly is that they’re all gorillas now,” Quantrill said. “They were always big kids, but truly as they’ve become men, it’s like oh my god. They’re just big guys, and they’ve all filled out, so I don’t feel like their dad anymore. I’m kind of looking at them and thinking wow, these are men now. That’s the single-biggest thing I’ve noticed.”
With the size, came added strength and the ability to perform at a higher level.
“Everybody just got better,” Therrien said. “It’s insane to see those guys who I used to play with, and now they’re really close to the big leagues, and Pompey has already played in the big leagues. It’s really fun. It was an amazing tournament in Thunder Bay, and what I like about Team Canada is that everybody is proud to wear that jersey. We play for the team, for the country we represent, and that doesn’t change. From then to now, it’s the same thing. We’re always proud.”
Pivetta shared the sentiment of his fellow Phillies farmhand, and after finishing last year in Triple-A, the 24-year-old right-hander from Victoria, BC is looking forward to playing the role of the young guy on his current squad, and gleaning as much as he can from the veteran senior national team players.
“We’ve all gotten older, we all have experience now, and we’re all moving up the ladder and in the right direction,” Pivetta said. “We’ve got some older guys on this team who are going to help us along our way, who have a lot more experience than the four of us. We’ve got guys like Pete Orr who’s going for a record of how many international tournaments he’s played in, and [Justin] Morneau is here, so I’m looking forward to playing with those guys, and going out and getting through that first round and onto the second one.”
One thing for certain has changed since the junior world championship tournament seven years ago, when two of the four players were manning the outfield together and two were taking their turns on the mound. Since then, the Cardinals have transitioned 24-year-old Wick from catching to right field to testing out what his right arm can do from the hill.
“He was our right fielder and he raked,” Quantrill said. “He did great in the worlds, and I think he won the right fielder award for being the top guy at his position. And he always had a hose. It was somewhere in the back of our mind that if he didn’t figure it out with the bat he’s got an arm like nobody’s business. So it isn’t surprising. I’ve seen him a few times down here in the Florida State League when I’m working with the Jays, and he’s electric. It’s almost scary how hard he throws.”
Wick’s former teammates are certainly excited to see what the 6-foot-3, 220-pound flamethrower has to offer as a hurler.
“I haven’t seen him pitch before, but I’ve heard lots about him and I heard he did really well in the [Arizona Fall League],” Pivetta said. “I played catch with him the other day and he’s got a really live, live arm. I mean, he just throws the ball hard. So I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch for us. It’s going to be good.”
Added Pompey: “I know he throws hard. Back in the day, he had a really good arm, so it doesn’t surprise me that he runs it up in the high-90s. It will be interesting to see him on the mound for sure.”
Feeling fortunate to have a job after his position switch, and make his return to Team Canada in a different capacity, Wick is hoping he can contribute in his relatively new role.
“I’m just lucky to still be playing baseball,” the native of North Vancouver, BC said. “I mean, it’s different for everybody but I didn’t see myself playing for the national team seven years later, and being in this bullpen. I’m obviously extremely thankful. I’m staying with what I know, what I do best, and hopefully I can bring something to this team.”
If there is one thing the foursome still shares, it’s the gratitude they have to once again be wearing the red-and-white uniform and representing the country they all grew up in.
“Putting on this jersey always feels natural,” Pivetta said. “It always feels like a good thing. It’s going to be just like this when I put on my first big league jersey with the Phillies, so it’s good…coming into this team is always easy. The guys are great and we’re here having fun. It’s fun baseball, and if we are having a good time doing it, then we’re going to win.”
The seven-year wait was enough for Therrien to be chomping at the bit for his next opportunity. The 23-year-old native of Montreal was incredibly eager to join the team after getting the call just a few days before the team got together in Dunedin, taking the roster spot vacated by John Axford, who opted to remain at spring training with the Oakland Athletics for personal and professional reasons.
“When Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] called me to be here, I was like, ‘Hell yeah,’” Therrien said. “I just want to play for my country. It’s an opportunity that not everybody gets, and to be a part of this team is just something incredible. It felt really good to put the jersey on, and now I can’t wait to be back on the mound and show what I can do.”
The young hurler’s former and current Team Canada teammates couldn’t agree more.
“There’s no better feeling,” said Pompey, a 24-year-old switch-hitter from Mississauga, Ont. “I always know I’m going to have fun. I’m going to have a blast coming in with this team. It’s a lot different playing for your country than for yourself for a change. So I’m definitely excited and I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can go.”
Added Wick: “I’m loving it so far. This is a super competitive group and we’re all here to do the same thing. I’m excited for it. It’s awesome to put the uniform back on. It’s a great feeling.”