TORONTO- The Junior National Team walked out onto the field in front of over 45,000 fans at Rogers Centre as Canada Day ceremonies took place at Rogers Centre. The club were guests of the Toronto Blue Jays, and marched onto the field along with a local minor baseball club and members of the Canadian Armed Forces on a beautiful afternoon for baseball.
“It was an incredible feeling when I heard the crowd cheering as we walked on the field,” exclaimed Roberto Suppa (Connor, ON). “This is something that I will always remember.”
Suppa was a member of the JNT back in February when they took on a split-squad version of the Jays in St. Petersburg, Florida. On the Jays roster that day was John McDonald who took the time to sit in the dugout with the Juniors during the game. On Canada Day, McDonald recognized the Canadian team on the field while he was warming up.
"Instead of watching from the stands, I was on the field talking with John McDonald," said Suppa who was drafted by the Padres in June's MLB Draft. "Being on the field with the Blue Jays makes you realize that if you put in the work, the dream of playing Major League Baseball is possible."
Canadian Paralympian, Rick Hansen was on hand to throw the ceremonial first-pitch and posed for pictures with the JNT prior to the game. Hansen is world renowned for travelling the globe on his wheelchair to raise money for spinal cord research. The native of Port Alberni, BC has raised over $25 million starting with his ‘Man in Motion’ tour in the mid 1980’s.
During batting practice, the Juniors were visited by Philadelphia Phillies slugger, Raul Ibanez who had some important advice for the young ball players.
“He was telling us about the importance of having confidence and believing in your abilities as a baseball player,” said Suppa. “When someone from the big-league’s is talking, you listen.”
Ibanez was a teammate of JNT Pitching Coach, Chris Reitsma when the two were members of the Seattle Mariners.
The Juniors took the Rogers Centre field, after the Phillies edged the Jays, for their first team workout prior to travelling to Cuba for an exhibition series against the Cuban Junior National Team. The series in Cuba will give the JNT a stiff challenge before they head to the Americas World Junior Qualifier in Colombia in September.
“I’m really looking forward to playing in Cuba to see where we’re as a team,” explained Suppa. “I know they’re great baseball players and that the game is taken very seriously down there.”
On Saturday, the Juniors will practice once again at Rogers Centre before travelling to Cuba on Sunday. The series with the Cubans begins on Monday July 4th with a 10:30 am game where Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, ON) is expected to start.
Notes: Fans and parents can find score updates by following Baseball Canada on Twitter (www.twitter.com/baseballcanada) and full game reports will be available at www.baseball.ca …JNT pitcher, Tom Robson will be a guest on Jays Connected tomorrow (July 2nd) on Rogers Sportsnet with the show beginning at 12:30pm ET…Robson was a 4th round selection of the Jays in last month’s MLB First Year Player Draft.