The Bobby Mattick Training Centre in Dunedin, Florida, played host today to Team Canada as players worked out in preparation for their first World Baseball Classic game on Thursday. It was a light-and-easy workout; position players engaged in a perfunctory session of infield-outfield drills while pitchers went through the routine of pitcher fielding practice. Notably absent from the team was John Axford, who announced yesterday that he would pull out of the tournament due to personal and professional reasons.
The pitchers not participating in tomorrow’s exhibition game then went to throw in the bullpen. I was able to see former Phillies prospect and current Yomiuri Giants reliever Scott Mathieson up close. Mathieson will likely be Team Canada’s closer and it’s easy to see why. He has an electric fastball that has been known to touch 100mph on occasion.
Vantage points like these make me appreciate what it takes to be a regular big-leaguer. Mathieson has had a few cups of coffee with the Phillies, but has mostly toiled in the minor leagues and struggled to limit his walks. Here, in the bullpen, he was calling his pitch locations and hitting them with ease with every pitch. Though he’s been quite successful in Japan, he wasn’t able to catch on with a team at the big league level – even with the ability to hit triple-digits on the radar gun. It really takes a special talent to be even a fringe-level Major League player.
Team Canada’s core coaching team is back intact for the 2017 iteration of the Classic. Manager Ernie Whitt is joined by Larry Walker, Denis Boucher, Paul Quantrill, Tim Leiper, and Director of National Teams Greg Hamilton. I was standing next to Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations and Assistant General Manager Tony LaCava and Special Assistant Pat Hentgen watching the team take batting practice when Greg Hamilton came over to chat. In a classically Canadian moment, Hamilton thanked both Hentgen and LaCava profusely for allowing the national program to make use of the Blue Jays minor league facilities to prepare for the World Baseball Classic. Pat Hentgen, who might as well be an honourary Canadian, apologized to Hamilton for the state of the facilities, wishing he could offer something better. If all goes according to plan, that will no longer be an issue going forward as the Blue Jays reached a tentative deal (contingent on government funding) to extensively renovate the Bobby Mattick Training Centre. The new facility will provide space for up to 250 players, as well as state-of-the-art medical and training facilities. Hamilton then expressed his appreciation to LaCava for his help in securing a 3-year partnership between Rogers and Baseball Canada to grow the game from coast-to-coast. LaCava called it a “no brainer.”
Canadian first baseman Justin Morneau is a free-agent still looking for a dotted line to sign, and scouts were on hand to watch him work out. Morneau looks fit, strong, and hit well in the cage, but I don’t know how much evaluating can be done watching batting practice. A few of the scouts showed great reverence toward manager Ernie Whitt, addressing the manager as “Mr. Whitt” and not deviating from that formality.
Toronto Blue Jays’ first-base coach Tim Leiper spoke with Paul Quantrill along the fence within earshot of me. Leiper spoke about Freddie Freeman’s decision to honour his late mother by playing for Team Canada. He said that it was a story that gave him ‘goosebumps.’
I wonder how Leiper felt after taking a ball off the face?
At the conclusion of batting practice, Whitt assembled the team near the middle of the diamond (the featured image) and gave them a talk. About what? I’m not sure, but he certainly wasn’t animated like a Friday Night Lights’ Coach Taylor. Following the lecture, Team Canada broke and the players went their separate ways. Dalton Pompey, a sleeper candidate to open the season as the starting left-fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, made a bee-line for his Mom who was sitting beside me in the bleachers. He gave her a big hug and a kiss, a quick chat, and then left. Mrs. Pompey remarked that Dalton has always been that way – never ‘too cool’ to show his Mom some love. The younger Pompey? Not so much. Mrs. Pompey remarked that the younger Pompey brother, 19-year old Tristan, won’t give her the time of day when she’s at the ball-park. Tristan was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 31st round of the 2015 first-year player draft. He currently plays for Team Canada’s Junior National Team. Mom says they couldn’t be more different.
As far as Team Canada goes, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. For more content, I posted a few photos at the @mopupduty Twitter account and my personal account @callumhughson. For additional information on the World Baseball Classic, have a look at the countries we’ve profiled in the past. While the roster information could use a re-fresh, the historical and cultural information about each country’s brand of baseball is accurate.
We’ll be back tomorrow to take in the exhibition game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Team Canada. No word on the lineups yet, though former Chicago Cub Ryan Dempster is scheduled to start Team Canada’s first game vs. the defending champion Dominican Republic on Thursday.
Featured image photo credit: Callum Hughson/mopupduty.com