There is crucial national team business to be taken care of at the upcoming World Baseball Classic qualifier, for sure, but the Sept. 20-24 event should also give Baseball Canada a chance to assess some players if it advances as expected.
The roster for the actual tournament next spring will be mostly made up of the country’s big-leaguers and top minor-leaguers, but fill-ins around the edges will be needed and that’s where someone like Andrew Albers comes in.
A 26-year-old lefty from North Battleford, Sask., who pitched for double-A New Britain in the Minnesota Twins system this year, Albers is the type of craft arm that can very useful in the Classic.
While some might chafe at the possibility of playing to qualify for a tournament they may not be invited to, Albers, one of 14 returning players from last year’s Pan American Games championship squad, is simply happy to wear the Maple Leaf once again.
“To be honest, I don’t think about it that way at all,” Albers said Tuesday. “I look at it as an opportunity to represent my country and it’s an honour to be asked.
“It would be a tremendous honour to play in the World Baseball Classic against the best players in the world, but I’m probably on the bubble for that, and there are some things we need to take care of first to make sure we get there.”
Canada must qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic in a four-team tournament at Regensburg, Germany after a first-round elimination by Italy in the ’09 event, dropping it out of the top 12.
There are 16 teams split into in four qualification tournaments and Canada must beat out host Germany, the Czech Republic and Britain to survive the six-game modified double-elimination event and advance.
The veteran trio of right-handers Shawn Hill and Mike Johnson along with first baseman Jimmy Van Ostrand are also among those from the Pan Ams team named to the qualifying squad Tuesday, and they will play an important role beyond their on-field contributions.
“They’re definitely good leaders,” said Albers. “As newcomers to the team they made us feel welcome, the team chemistry was good, and we all played hard, played for each other and we were a very unselfish team. No one cared about stats or anything like that, we played for the team first.
“It was a lot of fun to play with those guys.”
A good sign then that also back from that squad is the catching duo of Cole Armstrong and Chris Robinson, plus second baseman Skylar Stromsmoe, shortstop Jonathan Malo, third baseman Shawn Bowman, outfielders Brock Kjeldgaard and Tim Smith, plus pitchers Mark Hardy, Jay Johnson, and Chris Kissock.
Bolstering the national squad are outfielders Adam Loewen, Rene Tosoni and Nick Weglarz, and right-handers Trystan Magnuson and James Avery. Catcher Kellin Deglan, a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2010, is the youngest player on the squad at 20.
“I am very pleased with the composition of our roster heading into the qualifier,” Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, said in a release. “Our roster is a veteran group with a lot of international experience which should be beneficial in Regensburg.”
Longtime national team manager Ernie Whitt returns with Larry Walker (hitting coach), Denis Boucher (pitching coach), Tim Leiper (third base coach) and Hamilton.
The other qualifying events include Panama, South Africa, Taiwan — who like Canada failed to win a single game at the ’09 Classic — plus Brazil, Colombia, France, Israel, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Philippines, Spain and Thailand.