By Todd Devlin
There has been no shortage of offence for Team Canada thus far at the 2013 WBC Qualifier in Regensburg, Germany — through two games, the tournament favourites have pushed across 27 runs on 32 hits.
It seems everyone has been getting in on the action. Leadoff man Tyson Gillies (Langley, BC) has recorded six hits in 10 at-bats, right-fielder Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) has five, and catcher Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.) and third baseman Shawn Bowman (Port Moody, BC) have four hits apiece. But if offence is indeed contagious, as the old adage goes, the man responsible for starting the outbreak is Jimmy Van Ostrand (Richmond, BC).
Canada’s first baseman and cleanup man leads all hitters in Regensburg in home runs (three), total bases (14), OPS (1.900) and runs scored (five), and he is second with eight RBIs.
It didn’t take long for the national team vet to get in the swing of things in Germany. In Game 1 against Great Britain, he followed up a first-inning RBI with a two-run homer in the seventh that broke open Thursday’s contest and put Canada ahead 6-1.
“It was nice to give us a little bit more breathing room, and we were able to keep it going and have a big inning,” Van Ostrand said.
In fact, the Canadians struck for eight runs in the inning en route to an 11-1 victory by mercy rule.
Van Ostrand was at it again on Saturday. With two runners on in the first, he crushed a three-run homer to give Team Canada an early 3-0 lead. After the Germans came back to tie the score, he belted another homer — a solo shot — to lead off the third inning.
The Canadians came away with a 16-7 win, although the final score was a bit misleading. It was a close contest up until the seventh and the man who had done all the damage for the Canucks to that point had been Van Ostrand.
Coming through in the clutch on the international stage is nothing new for the Vancouver native. Last fall, he played the hero during Canada’s 2-1 gold-medal win over the United States at the Pan Am Games, as he delivered both runs with a sixth inning double that led Canada to its first-ever championship at a major international event.
Now he’s a cog in the lineup, hitting in the cleanup spot and trying to qualify Team Canada for the 2013 WBC event. It seems like a fitting end to a successful year that actually began on quite a different note.
In fact, despite coming off a year in which he posted career bests in batting average (.306) and on-base percentage (.382), Van Ostrand was left without a job at the end of spring training when he was released by the Houston Astros after spending six seasons in the organization. As a result, he spent the first month and a half of 2012 out of affiliated ball playing for the Indepdent Sugar Land Skeeters, the team now famous for employing Roger Clemens.
“After spending a few years [in pro baseball], you come to realize that you really don’t have a lot of control over a lot of the outside moves or things like that,” Van Ostrand said. “You just have to focus on your own development and give yourself a chance to take the opportunities when they come about.”
Luckily, the Washington Nationals were watching, and they provided the slugger with an opportunity, assigning him to Double-A Harrisburg.
“We had an immediate need and were fortunate that a player with [Van Ostrand’s] ability and makeup was available,” said Doug Harris, the director of player development with the Nationals. “And we knew he was a quality individual that would fit in well with what we are trying to accomplish.”
With a fresh start, Van Ostrand hit .310 with a .370 on-base percentage, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 80 games at double-A Harrisburg. He’s no longer a prospect at 28, but he’s certainly making the case for a call-up at some point. Perhaps the only thing holding him back is consistent power numbers.
“I think that’s the next boost that I need,” Van Ostrand said. “If I can develop my power numbers a little more to go along with consistently hitting for a high average … I’ve got the ability to do it, it’s just figuring out a way to be consistent with it.”
Hitting for power has been no problem for Van Ostrand at the 2013 WBC Qualifier, as he has launched three home runs in 10 at-bats. By comparison, the other three teams in Canada’s grouping — Germany, Great Britain and the Czech Republic — have combined for five home runs in 242 at-bats.
He’s certainly playing like a leader on this Canadian squad, although Van Ostrand is quick to note that Ernie Whitt’s team has a number of leaders.
“I think I’ve had some experiences [with Team Canada] that let me act in a bit of a leadership role, but this is a very unique team,” he said. “It’s definitely a leadership by committee, with a lot of players that contribute in one capacity or another. Everybody is committed to winning games as a team.”
It’s been so far, so good on that front for the Canadians. But it won’t mean anything unless they get past Germany in a do-or-die Monday finale, with the winner earning a spot in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Van Ostrand and his teammates are taking nothing for granted.
“I know we are feeling good as a team, but Germany is coming off a good performance and will have the crowd behind them,” he said. “We have to keep focused.”