by Adam Morissette
March 11, 2014, ST.PETERSBURG (ISN) – For the third time in four years the Toronto Blue Jays travelled to Al Lang Field for a match-up with the Junior National Team and more importantly to celebrate Canadian baseball.
Pre-game activities served as a reunion of sorts as former Junior National Team members, like current Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, were reunited with former coaches and teammates from years gone by.
This year, a record five Junior National Team graduates made the trip from Spring Training in Dunedin to suit-up for the Blue Jays.
In addition to Lawrie, the list included Michael Crouse, Marcus Knecht, Dalton Pompey and Justin Atkinson.
For Atkinson, the chance to come over the St. Petersburg was special as he played with the Junior National Team in the inaugural all-Canadian contest back in 2011.
“For me it’s pretty special putting on a Blue Jays uniform today and playing against the Junior National Team,” said the 20 year-old. “Playing for Team Canada was a tremendous experience for me and something that I will always remember.”
As batting practice began, the Blue Jays arrived featuring a line-up that would normally be reserved for a regular season big league game. Star slugger Jose Bautista rolled into Al Lang Field along with teammates Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, Dioner Navarro, Munenori Kawasaki and Moises Sierra.
Blue Jays coaches included new first base coach Tim Leiper, a long-time member of the National Team coaching staff, and one of the most recognizable names in Canadian baseball, Stubby Clapp.
Add to the fact that Team Canada guest coach Roberto Alomar got the chance to coach against his father Sandy Alomar Sr. and Al Lang Field was truly a special place to be today.
Players and coaches from both sides mingled during a batting practice, a scene that is not normally the case prior to a baseball game.
“The fact that the Blue Jays organization are willing to bring over the players that they did today and support the development of Canadian players is tremendously special,” said Head Coach and Director of National Teams Greg Hamilton. “A day like today is very important for Baseball Canada and we’re very thankful to the Blue Jays organization for their support.”
On the field, the juniors were able to hang tight with the Jays, even leading at one point in the game before the Jays ran away with a 12-2 victory.
Highlights included Gareth Morgan (Toronto, ON) and Luke Horanski (Dugalb, MB) singling off Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow in the first, while Mitchell Robinson (Surrey, BC) belted a double off the Jays starter in the second.
Ben Onyshko (Winnipeg, MB) started on the mound for the juniors and shook some early jitters to strikeout Adam Lind and force Dioner Navarro to pop-out after giving up a run earlier in the first inning.
Reliever Zach Pop (Brampton, ON) managed three strikeouts in two innings of work and JNT alums Justin Atkinson and Dalton Pompey each recorded extra base hits with Atkinson smacking a double and Pompey coming up with a triple where he would score after an error on the play.
Canadians Mike Reeves (Peterborough, ON) and Mike Nickeas (Vancouver, BC) also played in the game.
Up next: The Junior National Team will take-on a group of Atlanta Braves prospects tomorrow when they travel from their Spring Training home in Lake Buena Vista to Al Lang Field for a 1:05pm ET contest…Kurtis Horne (Sooke, BC) is expected to start and throw two innings with Jackson Wark (Edmonton, AB), Matt Lloyd (Okotoks, AB), Colton Wood (Victoria, BC) and Mike Soroka (Calgary, AB) scheduled to follow.