By Melissa Couto
Playing in a big league stadium is nothing new to Mississauga, Ont., native Josh Naylor.
At the ripe old age of 17, he’s already competed in three of them. And before the summer is over, he’ll add two more to that list.
Naylor was officially selected Sunday to play in the 2014 Perfect Game All-American Classic, which takes place at San Diego’s Petco Park on Aug. 10. Six days after that, he’ll compete at the Under Armor All-America game at Chicago’s iconic Wrigley Field.
With aspirations of making it to the big leagues constantly in the back of his mind, Naylor says being on an MLB diamond hasn’t gotten old yet.
“Every time I step on a big league field I get a crazy rush,” said the first baseman, who plays for the Junior National Team and the Ontario Blue Jays. “I always imagine myself playing on those same fields again one day.”
Naylor is only the second Canadian to be named to the roster of a Perfect Game Classic — a premier high school all-star event which features 54 top players eligible for the following year’s MLB draft. Former junior national teammate Gareth Morgan, who was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the second round this June, played in last year’s game.
The six-foot-one, 225-pound Naylor says being named Canada’s only representative for the San Diego event is an “honour.”
“I get to go there and show people what Canadians can do, kind of put Canada on the map a bit more,” he said. “Canada’s already on the map, but it shows that every year someone from Canada is able to do something special.
“I’m going to work my tail off down there, be positive and represent this country well. Gareth did Canada proud last year, and I want to do the same.”
Naylor, who’s projected to be the top Canadian selected in the 2015 draft, has also played at Toronto’s Rogers Centre (at Tournament 12 last September), Miami’s Marlins Park (at the 2012 Power Showcase), and most recently Minnesota’s Target Field where he participated in the junior select Home Run Derby last week, finishing second behind Luken Baker of Texas.
In two combined rounds versus Baker in the final — which was held during commercial breaks at the MLB Home Run Derby — the left-handed hitting Naylor shot four homers over the 23-foot high wall in right-centre field.
And he made a friend in the process, chatting up fellow Canadian Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies, who was performing at the derby after being named to the National League team by captain Troy Tulowitzki a few days earlier.
“We talked about (Morneau’s) Team Canada experience, his experience in Minnesota, how he’s doing in Colorado now, how he won the derby in 2008 and how he thought he’d do this time around,” Naylor said.
“He had a lot of great things to say about (director of national teams) Greg Hamilton, and it was an honour to sit down and talk to him and learn from him.”
After the event, Morneau told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi that he was impressed with the young Canadian, saying “he’s got a good swing.”
Naylor, who admits he looks up to the New Westminster, B.C., native and former MVP, says he was delighted to hear that.
“It means that all my hard work is starting to pay off, that some really cool people are starting to notice and be impressed by what I’m doing,” he said. “It makes me want to keep working hard, keep staying positive, and keep getting better.”