Down to his last day with the Canadian Junior National Team, Dondrae Bremner is hoping to move onto his next step and head to the University of Cincinnati with a bronze medal in his back pocket.
Before joining the Bearcats, the 18-year-old infielder and the rest of his Team Canada teammates will take on Japan at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup, Bremner’s final matchup with the group. The bittersweet moment will signify the end of an era in which he’s made the most of every moment, and is extremely grateful for.
“It’s been a really good time,” the 31st-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds said. “I love all the guys. I’m really going to miss it, especially playing for my country. I feel like this opportunity has prepared me for both university, and if I do get drafted in my junior or senior year. I feel like it’s done a really good job of that…
“It’s weird thinking that I’m pretty much not going to play with any of these guys ever again. It’s been a blast. I’ve loved it. But it’s been a little sad these last couple of days, realizing that it’s almost over and I might not see them.”
Bremner’s final trip began with two immediate World Cup losses to Chinese Taipei and Korea at Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, leaving Team Canada in a hole it had to win its way out of. An epic ninth-inning comeback against Italy got the team started, and after rolling through Australia and Nicaragua, it was onto the super round, where it beat Japan and Cuba to secure a rematch against the Japanese squad for bronze on Sunday.
“We had a really good start, but we just couldn’t pull out the wins,” Bremner said. “But the intensity has gotten way better, and as a team we’re getting the job done. These last games have been really exciting…International baseball is exactly what Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] said it was going to be – high intensity, and we’ve pretty much got to be all in if we’re going to win.”
Hoping the crowd is on his team’s side on Sunday, the Toronto native believes the fans in Thunder Bay played a prominent role for the host nation early in the tournament, and in its most intense matchup, and will take all the help it can get as it fights for a medal.
“The crowd is amazing and that’s helped us,” Bremner said. “Some games, they haven’t been as intense as they were in the Italy game, but the crowd really helped us out in that game because they got us going…
“Against Italy, we played a good game. I felt like at the beginning we were putting too much pressure on ourselves and we weren’t doing what we needed to do. But towards the end, it got really intense, because we started playing the way we usually do, and we came back and pulled out a big win. This whole tournament has been a blast. I love it, especially playing for your country in front of your fans.”
Helping prepare Bremner for both his adventures with the Junior National Team as well as moving onto the American Athletic Conference has been the Toronto Mets program, where he has impressed with his development both on and off the field.
“Playing for the Mets really developed me, especially playing in the [Canadian Premier Baseball League],” the shortstop said. “We don’t usually see any arms that aren’t good; there are good arms coming at us every single game.
“Pretty much the talent here with the junior team, and in our league with the Mets, has been really good, and the coaches in the league have done a really good job of prepping me for what’s next.”
One of Bremner’s coaches over the years has been Chris Kemlo, who has seen firsthand the amount of progress the young player has made, and is excited for his next step, knowing that his ceiling is yet to be determined.
“At Cincinnati, he’s going to be someone who comes right in as a very athletic player with a lot of tools,” Kemlo said. “He’s nowhere near where he’s going to be when he leaves Cincinnati. There’s a lot of upside, and the biggest thing is the athleticism he brings. He’s got all the tools, but he has yet to reach his potential. There’s a lot more there.
“He’s come from being a skinny kid with little strength and lacking confidence…to somebody who wants the moment. He wants that at-bat with the game on the line, wants that ground ball with the game on the line, wants to be the guy. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously his body’s changed but his baseball IQ – forget all the tools – the way he approaches the game and the kind of person he is, those are the biggest changes.”
Beyond looking to get into game action with the bronze medal on the line on Sunday, Bremner is also excited to get the next step going once the World Cup comes to an end.
“I’m excited to go to school and get ready for the college life,” Bremner said. “Especially being down here, we go on two-week trips or three-week trips, it really preps you for being on your own and not with your parents. I feel like it’s done a really good job of that, so I won’t be scared or anything of university. I’m pretty much used to not being with my parents.”
Bremner is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by Mets teammates Landon Leach and Denzel Clarke, Ontario Blue Jays Noah Naylor and Harley Gollert, and Great Lake Canadians Eric Cerantola, Lucas Parente and Griffin Hassall.
Photo credit: WBSC/Christian Stewart