The timing is counterintuitive, but in an era in which Canada has lost a major league team plus three Triple A franchises, and seen grassroots programs lose ground to soccer, the country's homegrown ballplayers have never been better.
Once the land of moose, Mounties and Ferguson Jenkins, the Great White North had 43 players chosen in last week's amateur draft and has more impact players in the majors than ever before. The U.S. and Dominican Republic might not be quaking, but Canada's entry in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, a World Cup--like tournament, in 2006 could have a muscular rotation of Erik Bedard (Orioles), Jeff Francis (Rockies) and Rich Harden (A's); a reliable bullpen backed by Ryan Dempster (Cubs) and Eric Gagne (Dodgers); and a powerful lineup that includes Jason Bay (Pirates), Corey Koskie (Blue Jays), Justin Morneau (Twins) and Larry Walker (Cardinals).
While the residue from Toronto's World Series wins in 1992 and '93 shouldn't be discounted, other factors have contributed to the parade of players across the border: most notably increased scouting and the exposure of youth players to better competition, including Baseball Canada's fall and spring tours to the U.S. and Dominican Republic.
Harden says the play of Canada's premier big leaguers will continue to boost the sport back home, but sometimes even lesser accomplishments can be treasured. When Bob Elliott, author of The Northern Game, walked into the Braves clubhouse in March, infielder Pete Orr approached, making sure Elliott had taken note of what had occurred the previous day when reliever Chris Mears retired Dodgers catcher Russ Martin on a grounder to second. "A Canadian [Mears, from British Columbia], facing a Canadian [Martin, Quebec], who hits it to another Canadian [Orr, Ontario], who throws it to another Canadian [first baseman Scott Thorman, Ontario] for an out," Orr said. "How neat is that?"
TOM DAHLIN/US PRESSWIRE (MORNEAU)
BIG LEAGUES, EH?
Young Canadians like Morneau are making an impact in the majors.