With the Blue Jays in the midst of a playoff run, and the Canadian Premier Baseball League programs winding down for the fall and heading into winter workouts, it is fitting that at least some of the attention of the circuit’s players is on Canada’s team and its presence in the postseason.
In Orlando with the Canadian Junior National Team, players from the Great Lake Canadians, Ontario Blue Jays and Toronto Mets programs offered their insights into what makes the Toronto Blue Jays so exciting as they head into the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians, what they need to do to keep going, and who impresses them most.
The biggest impact the only team north of the border has seemed to have on the young players is in the amount of excitement its winning ways over the last two seasons has brought to the entire country, making baseball more popular and hopefully getting even more kids into the game.
“I’ve been a Jays fan my whole life and to finally see them make playoffs is really exciting for me personally,” said Adam Hall, a 17-year-old Great Lake shortstop from London. “It’s also great to see the country come together and the attendance numbers for Jays games skyrocket. I’m sure that their success is inspiring kids around the country to play baseball and become more involved, which is great for Canadian baseball.”
Added Cooper Davis, 17, an outfielder with the Ontario Blue Jays and Mississauga native: “It’s been most exciting to see the fans, the city, and the country getting so crazy for this team and making baseball so popular again.”
Said Landon Leach, a right-handed Toronto Mets hurler from Pickering, also 17: “The most exciting playoff moments from the last two years are the Blue Jays players really coming together to play as a team with good chemistry. It’s really showing with the big-run games and all the perfect-moment home runs they’ve had. Another thing is the passion that the Jays have brought to the city of Toronto, and the amount of people now following the playoffs.”
Of course, the teenaged players haven’t lost sight of the big-game moments, enjoying the excitement when Jose Bautista hit his seventh-inning, bat-flipping, go-ahead home run last year in the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers, or when Edwin Encarnacion walked off the Baltimore Orioles in this season’s Wild Card game.
“The most exciting moments in the last two years are both the Bautista and [Edwin] Encarnacion home runs,” said Noah Naylor, 16-year-old catcher and infielder with the OBJ program, also from Mississauga. “Both were very exciting moments because they were altogether clutch, and both brought the crowds to their feet.”
Said Dondrae Bremner, a 17-year-old Mets middle infielder and Toronto native: “The most exciting moment to watch the Jays in playoffs over the past two years had to have been when Bautista hit that three-run home run to take the lead in Game 5 of the ALDS. Not only was it one of my favourite playoff moments, it has to be my most exciting MLB memory that I have ever witnessed.”
“The most exciting thing to watch with the Blue Jays is how clutch they are in big moments and how they can really rise up to the occasion,” added Lucas Parente, a GLC outfielder from Burlington, also 17.
While each of the Team Canada players has been impressed by what the Blue Jays have been able to do, they’ve been exceptionally motivated by a few members of the squad in particular, with a slight bias from each youngster according to the position they play.
“This may be obvious, but the player who most impresses me on the Blue Jays would have to be Josh Donaldson,” Bremner said. “Donaldson doesn’t only positively affect the team by bringing his stellar bat and his defence, but he also brings an intensity that most other players can’t. Donaldson has been a big part of the Blue Jays offence during this year, and would cause the Blue Jays to have a big hole in their offence if he wasn’t there.”
“Two players who impress me the most on the Blue Jays are [Russell] Martin and Donaldson,” added Naylor, who committed to the Texas A&M Aggies during his time in Orlando. “They both play with a lot of intensity and heart in each and every game.”
Hall shared a similar sentiment: “Josh Donaldson, because he is always so competitive and intense with what he does, and is always 100 per cent focused on whatever he is doing, no matter the situation. And Marco Estrada, because of how good he is with only two pitches, one of those being an 88 to 90 mile-per-hour fastball. He was never expected to make the big leagues but he kept working on his stuff and is now an all-star calibre player.”
Added Davis: “Kevin Pillar most impresses me because No. 1, he plays centre field like me, and No. 2, he impacts the game defensively and comes up with some huge hits at key times. Ezequiel Carrera too, another fielder who uses his speed to create offence and like Pillar, has impacted the outcome of some critical games.”
“The player who impresses me most is Ezequiel Carrera,” Parente echoed. “Because of how underrated he is, being on team with all these big-name players. He knows his role and does not try to be a superstar on that team.”
Said Leach: “Marcus Stroman, because of his passion for the game as well as his intensity during the game. He’s a very good role model for many kids and adults with his ‘Height Doesn’t Measure Heart’ trademark, that he represents well.”
And with the Championship Series set to begin at Progressive Field on Friday night, the young Canadian players believe they know what the Blue Jays need to do in order to continue their run at winning it all.
Said Bremner: “The Jays have been consistently swinging the bats well, and that’s what they need to do in order to get deeper into the post-season. With their dominant starting pitching so far and keeping their strong offense, they could have a really good chance at making it to the World Series.”
“What the Jays need to do to go further in the playoffs is keep putting up runs early in games,” Leach said. “They also need the bullpen to come in during tough situations and shut the door on the other teams to switch the momentum.”
Davis put it simply: “To make it further, they need a blessing from the baseball gods, and some more consistent offence.”
“The Jays need to hit,” added Hall. “They’re a team built around their offence, and although their starting pitching has been amazing this season, if they want a chance to make it all the way, they’ve got to swing the bats like everybody knows they can.”
Said Parente: “The Blue Jays need to stay simple with their game and not try to hit home runs every at-bat, like they did in the 10-1 win in Game 1 where they only had two home runs and all the other runs were produced by hitting line drives all over the field.”
Naylor added: “What they need to do to success in this post-season is trust in their ability and play with each other together, because the game becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun when a team plays together as a family rather then by themselves.”