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Blue Jays big supporters of Canadian amateur ball

Rogers Centre hosting five-day Tournament 12 showcase through Tuesday
Special to

TORONTO -- When it comes to amateur baseball in Canada, the Blue Jays are doing things the right way.

The simple fact that the Blue Jays are involved and have a key interest in the development of the country's young talent is not only unique, it's paramount to the sport's growth across the nation.

TORONTO -- When it comes to amateur baseball in Canada, the Blue Jays are doing things the right way.

The simple fact that the Blue Jays are involved and have a key interest in the development of the country's young talent is not only unique, it's paramount to the sport's growth across the nation.

A couple of years ago, the organization made a decision that it was going to rally behind the grassroots-level movement and ensure it would provide the necessary resources to help the game continue to thrive. People in the know believe the Blue Jays are a one of a kind Major League organization when it comes to their type of commitment to amateur baseball.

Each year, super camps across the Canadian provinces are held with instruction from current and former Blue Jays. There are national coaching clinics, rookie leagues, and initiatives with an emphasis placed on high-priority neighborhoods. The Blue Jays organization, which was recognized with Major League Baseball's Commissioner's Award for Philanthropic Excellence in 2012, is involved in it all.

The Tournament 12 showcase at Rogers Centre, which runs through Tuesday and can be followed on MLB Gameday, is the latest and most high-profile event the Blue Jays have supported.

"This seemed like the next logical piece of it," said Rob Jack, the Blue Jays manager of social marketing and the Tournament 12 operations manager. "As an organization, we want to see baseball flourish in this country. To be able to help and give back in any capacity, and to help grow baseball, I think that's exactly where we want to be."

Jack is just one of many key figures who helped make this showcase a reality. Amateur baseball coordinator for the Blue Jays T.J. Burton, senior vice president of baseball operations Stephen Brooks, director of Baseball Canada's national teams Greg Hamilton and Baseball Canada director general Jim Baba have been recognized for their roles in this event.

Roberto Alomar, the commissioner of the tournament and special assistant to the Blue Jays, has been a pivotal player in this, too. Alomar has embraced his role and understands the reach he has to help grow the game across the country. Having his name attached to numerous Blue Jays Baseball Academy events, including the Tournament 12, makes things a lot easier, Jack said.

Alomar, the only Blue Jays Hall of Famer, has become one of the central figures for the amateur movement in Canada.

"I want to," he said. "This is a challenge that we have. Canada has always been good to me and I'm going to pass along what I know about the game. I just want to become a mentor."

The challenge for an event of this magnitude is big and is the reason why something like this could not have happened in previous years. Provincial baseball programs operate on separate agendas and roster selections for big showcases can become a sensitive subject. It's one of the reasons why the Blue Jays took on such an active role in the process and offered the Rogers Centre facility, the club's home ballpark, as the location of the five-day event.

With help from the Blue Jays scouting department, Baseball Canada and MLB's scouting bureau, the Blue Jays Baseball Academy selected 200-plus players for the tournament, one being played in front of scouts from an estimated 80 percent of MLB organizations and 30 schools from across the United States.

Players range from 14-21. Some like Toronto outfielder Gareth Morgan are on scouts' radars, some like Jean Francois Garon of Quebec are just starting to make a name for themselves, while others have previously been drafted, such as Ontario right-hander Joel Pierce. The only criteria is that players are college eligible.

"The uniqueness of this is that it cuts across affiliations, politics and brings in the most talented and young players in the country irrespective, for the most part, of age," Hamilton said.

Hamilton, widely considered one of the most important figures in the amateur movement, said he has been dreaming of a showcase like this on Canadian soil for over five years. Elite Canadian travel programs, including Hamilton's junior national team, participate in showcases in the United States and around the world, so there is a real sense of pride that the tournament was hosted on Canada's only Major League baseball field. The costs of traveling to other countries to play in these types of high-profile tournaments is also expensive.

"This isn't national team related, this is Canadian grassroots, coast-to-coast baseball related, where we are going to try to help as many kids as we can and impact the game to a degree where the scouting world and the media around it is focused in Canada on a Canadian product," he said.

"The Blue Jays have been tremendous partners. Their reach is outstanding. Their willingness to embrace developmental initiates and benefit the game in Canada is outstanding. The fact that they are involved just elevates everything to a completely different level. "You don't see too many amateur organizations that have the ability to have a business partnership and a developmental partnership with a Major League team as close as we are able to have. We are really thankful and couldn't do these things without them, obviously."

Hamilton helps run a Baseball Canada fall event called the Mizuno Camp, which is conducted at Rogers Centre and consists of a smaller amount of invite-only talent. It's an opportunity for scouts to see some of the top players in Canada, but it's nothing like the Tournament 12, said Blue Jays scout Jamie Lehman.

"For us, it's a one-stop shop," he said. "I can't say enough about how good it is to have all this in the same place, in the same environment, and be able to do it our way.

"The time is perfect and there is so much young talent. Because of the borders and obstacles we were facing with the other events, we felt like it was right. The proof today is that we have so much talent and this is the perfect venue and setting to see it in."

While Alomar is pleased with how well the inaugural event came together, he believes this is only the beginning of something much bigger. What Alomar sees is a tournament that will hopefully attract players from the U.S., Dominican Republic and his native country, Puerto Rico. Alomar never had anything like this as a kid, and with his involvement and influence with the Blue Jays, he's optimistic this can become one of the top international amateur showcases in the world.

"I'm going to pass along to the organization that hopefully next year we can make it more international and exciting," he said.

The Blue Jays will continue to pump money into local, provincial and national initiatives to help promote the game. People from Jack to Burton to Alomar simply love the sport and what coaching figures such as Hamilton stand for.

Baseball in Canada is growing. The goal to produce more stars like Brett Lawrie and Joey Votto is more realistic today than ever before.

"It has changed a lot," Lehman said. "It has changed so much in terms of the quality of the facilities and depth of talent. In the last five years alone, we are getting the premium talent still, but we are also starting to see some depth across the country."

Chris Toman is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays