LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA.—If Canada is to have any hope of advancing to the second round of next month’s World Baseball Classic, first-time national team member Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves will have to play a big role.
Freeman was born in the U.S.A., but both of his parents are Canadian-born. His mother Rosemary, a native of Toronto, succumbed to melanoma when Freddie was 10 years old. In her memory he wears long sleeves to remind him of that disease, and a silver cross around his neck that contains a single hair from his mom. He is playing this tournament for Canada and for his parents.
“For me, just being there is going to be the greatest thing,” Freeman said. “Being able to put on a Canada uniform with my dad (Fred) in the stands, knowing what it means to not only me but my whole family. It makes it more exciting for me. A lot of people aren’t picking us, but that’s the beauty of baseball. You’ve got to go out there and play, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Four years ago, Freeman asked his agent to let MLB and Baseball Canada know of his Canadian background, but with both Justin Morneau and Joey Votto already at first base there was no spot. This time, Votto called and told Freddie he was opting out.
“It’s going to be a little different (March 12) when we’re playing against the United States,” Freeman said. “I have played for U.S. national teams, but I’m Canadian when it comes to this. I’m all for Canada getting to the championship and winning this thing. That’s going to be pretty cool, saying “us” to my dad when we’re talking about his country. My mother never became a U.S. citizen, so she was Canadian through and through till the day she died. It means a lot to us.”
BLUE JAYS LITE: A large contingent of enthusiastic Blue Jays fans showed up for the team’s Grapefruit League opener at Wide World of Sports on Saturday. If they were looking for players that knew, they were disappointed.
Of the 22 players who appeared for the Jays in a 7-4 loss to the Braves, not one is expected to be on the opening day roster. The Jays might hear from MLB about that at some point. Clubs are supposed to send representative major-league rosters with at least a couple of everyday players.
“But we’ve got a split squad tomorrow and those guys are all going to play,” manager John Gibbons said. “Right out of the gate, we’ve got some older players. We’ve got a couple of guys that are banged up. Early in the spring they might play three innings, get two at-bats anyway. They’d probably get better work over there. We might hear from the commissioner, I don’t know, maybe.”
NICE START: Jays right-hander Casey Lawrence started Saturday and tossed two shutout innings against a lineup of Braves regulars. Other impressive outings were posted by Lucas Harrell, Ryan Borucki and Jarrett Grube, with one shutout inning each. Infielder Jake Elmore went 3-for-3 with an RBI. Young first baseman Rowdy Tellez, the No. 9 prospect in the Jays’ organization, doubled off Bartolo Colon in the second inning and scored on an Anthony Alford double.
GURRIEL AT SHORT: Lourdes Gurriel, the Blue Jays’ prized Cuban free-agent pickup, played in his first game in a year after leaving his home country and signing last summer. He played shortstop and bounced out twice — to shortstop.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Gurriel said through an interpreter. “It was my first professional game in a year. Thank God everything went well and we’ll see how it’s going to go.”
On his first play in the field he went to his right, gloved the ball, slipped slightly and made a strong throw to first. It settled him down.
“I was a little bit stressed, but there was no consequence after that,” he said. “After that it all became normal.”
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