Canada will try to snatch one of the two places still available in baseball at the Tokyo Olympics in a qualifying tournament this week in Florida.
Only six teams will compete in the Tokyo Baseball Games.
A place is naturally reserved for the host country. Mexico, South Korea and Israel have qualified for regional tournaments.
This means that Canada is fighting with powers such as the United States, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Venezuela, Colombia and Puerto Rico also participate in the tournament where only one team gets their ticket to Tokyo.
The countries that finish in 2nd and 3rd place will have one last chance to qualify for another tournament in Mexico.
In Group B, Canada will face Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela successively. At the end of these three matches, the two best teams advance to the decisive round.
There is no room for maneuver.
Within the Canadian team, we find a mix of veterans and young potential customers.
Team manager Ernie Whitt will be able to rely on former big league pitchers such as John Axford, Scott Richmond and Andrew Albers.
Contrary to what has happened in previous competitions, Canada will be deprived of more talented young players who were not released by their greats.
Most of the hopes have been lost for a season due to the pandemic, and can not leave their livelihood to represent their country.
Former Quebec Capitals to the Rescue
Two Quebecers were chosen by Ernie Whitt, veterans Jonathan Malo, 37, and Josué Peley, 33.
The two former teammates of Capitales de Québec have not played professional baseball in five years, but are still full-time baseball players.
They work together on Baseball 360, a company that sells equipment, but also offers baseball lessons in the gyms, which include batting cages.
There is a margin between teaching baseball to young people in sports studios and playing against former big league pitchers.
Joshua Peley knows that and saw it firsthand during the pre-season matches against the USA.
It is certain that when you have not encountered a fastball at 96 or 97 miles per hour, it feels good. When I met Edwin Jackson who was throwing at 95, 96 miles per hour, I said to myself, “OK, you have to get your foot down a little faster, and you have to be ready!”“
For Jonathan Malo, a Canadian starter for many years, playing in a tournament is not the same level of difficulty as playing an entire season.
It’s not like a 160 fighting season where you can have a bad day. You have to come in and win every game, every set, every roll. You have to be at your bestHe said.
I have no problem playing sequences in a week or two. It would be harder to play an entire season and stay healthy. We do not hide it, I will be 38 in September and wounds will come faster», Concludes Quebec infielder.
Depth of the United States
If Canada is deprived of many of its young hopefuls because of the lost year, so are other countries.
The Americans have such a large number of players that they should do better than the rest, but they have also chosen to bring in veterans.
In the pre-season games, Canadian hitters managed to compete with pitchers who have spent more than 10 years in the major leagues such as Homer Bailey, Edwin Jackson or David Robertson.
Former Dodgers Matt Kemp, a player who has amassed over 1,000 RBIs in MLB, patrols the field for the Americans.
Jonathan Malo, who spent seven seasons in the Mets organization, acknowledges that the depth of the United States can seem impressive.
The United States came in with five or six boys who played 10 years in the major leagues. They are very well equipped with experience.“
But we only played two show games against them, and it was very close, he says happily. It can go from one side to the other. In these competitions, anyone can beat anyone.“
Wearing the Canadian uniform, Josué Peley comes in full circle.
Like Malo, he rolled his head in associated baseball, before settling in Quebec with the Capitals. He had not worn the Canadian uniform since a period with the junior team 15 years ago.
Since then, he has spent three seasons with the Blue Jays’ staff in particular, which made him fulfill his dream of reaching the big leagues.
On Wednesday, his sport could give him another beautiful moment.
I was born in Venezuela. I moved when I was 10 years old. It’s going to be cool and move to meet them. It will do something with my heart to play against my home country, my home countryHe said.
And who knows, maybe he can hit a hit against former Detroit Tigers Anibal Sanchez and send Canada to the Tokyo Games.