TORONTO – Stepping on to a Major League Baseball field is a dream come true for any aspiring baseball player. Well, over the days of September 19 to 22, that dream did come true for some of the best young baseball players across Canada.
55 of the best 15 and 16 year old players from across the country were brought to the Rogers Centre in Toronto to participate in the Mizuno Junior Elite Camp. While in Toronto, these talented young men would be led through drills and techniques by Toronto Blue Jays coaches Brian Butterfield and Brad Arnsberg, Baseball Canada coaches Greg Hamilton and Denis Boucher and Canadian Olympic Team players Adam Stern and Chris Robinson.
On top of receiving some of the best coaching available, the players were involved in “Life Skills” sessions, where Hyung Cho, National Team alumnist and Territory Manager with Mizuno Canada discussed finding proper equipment and sizing and Jeff Krushell of Krush Sports Performance educated the kids on proper nutrition and strength and conditioning.
To add to the experience, the players got a chance to see some of the best baseball players in the world live and up close as they got to attend three Toronto Blue Jays games. It was a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox that featured two Canadians in Scott Richmond (Langley, BC) of the Blue Jays and Jason Bay (Trail, BC) of the Red Sox.
Paul Schaak of Winkler, Manitoba was one of the 55 players selected for the four day camp. His experience in Toronto can sum up the feeling among the group that attended the annual event.
“It was really good,” says Schaak. “This was my first time seeing a Jays game and being on the field. This was probably one of the best times of my life. I had a really good time.”
The 16-year-old left-handed pitcher took in a lot of new information while at the camp, listening to the teachings of pitching coaches Brad Arnsberg and Denis Boucher. Of all the new information he received, one thing stuck out for 6’1”, 175 pound left-hander.
“Consistency and repetition. You can’t get any better without doing it over and over. That’s why the guys in the Major Leagues are so good.”
For Adam Stern and Chris Robinson, this was a chance to give back. They know the types of situations these young men are in as they were once there themselves as up and coming Canadian ball players.
“This (camp) is so good to see,” says Stern. “I know when I was 16 and got a chance to play here (at Rogers Centre) I was really nervous. It’s good to see these kids and walk them through the process a little bit so they’re not so nervous and see what they can do.”
“When I was their age I wasn’t good enough to come to this exact camp,” adds Stern, “but it’s good to see the best in Canada and see where baseball is going.”
“It’s exciting to give back because they’re so willing to learn,” says Robinson. “But also we get to see the future of Baseball Canada. In 10-15 years, when I’m sitting on the couch watching the World Baseball Classic or, hopefully, the Olympics I can see what kind of progress these guys have made and what kind of players they turn into.”
After two days of different pitching, infielding, outfielding, hitting and baserunning drills, the kids were divided into two teams to play an inter-squad game as Team Stern would take on Team Robinson.
For the players, it was a chance to show off their talents in front of college and professional scouts. For the managers, there was much more up for grabs.
“There’s a round of golf on the line,” says Stern. “I’ve lost to Robbie before and he’s not a guy you want to lose to, whether it’s hopscotch or a game of horse on the basketball court.”
“I’m going to take the guys aside and walk them through what it’s all about and take it seriously. It’s like the World Series for me,” adds Stern jokingly.
“More importantly than a round of golf, there’s bragging rights,” says Robinson. “If I lose to Stern I’m never going to hear the end of it. I don’t care if I have to buy a round of golf, because I’m probably going to get it all back on the golf course anyway.”
In what was a heated contest at the Rogers Centre, Team Stern came out on top of Team Robinson, but both sides had some solid performances.
Justin Atkinson (Surrey, BC) had an RBI triple while Alex Calbick (Burnaby, BC) had a pair of hits, including a double. Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC) had a pair of hits and an RBI and Etienne Levesque (Chateauguay, QC) had an RBI single.
On the mound, Bruce Lombard (Oakville, ON) retired the side in order in his inning pitched, registering a pair of strikeouts. Jonathan Paquet (Québec City, QC) also had two strikeouts in his one-two-three inning and Mike Ellis (Surrey, BC) registered all three outs in his inning of work via the punch out.
“We had a wonderful camp with some of the best young Canadian players here in Toronto,” says Greg Hamilton, Head Coach and Director of National Teams for Baseball Canada. “This is a tremendous opportunity for these young players to take advantage of some Major League instruction and gain knowledge from many different professional coaches and players. We’re very proud to have Mizuno, the Blue Jays and Major League Baseball to help make this event the success that it is.”