St. Petersburg, Florida- The Junior National Team had an experience of a lifetime as they not only got to play against the Toronto Blue Jays, but rub shoulders and learn what it takes to make it to the big-league’s from the Jays players themselves.
“It was unbelievable,” exclaimed Roberto Suppa (Palgrave, ON). “Aaron Hill and John McDonald came into our dugout (during the game) and we got to pick their brains and listen to their stories of making it to the major leagues. They were telling us about their journeys in professional baseball and how hard you have to work to get there. ”
From the moment both teams arrived a family atmosphere took over Al Lang Stadium as players from both teams mingled during batting practice and throughout the game. A group of JNT players surrounded the batting cage to watch the Jays hit while other junior players took grounders and shagged fly-balls next to their heroes.
“It was a great opportunity for our guys to connect with professional players and in many cases Canadian professional players,” said JNT Head Coach Greg Hamilton (Ottawa, ON). “We’re real grateful that the Blue Jays were able to do this and hopefully we can build on it in the future.”
Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC), Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC), Michael Crouse (Port Moody, BC) and Marcus Knecht (Toronto, ON) are all graduates of the JNT program that suited up for the Jays. All of them made a point of chatting with former coaches and staff of the JNT while also sharing advice and stories with the current JNT squad.
“It brings back some good memories when I see all of the red and white uniforms,” said Lawrie. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I was young like these guys, I just wanted to do my best and play for my country.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Lawrie was a member of the JNT as he played from 2006-2008 which included trips to two World Junior Baseball Championships. For Lawrie, the memories are fond ones where he says he did a lot of growing as a player.
“I was so nervous (my first time with the JNT), I was 15 playing with a bunch of 18 year olds,” explained Lawrie. “I didn’t know what the world held at that time. I can’t even explain it, it’s so heartfelt, you’re just with a bunch of guys that want to win and that’s just a great thing about Canadian baseball.”
The game almost felt secondary with all of the camaraderie that was happening at the ballpark. Almost 2,000 fans witnessed the first ever match-up between the two teams in what was also declared ‘Canada Day’ by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.
On the field the Jays opened up the scoring with two runs in the 1st inning off starter Tom Robson (Ladner, BC) who threw two innings and managed two strikeouts.
The Jays bats proved to be too much as they turned twelve hits and two JNT errors into nine runs for a 9-0 victory.
Offensively, Bryan Saucedo (Toronto, ON) lined an opposite field double to right field and Brendan Hendriks (Cochrane, AB) hit a single up the middle for the JNT’s only two hits of the game.
Jesen Dygestile-Therrien (Montréal, QC) threw two scoreless innings which also included him starting an inning ending double play in the 6th with a runner on third base.
“If we caught a few baseballs that we didn’t catch today and threw a few more strikes, it’s probably a better game,” noted Hamilton. “Again, it’s secondary to the overall experience and the opportunity of playing against the Blue Jays and being able to connect with the organization.”
Notes: Several high profile guests were in attendance for the game including former Blue Jays GM and Baseball Hall of Famer Pat Gillick…The JNT will wrap-up this portion of Spring Training on March 5th with a 7pm ET game against the Netherlands at Al Lang Stadium…Michael Foster (Pickering, ON) will start… Fans can watch the game LIVE by visiting: http://www.stpeteinternationalbaseball.com/live.htm ...Fans can get also get live updates by following Baseball Canada on twitter (www.twitter.com/baseballcanada)...People in the St. Petersburg area can purchase tickets by visiting: http://www.stpeteinternationalbaseball.com/tickets.htm