Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect that a motley collection of washed up AAAA filler, intercounty leaguers, and prospects too young to buy a beer in the US might triumph over what was essentially the Japanese all-star team and keep hopes alive over in Beijing. After losing 4 consecutive one-run games, Team Canada has now meaningless games left to play against Taiwan and the Aardvarks before calling it a day.
If the tournament was a disappointment for the Canadians, it's one that'll soon be forgotten: the World Baseball Classic next spring will provide an opportunity for redemption (though not for some of the lesser lights because Russ Martin, Rich Harden, Justin Morneau, et al are going to steal your jobs, but still).
Here in this particular Blue Jays corner of the interweb some felt the need to mock Team Canada, others cheered it on with reckless abandon, and then there were those like me who found it to be at least as watchable as the Little League World Series. And then Ed Willes wonders why there's no room for it during a cavalcade of mostly hobby sports, but I digress.
When it comes to hockey, I can admit to being a fan of the Leafs rather than the game per se and I can fully understand why some Jays fans don't have a broader interest in more exotic, non-MLB locales where the sport is played. Fair enough.
When it comes to baseball, though, I'm all in. It was worth it staying up late a few times for Team Canada to see a few interesting players in action that I otherwise wouldn't have had the chance to watch. And when it comes to countries, I generally think Canada is pretty ok. Compared to other countries I've lived in or know well, it's less murdersome than the United States, less cynical and gloomy than the UK, and far less likely to be simultaneously invaded by Germany and Russia than Poland.
On that note, here's a sop to Canadian baseball nationalism in the form of a tour d'horizon of some young Canuckers who had minor league success this year. In no particular order and with no attempt at comprehensiveness:
Nick Weglarz (OF, Indians; Stevensville, ON): Weglarz served notice that he's a Canuck to watch by socking a pair of dingers against Cuba and then by doing some rage-induced dugout renos in yesterday's loss against Japan. In his age 20 season for Cleveland's A+ affiliate, the 3rd rounder from 2005 hit .273/.400/.473/.840 with 10 HR through 99 games before being released for his Olympic obligation. Baseball America says he's Cleveland's 6th best prospect and will probably be manning left field in whatever they're calling Jacob's Field in 2011.
Mike Saunders (OF, Mariners, Victoria, BC): I'd never heard of Saunders before the Olympics and I like his game after what I saw of him. An 11th round pick from 2004, He's tall, lanky, runs relatively well, has good strike zone discipline and doubles power. The 21-year-old hit .290/.375/.484/.859 in 67 AA games this year, but scuffled a bit in a short stint at AAA (.709 OPS in 23 games) before heading off to Beijing. BA says the 6th best Mariners prospect and 2nd best minor league OF.
Phillipe Aumont (LHP, Mariners; Gatineau, QC): This tall, hard-throwing 19-year-old southpaw has had a very successful pro debut in A ball for the Mariners. Aumont, the 11th overall pick in last year's draft, has done pretty much everything right in split duties between the rotation and the bully: walks and hits per 9 are nice and low, while he's been K-ing about a batter an inning. BA says he's the M's top minor league hurler and 2nd best overall prospect. Take note also that he doesn't give a shit about the Habs despite being a Quebecker and has expressed a desire to someday play for the Jays (according to Wikipedia). Eh, eh?
RJ Swindle (LHP, Phillies; Vancouver, BC): Swindle, 24, got a brief taste with the Phillies this summer before Olympic duties took him overseas. His career minor league numbers are crazy: 1.61 BB/9, 9.05 K/9, 7.83 H/9, 0.26 HR/9, 1.05 WHIP. I'm impressed. He was a 14th round pick by the Bosox in 2004, dominated out of the bully for their A- affiliate, then got unceremoniously dumped at the end of the year. Spent two years doing quite well in independent ball before getting a brief sniff from the Yankees, who too dumped him at the end of 2006... after he put up a 0.61 ERA in 44 IP in A ball? What gives here?
I'm guessing the Bosox and Yankees were put off by the way he constantly changed arm angles and his 55-mph euphus curveball, but you can't ignore the numbers. Swindle dominated AAA at Lehigh Valley this year and has found himself the odd man out of a Phillies bullpen that's been surprisingly sturdy this year. Expect to see him back in the bigs in September.
Jimmy Van Ostrand (1B/OF, Astros; Vancouver, BC): Not to be confused with Dr Van Nordstram, Van Ostrand was a very late pick (29th round) back in 2006 who put up a very solid A line of .306/.373/.453/.826, albeit at the ripe old age of 23. He got the call to AA, where he probably starts 2009, just before the Olympics.
David Davidson (LHP, Pirates; Richmond Hill): A 24-year-old AA lefty reliever who's K'd about a batter an inning (and walked around 4.5/9 IP) through his minor league career. He burnt a hole in the sun during a dynamite 2006 campaign at age 22, but has regressed a bit since then. Might still earn himself a reputation as the Tom Thomson of somebody's bullpen someday.
Scott Campbell (2B, Jays; Auckland, NZ): He's 1/4 Canadian (what' s the threshold for WBC eligibility?), he's been tearing AA pitching a new one this year, and JP compares him to Chase Utley. Enough said.
And some recent high school grads just starting their pro careers: Michael Crouse, Stosh Wawrzasek, and Brad Furdal.
Good luck, all.
-- Johnny Was