Griffin: Blue Jays notes Game 12
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.-The Blue Jays, in what amounted to a split-squad of games at Lee County and at Al Lang, swept a pair of decisions, defeating the Twins 8-2 and downing the Canadian junior nationals 10-2. Only the Twins win counted in the Grapefruit League standings as the Jays ran their record to 9-2-1. They host the Yankees on Wednesday with Henderson Alvarez on the mound.
Down in Fort Myers, lefthander Brett Cecil tossed three shutout innings while Travis Snider continued to swing a hot bat with a double and two RBIs. Catcher Travis D'Arnaud also stroked a two-run double. First baseman David Cooper and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria added RBI doubles. The Jays have won seven straight games.
At St. Pete, it was a Canadian homecoming of sorts for five members of the Blue Jays' starting lineup, Brett Lawrie, Michael Crouse, Dalton Pompey, Marcus Knecht and starting pitcher Scott Richmond. Righthander Trystan Magnuson, a Vancouver native who grew up in Kentucky, pitched later in the game. The Canadian Jays took time at the end of the Juniors batting practice to pose for a group photo on centre field with Team Canada.
All the Team Canada scoring came in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Jacob Robson doubled over Knecht's head in left field, followed by a solid one-hop double to left by Kyle Hann. The 15-year-old outfielder Gareth Morgan stroked the first of his two hits, moving Hann to third base. One out later, Brett Siddall delivered with a sacrifice fly. Siddall, a Windsor native, is the son of former Expos' catcher Joe Siddall.
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In attendance at the Team Canada game at historic Al Lang Field was former major-league catcher Andy Stewart, now an instructor at the IMG Baseball Academy in Bradenton, FL. Stewart, who caught briefly for the Royals in '97, was an integral part of the dramatic '99 Pan Am bronze medal winning team in Winnipeg that many believe propelled Canadian international baseball into the public eye for the first time.
The Canadians went into the tournament as an afterthought, managed for the first time by former Jays' catcher Ernie Whitt. That was the tournamen of Stubby Clapp's windblown popup against Cuba and Stewart's four home runs and 15 RBIs in six games, including a key blast against Team USA.
After going 4-0 in dramatic fashion in the preliminaries, with wins over their two main rivals, Canada dropped a 3-2 semi-final game against Cuba and won the Bronze with a victory over Mexico. It was Canada's first podium finish at any major international competition and ignited a belief that Canadian senior teams could compete.
“We had no idea it was going to be that special," Stewart said. "We had no idea it was going to be as exciting and thrilling as it turned out to be. I know that Stubby and that whole team still feel like we were the catalysts of getting this whole excitement for Canada baseball going and we really do feel like we had a piece in that.
"Obviously the kids right now and the players that they're producing in Canada are getting better and better, we can't take all the credit, but we like to think that. We like to think that we were that team that got it going for baseball in the country."
And what did that experience mean personally for Stewart, who had already played in the majors but would never make it back as a player. He was hired in 2001 as the Jays' bullpen catcher, but to this day people still remember him for the Pan-Am Games.
“I really didn't realize that only two years later I'd be catching in the Jays' bullpen," Stewart said. "You really wouldn't think like that. It's just the way things worked out. That Pan-Am Games was the pinnacle of my career. I compare that with my first major-league hit because just the experience I had with the players.
"I think that's what any Team Canada experience is all about. The coaches and the organization focus on kind of a team atmosphere where team comes first. If we all play together, that's how it was taught, the game would come together and make it a little bit easier. That's what that team was. We weren't selfish. We were just playing for our country and that's the way it's supposed to be."
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North Vancouver native Scott Richmond started the game for the Jays, even though he was sent to minor league camp this past Saturday. Richmond has always had to struggle for any baseball job he has had and was never a member of the Junior Team Canada program as a kid. He expects to start the season in AAA-Las Vegas, but is ready for the challenge.
"The key is I'm healthy now," Richmond said. "I can't control where they send me but I can control the effort and being prepared. I'm feeling good and ready for the challenge."