The Dominican Republic ended Team Canada’s quest for an Olympic bid on Saturday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The 6-5 loss also marked the close of the World Baseball Softball Confederation Baseball Americas Qualifier event for the Canadians.
Saturday’s game was emblematic of Canada’s entire tournament, wrapped up in one nine-inning package. The Canadians came out hot, got into some back-and-forth excitement, saw successes on both sides of the ball from their veterans as well as members of the team’s future core, were on the verge of achieving their goal, and fell in a fight to the finish.
“Needless to say, we’re disappointed,” Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt said. “I will say this, I’m very proud of all the guys, the effort they put forth. We left everything on the field, and that’s something that Team Canada has always done. I know that’s all we ask (of) them, to come and give it their best, and if we fall short, then that’s the way it was meant to be. Our guys have nothing to hang their heads about. I’m very proud of the way they played. They conducted themselves extremely well. It’s a great group of guys.”
It was a group of men who came together from varying backgrounds, in different stages of their careers, from an array of provinces, who fought to earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympics and fell short. Throughout the tournament, Canada used a number of veteran players who dedicated time and extended their playing careers in the hopes of helping their team advance, and also saw some younger, less internationally-experienced players step up and offer a glimpse of what the future might hold.
“Those veteran guys, they’re our leaders, all of them,” said Canadian shortstop Daniel Pinero, who went 3-for-4 with two homers and drove in four in the loss. “They’re all leaders. And I know this might be their last time pitching on a big stage like this, and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me and all the younger guys on this team. Scott Richmond, John Axford, Chris Leroux, Scott Mathieson, all those guys, and a lot more. They all take care of us. They lead this team. Without them, we wouldn’t have gotten this far, that’s for sure. On and off the field.”
Roster construction is always a battle for teams competing in international events, particularly in the middle of the minor league baseball season with only non-40-man-rostered players eligible to take part. Affiliated players need permission from their organizations to compete, and often are accompanied by stipulations in playing time. Canada brought a mix of veteran competitors as well as some players to fulfill backup roles, plus those who will continue to see plenty of time in the red-and-white uniform in the future.
“We do have a good core of young players,” Whitt siad. “I’m really glad that they were able to experience this, what we do, the Canadian way. How we compete, how we give everything we’ve got once we get on the field, and how we come together as a team and an organization when we’re off the field. So I’m extremely happy with that.
“I’m sad for some of the players, because we literally pulled some guys off the couches to come and compete in this. … Not only did they compete and give it their all, they hung out with the young guys (who) saw what it’s like, what we do with this organization when we go into competition, and that’s the whole purpose of having a good mixture of veterans and younger players. I’m very proud of the team. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, which is a disappointment, but I’m very proud.”
Offensively, Team Canada was led by Jacob Robson, a 26-year-old outfielder in the Tigers organization who went 8-for-19 with a homer, a triple, three runs scored and five RBI in the event. Connor Panas, 28, went 5-for-16 with two runs and four RBI, while Eric Wood, also a 28-year-old infielder, went 6-for-20 with a homer, triple, double, four runs scored and three driven in.
Pinero impressed on Saturday with his multi-homer game, capping off a strong defensive showing throughout the tournament for the 27-year-old shortstop. Despite the defeat, the performance and the time spent with his fellow countrymen was a career highlight like no other.
“Every game is a playoff game, playoff atmosphere, and when you throw on this jersey it just brings you more energy,” Pinero said. “When we go years without seeing each other and we come back, we all just fit right in and we just go from there, and it’s like we never missed a beat. It’s just a lot of fun. Obviously there are ups and downs in baseball, highlights and stuff like that, but this is just different and I enjoy coming here every single time.”
Canada used five arms on Saturday, with veteran lefty Andrew Albers returning to the mound for the start after throwing seven nearly-perfect innings in a combined no-hitter on Monday. The Twins farmhand finished the tournament with the most work on the mound for the Canadians, allowing three runs over 11 innings with nine strikeouts. Fellow veteran hurlers with big league time Dustin Molleken, Mathieson, and Axford also appeared in the squad’s final matchup.
“The guys who have been here, they’ve just been a great addition and a great anchor to this whole organization,” Whitt said. They’ve kept it together, the camaraderie is great, and these guys leave everything on the field when we play in these games.”
On multiple occasions following the final out, Pinero took his opportunity to express gratitude for the opportunity to share the field with his Canadian teammates, and look forward to what may lay ahead for the squad.
“Being a group, being close to the guys at all times, on and off the field, especially off the field, it grows us closer,” Pinero said. “The young guys, they follow the veteran guys on our team. They paved the way and now we’ve got to take over and put into work everything they showed us and what we learned from them. I’m excited for the future.
“I see myself putting on this Canadian jersey again, that’s for sure.”