TORONTO – With four teams shut out of their respective matchups and plenty of early success on the mound, the first day of games at the fourth-annual Tournament 12 was highlighted by the arms featured on Friday at Rogers Centre, with multiple Canadian Premier Baseball League hurlers at the forefront.
“Pitching right now is ahead of these hitters,” said former Blue Jay Duane Ward, an alumni coach at every T12 event. “A lot of these hitters haven’t seen somebody like [Ontario Green’s] Landon Leach or [Ontario Black’s] Ben Abram, or some of these other kids who are throwing upper 80s and low 90s.
“Once they get to see them, the hitters will start turning up the notch a little bit to catch up to them. And I’ve seen a lot of great plays out here behind the pitchers. When you have a bunch of kids who have a lot of talent, on the same team, they’re going to make some good plays. That’s what a pitcher loves, being able to have those guys behind them.”
Leach pitched in Friday’s fourth matchup, the Toronto Mets and Team Canada hurler notching the highest velocity of the opening day of games with a 92 mile-an-hour fastball, striking out six in four innings of work. While he was certainly one of the showcase’s main attractions on the mound at the beginning of games, the teams have plenty left in the tank as the tournament continues.
“I’m looking forward to seeing more of these pitchers,” Ward said. “I know there are probably five or six more pitchers that I definitely want to see who haven’t thrown yet. They’ll probably throw [Saturday], so I’m looking forward to that. I’m please with what we’ve seen right now…I want to see these guys light up that radar gun a little bit, but also throw strikes.”
Leach matched up against Ontario Blue Jays hurler Noah Skirrow in what was the most anticipated contest of the first day, with Ontario Black hosting Ontario Green, a game that saw Skirrow’s Black squad come away with a 4-1 victory. The 18-year-old OBJ righty threw four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, walking three and striking out seven to keep his team in the matchup.
Great Lake Canadians middle infielder and Ontario Blue Jays outfielder Cooper Davis saw their first game action in the same affair, on opposing teams for the first time as the only players to participate in all four years of Tournament 12. For Black, Hall singled, was hit by a pitch, drove in a run, scored a run and stole three bases for his squad on Friday, while Davis notched the only hit his Green team got off of Skirrow.
“The guys played great,” said former big leaguer and OBJ infielder Pete Orr, coaching on the Black staff. “I thought [16-year-old OBJ catcher Noah] Naylor behind the plate had a great day catching, blocking balls, and making some throws. Obviously the way the guys ran the bases was nice to see, and of course a couple guys stand out but there’s a lot more opportunity for other guys to show the people here what they can do.”
Never having had opportunities like the current players are experiencing at Tournament 12, Orr signing as a free agent in 1999 with the Braves organization and playing pro ball for 16 seasons before taking on this coaching opportunity, the native of Newmarket, Ont., is excited about what it means for young Canadians, and how it can help continue the progression of the game north of the border.
“This is great,” Orr said. “Any time a player at any level gets an opportunity to make an impression on people who make important decisions, it’s a great thing. If you’re in high school and you get to play in Rogers Centre, that would be pretty neat on its own. I hope the guys appreciate that, the players.
“At the same time you’re playing in front of all these scouts, college recruiters, and it’s just an opportunity. If you’re not on the radar already, put yourself on the radar. If you are, just either confirm the positive things they say or change their minds if someone has seen you in the summer and you didn’t have a great game. You have an opportunity here to change people’s minds.”
The Futures Navy squad led by a majority of CPBL players had two games on the first day of action, the first a pitching duel and the second with an offensive outburst, both finishing without a winner. Against the defending champion Prairies Purple team, they ended in a scoreless tie after seven innings and a game-changing injury.
The Futures team, featuring players who will be eligible for the draft in 2018 and 2019, looked as though it would take a lead in the top of the sixth when, with a runner on first, 16-year-old GLC catcher Ryan Faragher sent a two-out hit to the wall in left field for extra bases.
“I’m watching the ball thinking [the runner] is going to score,” said Nigel Wilson, former big-league outfielder and coach on the Navy squad. “I’m watching the runner telling him to go ahead, and then I’m trying to pick up the guy who hit the ball at second base. I’m looking and looking and I thought he fell in between and I thought, where is he? I look at home plate and he’s rolling around and I thought, oh no.”
Faragher went down almost immediately after making contact, having trouble with his knee and eventually limping off the field and heading to the hospital. The runner came around on the play, but his run was disqualified when the out was made before the injured native of London, Ont., could reach base.
“I don’t think he rotated on his back foot,” Wilson said. “It was his back side, and I don’t know 100 per cent but I think his upper body rotated and his lower half didn’t. So it was his knee and he’s heading to the hospital and I hope he’s fine. He walked out of here, which was a good sign.”
Futures pitchers Eric Cerantola, Carter Seabrooke and Noah Paterson combined for the shutout on the Navy side, with Carson Campbell, Tanner Bercier and Brody Frerichs no-hitting the younger team through 6 1/3 innings, eventually allowing just one base knock.
“The pitching was good,” Wilson said. “Our starter [Cerantola] was good. He did well. The younger guys, and it’s not only them, but they’ve got to get used to the 1-1 counts [that every player begins their plate appearance with]. These are going up thinking no balls, no strikes, and they’ve got to be more aggressive at the plate. It just takes a little bit to get used to…
“We are underdogs, and I thought we played well. We played good defence…Guys just need to be a little more aggressive at the plate. You want to try to show what you’ve got, so at least swing.”
The final game of the day between Navy and Quebec Blue ended with an 8-8 finish after their seven innings of play.
Quebec took an early lead, scoring once in each of the first and third frames, before its younger counterpart put up an eight-spot in the fourth inning, thanks to five hits, four walks, and two wild pitches. Chipping away for two runs in the fifth, the Blue squad added four in the sixth to knot the game.
The event hosted by the Blue Jays features more than 160 of the country’s top draft and college-eligible players, competing on the major league field for more professional scouts and college coaches than at any showcase in the nation. Tournament 12 is named for its commissioner, Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, who is joined by fellow alumni coaches Ward, his father Sandy, Mario Diaz, Lloyd Moseby, Tanyon Sturtze, Devon White, George Bell, and Carlos Delgado, all supporting the development of Canadian baseball.