Friday, March 06, 2009


Canadian National Team Skunks Yankees

The New York Yankee organization paid homage to their Canadian neighbours by inviting a group of Canadian service personnel to their exhibition game against the Canadian National Team. The Armed Forces crew was on assignment in Florida, from the Maritimes. A sergeant from the contingent belted out the anthems, and received rave reviews from the fans in Section 206.

With six runs in the top of the first inning, the Canadians blew out the New York Yankees last Thursday afternoon at the George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.

For what it’s worth, it was an exhibition game within the exhibition time schedule. There really wasn’t much to learn from the tilt, other than the fact that Yankee starter Joba Chamberlain just wasn’t ready. He was responsible for most of the damage, primarily because he could not find home plate.

The Canadians threw a whole slew of pitchers at the Bronx Bombers. Some fine defensive plays, a couple of questionable baserunning mistakes, solid pitching and “Voila! Mes Amis” the Canadians prevailed.

Most of us were well aware that the Yankees were a little understaffed, to say the least. No A-Rod, no Jeter, no Mariano Rivera.

Granted, the Yanks did have Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher in the lineup.

No question that C.C. Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettite, A. J. Burnett might have helped the cause.

But this game did not count, and the Yankees were well aware of that.

The temperature reading in the car at the end of the game read 33 degrees Celsius, giving you some indication of the weather. Most Yankee fans realized it was going to be a fine day long before they got to the park. Season ticket holders stayed away in droves; others scalped tickets for less than half face value. The Yankee faithful just did not want to watch a lineup decimated by “call ups” to the World Baseball Classic, nor did they give a hoot for what their neighbour to the north had to offer.

On the other hand, Ernie Whitt, the manager of the Canadian team, has his work cut out for him. He has some wonderful talent to chose from, and knows they will need to be firing on all cylinders on Saturday when they play the Americans, for real.

Justin Morneau, Mark Teahen, Jason Bay, Joey Votto, Russel Martin, and Pete Orr have enough pop in their bats to make Davey Johnson reflect carefully as he selects his lineup.

Johnson knows full well that he is under the gun. The Americans got thumped
by the Canadians in 2006 in Phoenix. Johnson was one of Buck Martinez’s coaches, and he has payback on his mind. The Canucks could not capitalize on their good fortune, and ended up in 9th place.

After the game, Ernie Whitt summarized his goals: “Win the first two games, make good pitching changes, get quality at bats.” I asked him about the importance of defence, especially after witnessing a couple of sparkling plays that killed Yankee rallies in the game. “It’s important,” he told me. “Bout our job as a staff is to make the correct pitching changes when they become necessary. He also added that he was impressed with the efforts from Scott Diamond, David Davidson and Jesse Crain.

Port Hope’s Paul Quantrill took up his position as a bullpen coach, a rather critical position in this potential musical chairs rotation. This is his first venture into the International coaching ranks. The quirky International rules prohibited me from speaking with him after the game. No media are allowed in the dressing rooms after any international events---neither the Worlds nor the Olympics. And yes, Gertrude, there still is Olympic baseball, but pleases do not ask me why.

The Canadians played only three exhibition games before heading north to prepare for the Yanks. Not much time, but all that is available.

Team Canada also lost the Spengler Cup this year. It holds about as much weight with Canadians as does this Baseball Classic with most Americans. This is not the World Cup of Soccer, nor will it ever be confused with that, no matter how hard the authorities try to dress it up.

On the other hand, many of the other nations attach significant credibility to the event.

Each to his or her own. Play Ball!

James Hurst

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