CARY, North Carolina – The 2009 edition of the Junior National Team has its share of veterans and up and comers. However, of the 29-man roster that Baseball Canada brought down to North Carolina, only three have previous experience in international competition.
That is why the Final Summer Camp is an important step on the road to the World Junior Baseball Championship in 2010. This will be a major test for the players eligible for the 2010 roster as for the next three weeks they will face two of the best teams in international competition.
First up is a five game set with the USA Collegiate National Team, followed by a six game series with the Cuban Junior National Team in Cuba.
One of the three players with international experience, and who is also eligible for the 2010 World Juniors is Evan Grills (Whitby, ON). Grills, who just turned 17-years-old earlier this month, has taken the role of leader on this team, but do not expect him to be a vocal force.
“I’m not the rah-rah leader, but I just try to lead by example,” says Grills. “When I go out there I just work hard every day and show how intense it is and how much I care about winning and things like that.”
His teammates however are all looking toward him to draw on his experience as Grills has participated in the America’s World Junior Qualifier in 2007 and the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championship.
If there is one thing the left-handed pitcher can give his teammates, is that you cannot put your opponents on a pedestal.
“I can tell them that they don’t have to be really nervous. I remember my first time when I pitched against Cuba, I thought they were just the greatest hitters I ever faced in my life. But in reality, if you just get ahead in the count and stay ahead you’re usually going to do pretty well.”
Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC) and Steve McKinnon (Duncan, BC) are two of the players who will be facing this caliber of international competition for the first time and both are excited for the opportunity.
“This is really great. I’m having so much fun and we haven’t even played a game yet,” says McKinnon. “I still can’t believe how when you get all your gear it’s all team Canada gear. It’s pretty sweet.”
“It’s awesome being around these guys,” adds Deglan. “We get to wear ‘Canada’ everyday and soon we’re going to play the USA and Cuba, which will be really different.”
JNT Manager Greg Hamilton has consistently put his teams in harm’s way, so to speak. The competition for the Canadians is never easy, especially on the route to a World tournament. Hamilton is looking forward to see how this team will respond to the situation.
“This is going to be a very good challenge for our club,” says Hamilton. “We are facing two of the best baseball playing nations in the world and in hostile territory. This experience will be invaluable for our players as we continue to develop this team for 2010.”
The players are already aware of the possible advantages they can receive in the next three weeks.
“I think mentally this will make us a lot stronger because we will have to deal with a new kind of pressure,” says Deglan. But also, we will learn what it takes to beat these kind of teams in big situations.”
But Grills has already been in these pressure situations, having faced the Cubans specifically twice before in his international career and he is anxious to face them again, and this time on their home turf.
“I’m excited because I get my third crack at Cuba. But also I’ve never been in Cuba before so it exciting to go there. It’s always one of the more fun times of the year when you play Cuba, so I looking forward to that.”
But prior to getting their hands on Cuba, Team Canada will take on the USA Collegiate National Team starting on Thursday, June 25 at 7:00 PM at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary.
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