SOURCE: Sean Hatchard Times & Transcript Staff
The Baseball Canada Cup baseball tournament is coming to Metro Moncton and perhaps the best marketing campaign for organizers is a list of tournament alumni.
B.C. infielder Brett Lawrie, who is trying to crack the Toronto Blue Jays this spring, and Quebec pitcher Phillippe Aumont, a Philadelphia Phillies prospect who was a key piece in the 2009 trade that sent Phillies star Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners, are recent Canada Cup graduates.
Veteran major league pitcher Ryan Dempster, former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne and former Blue Jays infielder Corey Koskie also played in the tournament, which features the top baseball players 17-years-old and younger in the country.
"If any players from Canada are destined to go the major leagues, they will probably be at this tournament," said Miramichi's Mark Noel, veteran head coach of the New Brunswick Selects entry at the Canada Cup.
"There's about a 99 per cent chance anyone in Canada who has ended up in the major leagues has played at the Canada Cup."
New Brunswick Canada Cup alumni include former major leaguers Rheal Cormier of St-Andre and Jason Dickson of Miramichi, Fredericton's Matt Stairs, who has played 18 seasons in the majors, and more recently, Sussex Corner brothers Aaron and Jay Johnson. Aaron was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and Jay by the Baltimore Orioles and then the Blue Jays one year later.
The five-day, 10-province tournament will be held Aug. 9-14 at Moncton's Kiwanis Park, which underwent a $2-million upgrade last year, and Riverview's Harold Page Field.
The Canada Cup was born in 1989 to help Baseball Canada select a youth team to participate in the world youth AAA championship. While the event is used to scout players for the country's national program, it also provides players exposure to scouts in the university, college and professional ranks. Several players from this summer's tournament will be invited to attend a selection camp for the Canadian team that will head to the world junior baseball championship.
"It has been the primary source of development for prospects of our junior national team program," said Baseball Canada director of national teams Greg Hamilton.
The Canada Cup was held in Moncton once before - in 1994 when it was known as the Blue Jay Cup. The Toronto Blue Jays used the tournament as an identification camp for up and coming young players.
Moncton has also previously hosted high profile tournaments, the world junior baseball championship in 1997 and Canadian senior baseball championship in 2004.
"We're thrilled to be hosting this event. We want to build off of our previous successes and make the 2011 Canada Cup something our athletes will remember for a lifetime," said Paul (Tubby) Melanson, the Moncton tournament chairman who coached New Brunswick at the 1994 event and has been the province's chef-de-mission at the Canada Cup multiple times.
"With the new ball park at Kiwanis, we talked about getting an event. We knew the senior championship was going to Chatham (this coming summer) and the Canada Cup was the biggest thing to go for. Midget and junior are good, but this is the crème of the tournaments."
New Brunswick has finished in the top five in the Canada Cup in each of the last five years, including a third-place showing - the best ever performance by a Maritime team - in 2008 at Medicine Hat, Alta.
Pool A of this summer's tournament features the top four teams from a year ago in Kindersley, Sask. - B.C., Ontario, Alberta and Quebec. B.C. blanked Ontario 4-0 in the gold-medal game.
New Brunswick will be in Pool B with Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.
New Brunswick placed fifth last summer in Kindersley, after it was grouped in Pool A with B.C., Ontario and Quebec.
"The A pool is very competitive. B.C. Ontario, Quebec ... those teams are high performance. The B pool will be some of the best baseball you'll see in the Maritimes, but you will notice a difference," Noel said.
"The biggest difference is depth. When you have a team like B.C., there are not any weak players, whereas Maritime teams and some of the other provinces don't have that type of depth because of smaller numbers."
The Selects are currently carrying about 40 players during indoor winter workouts, but will cut that down to about 17 in time for the tournament. The team will play in the New Brunswick Junior Baseball League this upcoming season and in a handful of tournaments.
"We're going to put a good team on the field. We've been pretty solid the last few years, finishing as high as third. If we finish lower than fifth, it will be a disappointment," said Noel, who has nine potential returnees, including pitchers Luc Hebert of Shediac and Jake Shaw of Grand Bay. "This is an opportunity for us to showcase our local talent and have the advantage of playing at home in front of our family and friends."
Tournament organizers are seeking volunteers for the event. Anyone interested should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voice mail message at 506-855-3633