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Canadian ballplayers deserve better

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express Column

It’s simultaneously a little known fact and a well known one that Canadians actually love baseball.

I grew up playing it, and I still have friends from those days. I also know several people who grew up playing it, and a few who live in Oshawa.

It’s very popular in both British Columbia and Quebec, as well as Toronto and the surrounding areas.

Baseball is one of those sports which is almost universal, as you find people from all walks of life playing it.

It’s a sport steeped in history from Babe Ruth doing it on beer and hot dogs, to Jackie Robinson, whose contribution to the sport needs no introduction, all the way Barry Bonds and the steroid era.

However, often lost in the shuffle are the Canadian ballplayers, as it is “America’s pastime.”

From Fergie Jenkins as the only Canadian in the Hall of Fame, to Joey Votto today, Canadian stars have almost always played a part in Major League Baseball.

However, the barriers put in front of Canadian players are often surprising, as many might assume they are the players Americans would welcome with open arms.

I’ve known players who went to college to play ball, but were held back for simply being Canadian, as the schools often show a preference to homegrown American players.

I can’t even say I’ve never done anything like that, as I have a tendency to prefer Canadian hockey players, but that also doesn’t mean I’m not perfectly happy to have Auston Matthews, an American, playing for the Leafs.

Baseball is one of the world’s most popular sports, and yet, the hope for a Canadian ballplayer to even play at an elite college is slim, as the chances of a scout discovering them are low.

There are teams like the Toronto Blue Jays which actively seek out Canadian players, which is why they were so quick to sign Russell Martin before trading him this year.

They’ve also recently had Canadians such as Michael Saunders, John Axford, Brett Lawrie, Scott Richmond, Matt Stairs, and others.

Currently the Jays have Dalton Pompey in their minor league system, and star rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may have spent most of his life in the Dominican, but he was born in Montreal when his father played for the Expos.

However, one thing each of these players had to do was either be exceptional enough they forced their school’s hand, or get drafted out of high school.

Guerrero is only 20-years-old, and was just a teenager in March.

Stairs was also a player who started young, as he was drafted just out of high school, and so was today’s star Canadian, Votto.

It makes one wonder, is there actually a bias in college baseball which players actively avoid?

I know for myself there was never any real chance of me making it into the big leagues (no matter how much I liked to think there was). But, there were some people with raw talent who I played with I thought had a shot with the proper coaching.

However, they never saw it as how many Major League players are from London, Ont.?

At the beginning of the 2018 season, less than 30 per cent of players in the MLB were born outside of the United States, and six of those players were Canadian.

Cuba, a nation which pro players used to have to escape in order to play in the MLB had more with 17.

How is it the nation which shares a border with the United States had so few players at the beginning of just last season?

Personally, I feel it’s summed up simply by a story my Grade 12 English teacher told my class.

She said she visited a sports store in the United States once which had pennants from each season’s World Series winner, but oddly 1992 and 1993 were missing.

Wondering why, she asked the store owner and he responded simply by saying, “Those seasons never happened.”

What was unique about those two seasons? The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series those years, the only two times in history a non-American team has won the World Series.

Now, whether this story is true is up for debate, but it stands to reason there is a lot of bias towards American-born players in the MLB.

With 750 players on all active rosters at any given time, and with only a handful of Canadians, I would love to see more.

In the end, it shouldn’t matter where you’re from. If you want to play ball, you should get the chance.