ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - How did the Canadian junior team get ready for their game against the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday afternoon?
By taking infield practice and hitting from the batting cages located beyond the right field fence at historic Al Lang Field.
And by talking pre-game hockey smack of course.
“Mitch Triolo and I were in the cages the same time as J.P. Arencibia,” said Kyle Hann, second baseman for the juniors. “We know he’s a big hockey fan ... the three of us were talking about dropping the gloves and going at it.”
No gloves were dropped before, during or after what the St. Pete’s International Series bills as ‘Canada Day in March.’ And it was a good day for Canadian baseball.
“Playing this game some people would say is a lose-lose situation,” said Arencibia. “Get a hit, it’s like ‘well you were supposed to get a hit.’ Don’t get a hit, guys will tease. The way to look at this is big picture, what the day does for baseball in Canada and what a great thrill it is for these kids.
“I mean I would have freaked if I was on the same field as the defending home run champion when I was in Grade 12 (in 2004, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome led the year before). I mean I would have freaked.”
Whitby’s Ryan Kellogg was on the mound and the lefty didn’t freak. The top prospect for the June draft retired Mississauga’s Dalton Pompey on a fly ball, gave up a line single to Brett Lawrie, popped up Jose Bautista and retired Adam Lind on a grounder.
Arencibia flew out to open the second as did Chris Woodward. Brian Bocock and Michael Crouse of Port Moody, B.C., each doubled and then Crouse stole third. Kellogg walked North York’s Marcus Knecht as he made a pick-off attempt at first, Crouse broke for the plate.
First baseman Brett Siddall made the return throw to catcher Chris Shaw for the out.
So a good day for the draftee, especially with hall of famer Pat Gillick and about 30 other scouts watching.
“I don’t know whether I’m more excited watching all the good Canadian juniors play the Jays, or watching all our Canadians play against Team Canada,” said Jays Canadian scout Jamie Lehman before the game.
The Grade 11 and 12s had the chance to schmooze with the major leaguers before the game and kudos to the Jays for bringing four every-day players. Of course, the option was a bus trip to Fort Myers.
“We had the chance to ask Mr. Bautista which pitchers gave him the most trouble,” said Georgetown lefty Adam Anderson. “He told us Jared Weaver and CC Sabathia. Weaver because he looks like he’s throwing the ball into the dugout and then it’s on the corner.
“And the way Sabathia goes into his motion and pauses with the ball hidden behind his back leg.”
Said Mr. Bautista: “The left-hander (Kellogg) had good movement on his pitches.”
North Vancouver’s Scott Richmond started for the Jays and was greeted by back-to-back doubles by Windsor’s Jacob Robson and Oakville’s Kyle Hann.
“I noticed how he threw Robson a first-pitch fastball, most big leaguers do that to get ahead,” said Hann, who had the best bolt of the day. Toronto’s Gareth Morgan singled home Hann to give Canada a 2-0 lead four batters into the game.
“I was OK, once I figured out their plan, and that was to ambush me,” said Richmond, who last October gained the save as Canada beat Team USA to win gold at the Pan Ams in Mexico.
“I’m not going to flip in a first-pitch breaking ball to a high school guy. I never was good enough to play for the program but this has to be quite a thrill to be on the same field as guys like Bautista and Lawrie who they see on the TV every night.”
Richmond could not remember the name of the house-league team his father’s friend coached when he was in Grade 12 on the North Shore. The late bloomer didn’t make the B.C. Premier League teams as Justin Morneau and Jeff Francis did.
The score never matters in spring training and the score (10-2 for the Jays) mattered even less Tuesday before a crowd of 732 paying customers which included the players and coaches from the Ontario Prospects, Ontario Blue Jays, Ontario Mets and Ontario Terriers, who are in Florida for March break, plus the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
IMG instructor Andy Stewart, who as a Jays coach pitched thousands of strikes to slugger Carlos Delgado over the years, threw out the first pitch.
Third baseman Jesse Hodges of Victoria, B.C., was asked before the game how many steps onto the outfield grass he would be playing when right-handed hitters Lawrie, Bautista and Arencibia came up.
“I’ll be on the INFIELD grass,” said Hodges. “I’ll take it like a man. We had the chance of talking to Brett and he told us what a grind the minor leagues were with the bus trips and people with negative energy.”
“That’s what I’d like to do,” said Hodges.