Local baseball fans could be watching the next Brett Lawrie or Russell Martin play at Labatt Park in August.
The London Badgers have been awarded the 2012 Baseball Canada Cup tournament with the bulk of the games being played at Labatt Park, which recently was named Canada's favourite ballpark in a nation-wide online contest conducted by Baseball Canada.
Mike Lumley, who heads up the Badgers program, said the tentative dates are Aug. 9-13, while London's new Frontier League team will be on the road.
The Baseball Canada Cup, which began in 1989, is used to identify players for Canada's world youth team. The 2012 tournament will see players who will play on the 2013 national team in the world AAA championship and they'll all be 16 and 17 years old when in London.
Each of the 10 provinces fields an all-star team and it's safe to say this is the most important event on Baseball Canada's national event calendar.
"These are the top players from across the country and for most of them this is their first exposure in an elite all-star tournament," Lumley said. That means Major League Baseball scouts and U.S. college and university coaches/recruiters will be here as these players will be eligible for the 2013 MLB draft.
Lumley was the national junior team pitching coach for three years and said this is an opportunity for baseball fans to see the best young talent Canada has to offer.
Lawrie, who took the Toronto Blue Jays and the American League by storm this season, New York Yankees catcher Martin, Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, New York Mets outfielder Jason Bay, the National League's rookie of the year in 2004 while with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and retired big leaguers Eric Gagne and Corey Koskie are just some of the players who have gone from appearing in the Canada Cup to starring in the majors.
"You never know who the next one will be but fans are going to see some really good ball. And some of these pitchers can throw 90 miles an hour," Lumley said. "But the thing about this (five-day) tournament is they're just not trying to find talent but the kids who can play the game. These kids will be playing under pressure sustained over a number of games and days, rather than just on a weekend.
"Pretty well everybody who's up for the draft is going to be at the tournament and I would say you will see at least 20 major league teams represented. It's also a chance for their cross-checkers to come and see some of the kids who have been seen before. And with London so close to the border there will be a number of U.S. college coaches.
"We've seen this tournament just grow and grow and these scouts and coaches have started to realize there are a lot of kids they will want next year during the signing period and this tournament provides one-stop shopping."
Lumley and the Badgers organization staged a successful 2010 Canadian midget championship and he said that was the test run before bidding for the Canada Cup.
"We have tons of volunteers here, so that makes it easy to get it done. And for me, personally? This is all about this being a great baseball event. The Badgers could make some money out of it, but the bottom line is getting the best baseball you can to this city. And of course Labatt Park is a great draw for something like this."