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By Adam Morissette
DUNEDIN – The score didn’t matter. The memories made today and experience of rubbing shoulders with big leaguers, including three Canadian Toronto Blue Jays, will stay with members of the Junior National Team for a long time.
When all was said and done the Jays walked away with a 17-3 win, but the day was about far more than just playing a baseball game-it was about celebrating Canadian baseball.
“Regardless of the score, today’s experience was tremendous and something that (our players) will carry with them for a long time,” said coach GregHamilton (Ottawa, Ont.). “(Our guys) are in a unique class in the sense that they’re teenagers and not only got to play against big-leaguers, but had the opportunity to interact with them and get to know them a bit before the game.”
The scene during pregame batting practice included members of the Junior National Team shagging fly balls with some of their big league heroes including Canadian Blue Jays Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.), Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) and Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC). Players had the chance to speak with some of the big leaguers and get a feel for life in professional baseball.”
“It was a pretty amazing experience,” explained Miles Gordon (Oakville, Ont.). “Speaking with a player like Dalton Pompey, knowing that he was a member of the junior team only five years ago makes the dream of reaching the majors more real.”
It was a special day for Pompey and his brother Tristan, a current member of the Junior National Team, as the brothers played against each other for the first time ever with both their parents looking on.
In a special moment, Dalton flew out to left field leading off the bottom of the first with the ball landing in brother Tristan’s glove. The elder Pompey then pointed to his brother acknowledging the catch.
The Blue Jays organization brought all Canadians currently in minor league camp over to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium for today’s game including JNT alumni Justin Atkinson (North Surrey, BC), Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.), Marcus Knecht (Toronto, Ont.), Tom Robson (Delta, BC) and Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.). In total, 13 Canadians were on the Blue Jays roster for the annual affair that moved to Dunedin for the first time ever.
“A day like today is very important for Baseball Canada and we’re very thankful to the Blue Jays organization for their support,” added Hamilton. “Seeing some of our alumni here is truly special for our program and we’re grateful to them for being here today.”
The Canadian content on the Blue Jays side did not stop with the players. Former National Team coach and current Jays first base coach Tim Leiper, who wants Canadian status, was part of the Jays coaching staff as was former National Team star Stubby Clapp (Windsor, Ont.).
“For me it’s like a family day, kind of,” said Leiper. “It seems like all of the generations (of players) are covered now. This (game) is always a great time.”
The Blue Jays started former Cy Young award winner RA Dickey and the junior managed four hits off him including a double by Andrew Yerzy (Toronto, Ont.) and singles from Kobe Hyland (Spruce Grove, Alta.), Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) and JF Garon (Terrebonne, Que.).
Tristan Pompey (Milton, Ont.) and Garon each picked up RBIs in the fourth inning when the juniors scored twice to get on the board.
Canadian Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC) took over for Dickey in the seventh and pitched a clean inning with two strikeouts before 2011 Pan Am games hero Albers took the mound in the eighth and gave up a run on a sac-fly from Hyland that brought in Royce Ando (Mississauga, Ont.).
Canadian starter Mike Sorokoa (Calgary, Alta.) was on the mound for two innings that saw seven runs score although only one was earned. He fanned two including Dalton Pompey in the second inning.
Up next: The juniors will be back at the Walter Fuller Complex in St. Petersburg tomorrow when the Baltimore Orioles prospects pay a visit for a 1pm ET game … LHP Niall Windeler (Toronto, Ont.) is expected to start on the mound … The game can be listened to live online by visiting radiostpete.com … Live tweets are available by following @Team_C_Updates on Twitter.