* 1B L. B. Dantzler, former Vancouver Canadians stalwart, heads to Florida coming off a successful season with the class-A Lansing Lugnuts, the class-A Dunedin Blue Jays and down under with the Canberra Cavalry. ….

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Letters of Intent

By Alexis Brudnicki

Canadian Baseball Network

CANBERRA, ACT, Australia _ L.B. Dantzler had three months in Australia this off-season, and he made the most of every minute.

The Toronto Blue Jays opted to send the 23-year-old first baseman to the Canberra Cavalry, so that Dantzler could make up for some lost time on the field in the Australian Baseball League because of a bothersome oblique injury last season.

“I had a couple of setbacks [last] year with my oblique and I was on the [disabled list],” he said. “Before a game, Doug [Davis, Blue Jays minor league field coordinator] was in the weight room and I was working out, and as I was leaving he pulled me aside and asked me what I thought about going and playing in Australia.

“Obviously I asked some of the guys about it. He said, ‘You don’t have to give me an answer right away,’ but by the end of the game I decided it was something I wanted to do. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.”

As soon as he knew that joining the Cavalry was a possibility, Dantzler sought out Marcus Knecht and Shane Opitz for some answers. Knecht was a member of the Canberra squad that won the Claxton Shield in 2013, and Opitz made his way down under last season. The two gave Dantzler an inside perspective at the journey he was about to embark on, and helped him prepare for everything the Australian Capital Territory had to offer.

“Canberra is a perfect fit for me personally,” the Florida native said. “The atmosphere is laid-back. Driving on the other side of the road in Sydney or Melbourne may be really difficult [where it’s a lot busier], but in Canberra it’s been pretty easy to get used to. It’s a laid-back city. There’s not a whole lot going on, which makes it easy to focus on baseball. And it’s great weather. I love it out here.”

Despite baseball’s standing as a sport on the rise down under, with the ABL still trying to figure out ways to get fans in the seats around the country and experimenting with various rule changes and strategies year after year, it didn’t take long for Dantzler to realize just how much the Aussie circuit meant to the people in Canberra.

“I’ve noticed for sure,” he said. “[Jack] Murphy was telling me a story the first day – when he was out here a couple years ago he went to a barbeque, and within two minutes people were asking him, ‘Why aren’t you playing well? Why aren’t you guys winning games?’

“That’s just stuff that doesn’t happen back in the States. You notice real quick out here that it’s all about winning, and that’s the coolest thing. Australian guys wake up at seven every morning, [go to work], show up at the field in their work clothes, and at seven [at night] they’re in uniform and ready to play. And it’s not about their numbers at all; it’s all about winning. You can go 0-for-4 and if you win the game, they’re the happiest guys after that game in the locker room.”

Along with getting some extra at-bats and more on-field work throughout the 48-game season, the infielder spent his spare time exploring the foreign continent, getting everything out of the experience that he could.

“I’m out here with my fiancée [Colby Kucharski] and she and I have done as much as we can,” Dantzler said. “We stayed an extra day in Sydney at a place where you could see the Opera House, walked all around downtown, and took a pirate ship boat tour. We went to the Featherdale Wildlife Park, got to hold some koala bears there; that was cool.

“The National Zoo and Aquarium here [in Canberra], I went with her family, we went on a Segway tour here. There’s not much to do in Canberra but everything there is, we’ve pretty much done…if I’m going to be out here for three months, I’m going to see everything. I’m definitely the tourist taking pictures.”

With his primary focus on the field, Dantzler hit .267/.316/.425 with four home runs, seven doubles and 20 RBIs over 31 games with the Cavs. His winter work followed up his first full regular season of professional baseball, that saw him split time between the Lansing Lugnuts and Dunedin Blue Jays rosters.

After being selected by Toronto in the 14th round of the 2013 draft from the University of South Carolina, Dantzler joined the organization’s short-season affiliate Vancouver Canadians to finish out the rest of that summer. After finding some early success, the left-handed hitting first baseman is looking to use what he gained over the off-season to get back to more of the same.

“[Pro ball] has been awesome,” Dantzler said. “[Last year] was up and down. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, especially after how things went in Vancouver. I had some momentum coming to spring training and I was hoping to get off to a better start, and then I had the oblique injury.

“I learned a lot this year, especially being out here and you have guys who are so much older than Vancouver … Getting to play with older guys for the second half of this year [in Dunedin] and even out here, you get to learn a lot about the game. I feel like I’m starting to swing it a little better out here and I’m getting to where I need to be to go into spring training to do some damage there.”

Dantzler’s mental game has needed the most adjusting since moving up from the collegiate ranks into professional baseball. Playing every day is the biggest difference, but the physical aspects of the grind haven’t worn on him as much as the nature of the pro game.

“It’s some of the difference you get in a full season,” he said. “I’ve only played in college and you go from college ball straight to Vancouver and I barely had time to think about anything. You play every day and that’s the main difference, and it’s on your body to handle the toll it takes.

“Then you get to spring training for your first time and realize you’ve got 200 guys here fighting for a job. I was kind of surprised by that last year. I’m just learning about that kind of stuff. Going forward it should be a little bit easier, and going into spring I’ll know what to expect and I’ll know a lot of the guys.

“I didn’t realize how many people I didn’t know in the organization. I thought I knew a lot of the guys but I realized I really didn’t know anybody. But now I’m friends with a lot of guys so I’m starting to get that.”

Dantzler will soon join many of those friends he’s made when he reports to spring training. He’s looking forward to utilizing everything he gained over the busy winter in Dunedin and seeing where he lands when camp breaks.

“I want to get some momentum going into spring training because this past year wasn’t as good,” he said. “I want to get back to seeing the ball well and getting my swing where it was in Vancouver, and kind of get some confidence going back into affiliated ball.”