Canadian Baseball Is Helping The Toronto Blue Jays

Some people believe, this offseason, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos sold the farm.

But between the Jays new relationship with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons and the short season class-A Vancouver Canadians, the Jays now count two of northern most minor league affiliates among their own, something that will help the development of their players both on and off the field.

Vancouver in particular has provided the team with two championship seasons over the same number of years. Of equal or more importance is the indoctrination into Canada received by the majority of foreign-born players, all of which aspire to one day play for Canada’s only Major League team.

Vancouver is a in a unique position to acclimate recently-drafted players to the nuances of playing in what amounts to a foreign land.

“I guess things like loonies and toonies are one of those things that are often the butt of a joke early on,” says Canadians assistant GM and broadcaster Rob Fai. “When players first arrive, they don’t realize that they have $30 in their pocket after a few days of breaking fives and tens.”

Often players will arrive after spending a few months at the Jays’ Dunedin complex before heading north to a land most have never visited before with nothing more than preconceived notions of snow and desolation.

“I think more so, the stop in Vancouver is important to maybe break some of the stigmas that come with Canadiana from an American standpoint or from somebody abroad,” says Fai.

The Jays organization makes it a habit of bringing a handful of minor league players who they feel have a chance of making it to the Big Leagues in the coming year, north to Toronto during the off season simply to give them their first taste of Canada. Conversely, the cross-border travel is something that the Canadian’s last affiliate, the Oakland A’s saw as nothing more than an unnecessary hurdle.

“It’s funny that when we were with Oakland, I had a tremendous time with them but one of the things they had real issue with is was the fact that these players have to bring their passport,” says Fai. “They have to make 14 trips across the border, to and from seven times over the course of the summer and at times you know, it was probably a little daunting.”

That challenge has now become an asset.

“I think this is a great opportunity for the  players to get a feel for what the border is. Just the experience of going to and from, knowing the different currencies, knowing the different flow, I think it’s a real win-win.

“Now we don’t have players who occasionally question the border process, now you have players who just know that it’s going to be par for the course because again, if you want to make it to the Major Leagues, you’re going to have to get used to it,” says Fai.

Marcus Stroman was on the fast-track to becoming the first Canadians player to graduate to Toronto. The Jays first pick in the 2012 draft pitched seven games in Vancouver before a promotion to AA New Hampshire and was on the radar for a rare September promotion in his first year.

“It’s awesome, I love it, it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve been to, the scenery is gorgeous, it’s definitely a blast,” said Stroman.  “It’s just something you get acclimated to, it’s a process. It’s not that much different. I’m excited. I really don’t see that much of a difference. I think the people are nicer. I’m from New York so you kind of get some of those snobs sometimes.”

Canadians right hander Eric Brown is in the unique position of acting as tour guide to the rest of his teammates. One of three Canadian-born players on this year’s team, Brown also played at the University of British Columbia, making the Thunder Bay native the most familiar with the city and a dispenser of advice for his fellow players.

“We’ve been asked if we have shopping malls and the standard stuff. What’s this foreign language,” says Brown.

“Or what’s the dollar-thirty-nine menu at MacDonalds,” chimes in Ajax-born Nicholas Purdy, a fellow right hander.

The easy-going Brown is happy to help, offering fine dining advice to Stroman and his visiting family on one hand and delving into sports discussions with his teammates on the other.

“We’ve (Canadian players) had many an argument from football to hockey,” says Brown, through his ever-present smile. “They’re not the huge fans of the CFL but we’re not huge fans of football in general so we usually get on that end of the argument. They’re into the NFL and we’re just not into football at all so it’s always funny trying to talk hockey with them, it’s like we’re speaking a different language. Wayne Gretzky is about as far as it goes for them.”

“It can sometimes be humorous, the food that they try to make based on the ingredients that they can’t get here that they are probably able to get at home. And also you’ve got players from the southeast and southwest. Some guys put more Tabasco sauce on a piece of chicken than I’ve ever seen before.”

Funny perhaps, but a reality nonetheless and one the Jays organization is happy is taking place in the friendly confines of Vancouver rather than the spotlight of Toronto.

“At least they’ve been exposed to it a little bit, the currency and getting in and out of the country,” says manager Clayton McCullough, a North Carolina native. “So we hope it’s a good experience for them, something they can look back on a few years from now when they’re in Toronto and it helps them out.”

It certainly is helping players of the Great American Pastime get acclimated to the Great White North.

About the author  ⁄ Simon Druker

Simon has been working in sports media in one capacity or another since 2004. As a print reporter, he's covered everything from Major Junior hockey to international women's basketball and everything in between while working in Canadian markets from Ontario to B.C. A die-hard baseball and hockey fan, his passion extends to any sport, team or individual. Simon is of the firm belief that any live sporting event is worth watching and while he doesn't really consider it a sport, he does really enjoy fishing.

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