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Tournament 12 to showcase top Canadian high school talent

One of the biggest opportunities for young baseball players from north of the border now awaits them right at home.

Thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays, Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar and the Jays Care Foundation, the second annual Tournament 12 will give the top Draft-eligible Canadian high school talent a chance to showcase their skills in front of dozens of scouts and college recruiters on the big league stage at Rogers Centre.

"I'm getting used to seeing a lot of talent in Canada," Alomar said. "I've been here for the last three years and I've seen the progress in baseball. I'm not surprised by it, and it's going to continue to grow. I'm just happy to be a part of it. Hopefully we can see more and more Canadians get the opportunity to sign professionally or go to college."

The inaugural event at Rogers Centre took place last September, and it was a huge success for all those involved. Eight players from the tournament were drafted the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, many have earned post-secondary scholarships and the Blue Jays signed free agent Andrew Case four days after the tournament ended.

In two appearances in the first Tournament 12, the right-hander from Saint John, New Brunswick, threw nine no-hit innings with 19 strikeouts. Case spent this season with Class A Short-Season Vancouver, and he posted a 2.45 ERA through 24 games and 44 innings, with 37 strikeouts.

"To be honest, I don't know what I would be doing without baseball," Case said. "I went to Tournament 12 with that mentality of trying to get a pro contract, because if I didn't, I don't know what I would be doing. It worked out and I couldn't be happier really. I wouldn't change it for anything ... my dream came true."

In a pre-tournament reception for the participants at Rogers Centre on Monday night, Alomar addressed the players of the upcoming event and made it clear that he would love to see many more dreams come to fruition.

"It's a great opportunity for you guys," Alomar said to the crowd. "When I was your age, I had dreams. We all have dreams here, and we want to help you accomplish yours. But to be able to accomplish that dream, you have to work hard and you have to believe in yourself."

Alomar shared his belief in the tournament and its players with the Jays Care Foundation earlier this year, hoping they could work together to help even the playing ground for all of the participants. In the inaugural year of the event, the cost to play varied and was higher for those from out of province than for those from the area.

Jays Care Foundation was convinced by Alomar to get involved with the event, and together they made a $100,000 donation to Tournament 12 to subsidize the costs for players from across the country.

"To see Robbie's genuine passion for helping to raise the profile of Canadian ballplayers coast to coast, how could we say no?" said Jamie Haggarty, a member of the board of directors of Jays Care. "Robbie's just genuine, a guy who wants to help raise [the players'] chance of getting discovered, whether it's a scholarship or MLB.

"It was a significant investment from the foundation and it's also one of the larger sources of funds for Tournament 12, and we couldn't be prouder."

Similar to the first event, teams will be coached by former Canadian Major Leaguers, Minor Leaguers and college players, with guest coaches and Blue Jays alumni including Alomar, his father Sandy Alomar Sr., George Bell, Mario Diaz, Lloyd Moseby, Tanyon Sturtze, Duane Ward and Devon White.

A few significant changes to the tournament were made from the first year to the event taking place through Saturday. This year, there are eight teams of 20 players, down from 10 teams of 22. Every at-bat starts with an open count, unlike the inaugural event, when each hitter began with one ball and one strike.

"The format is much better, because the hitters are going to get more at-bats, the pitchers are going to get more innings, and the more talent out there, the better it is for everyone," Alomar said. "And it's going to be even more fun than last year."

Blue Jays advisor Paul Quantrill, who played 14 years in the Majors, didn't get the kind of chance now offered to young Canadian players, having to cross the border when he was trying to come up and make it in the game. Taking in the Tournament 12 experience, the Ontario-born pitcher is excited about what the event means for Canadian baseball.

"This is a big opportunity," Quantrill said. "Tournaments in the past there have always been a lot of great kids there, but it's not always the best. Of course, this selection process isn't perfect, but it's the best we can do and they did a wonderful job -- it's pretty much most of the very best kids from across Canada.

"They're in front of so many [recruiters and scouts] at one time, this doesn't happen anywhere else. I've never seen it in the U.S. or anywhere. It's a wonderful opportunity for the boys, and I hope most of them understand that.

"Sandy Alomar had a great piece of advice when we were talking to a few of the young men, and he said, 'Make sure to express yourself and not try to impress people,' and that's very important for the kids to go out there and be themselves. There's no way they won't get noticed if they're good, because there are a lot of people watching."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to
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